The flex space industry is currently undergoing a big change, similar to the marketing industry over the last 20 years.

Today, product-led marketing is the norm in many fields, putting customers and their experience with the product at the heart of everything. The product is the brand as well as the most powerful selling weapon.

In a talk from our FlexWorld event, four industry leaders discussed why flex space businesses must evolve in a similar way if they want to future-proof their demand generation and drive growth.

Let’s start with the foundation of all marketing activities – the customer.

Understand Your Customer

Customer research is essential for pretty much everything we do, especially growth and demand generation.

If you haven’t started doing it already, there are lots of free resources online, so there’s no point in turning this into a customer research guide. Just start by finding the people and businesses you want in your flex space and learn about their goals, challenges, and pain points.

You can do that by surveying current and potential customers. Another important (and often overlooked) tactic is sitting down with customers who are leaving your space and talking to them. Invite them for a cup of coffee and try to understand what made them leave.

Just don’t try any sales tactics to convince them to stay if they’ve already made up their mind. That will likely just annoy them. Your only goal should be to understand what went wrong, so you can correct it.

Besides general market research, as a flex space operator, you also need to understand COVID-19’s impact on your target customers.

What’s Changed Due to COVID?

While the pandemic obviously changed a lot of things, we can segment the major shifts across three dimensions.

1. Business type and size

  • Pre-pandemic: Mainly freelancers and small businesses were interested in coworking and other flexible models.
  • Today: Large businesses are also looking for new ways to work. Many remote-only businesses want to gather everyone in a space once or twice a year, meaning they need infrequent access to flex spaces.

2. Differentiators

  • Pre-pandemic: It was all about location, location, location. Companies used to acquire, lease, or build real estate, based on where their employees lived.
  • Today: Location is still paramount, but people, culture, service, environmental and COVID policies are just as crucial. People, culture, and service help you attract the right customers (and employees) and encourage word-of-mouth marketing. Larger companies are also looking to track waste and understand the environmental impact and efficiencies of their space. Lastly, having an anti-COVID policy is a must for pretty much everyone.

3. Contract types

  • Pre-pandemic: Buying real estate and long-term leases were the default options.
  • Today: Companies want to make smarter real estate decisions, through experimentation. For example, some businesses encourage employees to try 2-3 coworking spaces. If they’re a good fit, they get converted to a long-term lease.

All of these changes are massive on their own, let alone in combination. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised if you find out that your target customers actually care about different things than the ones you’ve listed in your marketing materials. They might even want different products or services.

Where and How to Talk to Customers

Once you know who you want to work with and have a good idea of their pain points, it’s time to learn where they hang out.

First, ask your best customers how they found out about your business as part of your research. Chances are, other potential customers also use those channels.

You should also check your website analytics to find where your traffic is coming from. This might be a combination of different channels like:

  • Social media (usually through recommendations or groups);
  • Platforms and aggregators like Liquidspace or Coworker;
  • Organic search.

Doubling down on channels that deliver results for your business is usually a good idea since developing new ones takes more time and resources.

Once you’ve selected your channels, it’s time to try and talk to potential customers there. When doing so, don’t just splatter the same message across everywhere. That won’t work. Instead, use what you learned in your customer research to highlight your differentiators.

“Most coworking spaces, their websites just don’t reflect any of those data points that companies or users are interested in. I think there are simple things that operators can do to start leveraging some of that community information and those data points in terms of sustainability mission. Those are becoming far more valuable in making a decision” – Ginger Dhaliwal, Co-Founder & CPO of Upflex

Here are a few specific things to keep in mind:

  • In a product-led world, you must show your product in its full glory. When you’re selling a physical space, high-res photos and videos are a must, as well as descriptions of relevant add-ons and services. Remember, physical viewings still matter, but if your website and other marketing materials don’t show off your space in the best possible way, a lot of potential customers might never reach a physical trial;
  • Things like COVID policies, internet speeds, ISO, and other security certifications are essential to corporate customers – don’t forget to highlight them;
  • When in doubt, revert back to your customer research. If you don’t know what to include in your messaging, chances are you don’t understand your customers well enough.

Brand and Identity: How to Stand Out

When the shift to product-led marketing happened, the product became the brand. The same goes for flex space businesses, with one important distinction:

Your community is also a huge part of your brand, alongside your product. Freelancers, solopreneurs, and small businesses are especially passionate about community. Interesting furniture, cool drawings, and catchy slogans are all good and well, but make sure the human element is at the heart of it all.

“I think that now, the culture of the space, the staff, the people, and the clients are actually more important (than location). And that’s what’s gonna drive client retention and client referrals.” – Inga Taylor, CEO of Opstech Services

Another thing you can do to add something extra to your visitors’ experience is to find and list cool restaurants, workout spots, or other leisure activities nearby. This does require more work, but it also adds to the human element and shows your commitment to hospitality.

Bringing it All Together: The Four Layers of Your Operational Stack

We went over a lot of stuff here, so let’s try and bring everything together.

To do so, we’ll use Hector Kolonas’ idea of the operational stack for flex workspaces, which includes four layers:

  • Hospitality is always at the heart of what you do, as a great experience trumps everything else. It also builds your brand and drives word-of-mouth marketing, which is the cheapest and most powerful way to attract new customers;
  • Next, we have the sales layer. Think about how easy it is for potential high-intent leads to get started using your space. Your tactics and sales cycle will depend on the type of customer you’re after, but generally, you should find out if people struggle somewhere in your sales process (like payments or demos) and reduce the friction in those areas;
  • The next layer includes marketplaces, aggregators, and other similar platforms. These platforms can help you generate a lot of exposure and get in front of people you can’t reach on your own. People on these platforms are high-intent potential customers, so reducing friction, showing your space in the best possible light, and highlighting your differentiators all play a role in this layer;
  • The final layer contains all other marketing activities, including social, PR, and content. These are less transactional, but still crucial for staying top of mind for potential clients. Again, if you know your customer well enough (which is always the first step), it becomes much easier to develop this layer.

“All four of those layers have to operate together and seamlessly in a way that you can portray your message, your brand, your products to the right markets.” – Hector Kolonas, co-founder of Syncaroo.

The World is Changing and Flex Spaces Need to Evolve Accordingly

If there’s one word that summarizes everything we just went over it’s change. The entire world has changed due to the pandemic and the flex space business is no exception. That’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

People and businesses want more ways to consume space. It’s your job to make that happen. While that might seem overwhelming, it’s the only way to future-proof the demand for your business.

Here are a few specific tips, which you can start implementing today:

  • Start small and focus on the big wins. Pick one or two activities (for example, customer research and testing new platforms) that you think would have the biggest impact on your business and stick with them. Trying to do everything at once usually leads nowhere;
  • Be willing to experiment with different products and marketing messages. Research and theory can only get you so far. The only way to see what works is to test. Don’t worry if some of your assumptions turn out to be wrong. Adjust accordingly and keep trying;
  • Continuously gather data to refresh your understanding of your customers. Right now “the only constant is change”, so what you know today may no longer be the case in a few months;
  • Lastly, look to find and retain customers who want to make a home in your flex space, rather than bounce around. In the long run, those people will help you spread the word and attract others like them.

Again, if you want even more details on the topic, watch the full talk on future-proofing demand generation for flex spaces.

Elitsa Koeva
Content Marketing Specialist
Elitsa has a passion for understanding the ways in which people work and perceive the workplace. She is interested in growth mechanics and the scaling of startups, and eager to explore the possibilities of furthering this field. In her free time, she enjoys escaping the hustle of city life and connecting with nature.