Case: Revamping Vasakronan. Swedens largest property brand.

Sometime last year I was approached by Vasakronan, Swedens largest property brand with a property portfolio valued at SEK 80.3 billion. Being a market leader the felt their digital presence had to reflect that position. Their question: What do we do? As always I teamed up with Caroline Karlström and accepted the challenge to answer that question. In this project I took on the role as both head of strategy and concept as well as actually delivering the top level designs of the new Vasakronan that Britny later implemented and refined.

This is what we did. Parts of the new Vasakronan digital brand presence

The new Vasakronan.se runs WordPress!

Me and Caroline started the project with an analysis phase and analysed their existing presence, the traffic to their site, the content, the design and the site structure. We interviewed representatives from Vasakronan as well as their clients and potential prospects. We also performed an extensive technical analysis of their technical platform. Their brand presence online was running on Episerver, one of Swedens most common content management platforms and the front end was about three years old. It was classical site with tons of sections and also some flash content.

The old Vasakronan.se site.

On top of that the site was connected to their back end, partly built on Sharepoint. Already from start I felt that there was no need for this complex set up. If you also include the fact that Vasakronan intended to lead – not follow, then I also thought we needed to look at modern platforms such as WordPress.

Once we’ve passed the analysis phase, it was clear that there really was no need to run Vasakronan off Episerver. Instead we decided to give WordPress a try. WordPress would, beside the fact that the platform is free, give Vasakronan the ability to adapt to the world outside, fast! WordPress has got some 20000 developers devoted to making sure the platform is up to date. Future branding is all about making sure you stay on top technology instead of being dictated by technology due to the fact that you’re stuck in a slow developed platform. Vasakronans ambition moving forward is also to be a part of that community, meaning develop new plugins and functionalities that other brands can make good use of.

A new brand plattform needed to be digitalized.

Part from the fact that Vasakronan’s digital presence was a couple of years old another important fact was also that they we’re redesigning their brand language. Not their logo – but their tone of voice, their graphical expressions, colors and how they worked with images. This was a challenge.

Parts of the Vasakronan brand manual that we had to digitalize.

Their new brand language was classical yet bold, however it was clearly developed to be used offline. I’m personally a big fan of simplicity and there was something in that brand presentation we were handed that struck a chord inside me.

The new Vasakronan.se – on brand!

The challenge to bring this stuff online was something that made me smile. After some tweaking back and fourth I felt that I had nailed the graphical concept quite well. It was fresh, clean, usable and on brand.

Great content and simplicity is the new black.

Until now Vasakronan had been working quite a lot with SEM activities. However, their SEO presence was nothing to brag about. In order for this to change I developed a concept that was based on how blogs work. Basically, the content bloggers pushed ends up further down the site structure as more content is being pushed.

An example of how content from the first page is being pushed down in other sections

Considering the website analytic part of the project pointed in the direction few, if any visitors, were interesting surfing the Vasakronan website, instead people landed on one page, clicked one or two pages to get what they were there for and then left, I felt we needed to simplify everything – the site structure, the navigation, the amount of pages and way you search for new properties and of course also the design.

Simplicity was something we kept on striving for all through the project

Yet we also needed people to actually find Vasakronan. There’s of course tons of traffic ending up on Vasakronan via typed url’s or a search for Vasakronan. But there’s also a huge potential in attracting people through generic search. In order to establish a broader and better presence on Google we decided to make better use of Vasakronan’s customer magasine ‘En bättre värd’ (A better host).

Making sure content is spread over multiple platforms to do good for the brand.

On the old site this magazine was published once a month as a PDF. Fine, the PDF attracts Google spiders too – but the content is not very readable online. This magazine was packed with quality content that will do a great job when the spiders comes crawling. Said and done. We established a section called Inspiration & lägen (Inspiration and locations) where the magazine is now portioned in smaller bits over time – just like a blogger would publish it.

iPhone and iPads. What should you do?

If you ask around I think most agencies out there will tell you that you must have a site for mobiles and one for iPads and other tables. I beg to differ. My point of view is that the visitors you have will visit your brand from different devices but that doesn’t mean they’re interested in learning new ways to navigate depending on which device they use today.

People should not have to learn new navigations from one device to another.

This is why I, when I started to design the site, aimed to create a design that would work on your desktop computer, your laptop, iPad and ultimately the smartphone of your choice. Of course it’s important to make sure you’ve thought about mobile sites and apps too. I don’t think there’s ever a need for a specific app or mobile interface to browse the generic content on Vasakronan.se if it’s built and designed right.

Trying out how content could be swiped in potential future apps.

However I definitely think there’s a need for apps that gives landlords, tennants and other target groups the ultimate way to access information and nurture their relation with vasakronan. For these needs we of course designed extra proof of concepts to make sure we didn’t launch anything that could not be developed further.

Now it’s time to put the concept into action – we need more pro’s!

Brands like Vasakronan hire me to make change happen. My assignment usually includes a strategy phase, a concept phase and a visualisation phase. With a set of different tools such as strategic and technical analysis, problem definition, conceptual and creative develoment and prototyping I help brands, in this case Vasakronan, to establish a communication platform. It’s extremely important to deliver the conceptual and creative concepts without having to think about your own organisation – this is why I do not recommend having an agency that delivers both the concept and the implementation – it usually ends up being something that agency makes money off suggestion.

In this case me and Caroline together with different freelancers delivered a concept that focused on creating the best possible solution online for Vasakronan – now it was time to find the best fitted consultant that could take our concept and implement it. In order to find that consultant we, together with Vasakronan, selected five agencies. After having heard the agencies present themselves we also asked them to present how they were to implement the concept we had delivered for Vasakronan. Britny, Swedish kick ass web agency that I’d been working with before, delivered a fantastic presentation. It was clear that both their creative department and technical department understood why we’d chosen the solutions we had and how we intended them to be implemented.

The listing of properties – the concept brought all the way by Britny

Said and done – Britny and Vasakronan came to an agreement and they started working on the implementation of our project. From our side Caroline left the project and I stayed on board to secure that the concept we’d delivered would be treated right. It was also important to make sure the kept to our technical strategy when using WordPress as the content management system. We’d built in tons of strategical and graphical executions that only made sense if you’d built them into WordPress the right way. The team at Britny did a fantastic job when taking our concept further. They treated it with great care. I especially found it rewarding that their lead designer, Daniel Stridsberg and head of tech Fillip Wastman, embraced the design platform I had initiated and nurtured it well. Except for Daniel and Fillip the team consisted of Iyob Mesfin, Jonas Rogert and Jonas Eriksson all equally important.

The result?

Vasakronan has managed to revamp their online presence in a magnificant way. The new site is easier to use, we’ve taken away all second level menues we’ve could, the design is on brand and may I say so – ground braking in terms of sitting on top of a content management system, it’s like nothing else and differentiates Vasakronan from their competition and it works like a charm on any platform. Knowing what they’re up to behind the scenes I’m proud to say this is one of the projects I’m most pleased with during 2011! But then again – that’s what I think ;)

Thank you Britny for sticking to our guns. Thank you Vasakronan for daring to be different!

Rock on!

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  • Kristoffer Nolgren

    a great work concept- and communication-wise, I would however beg to differ when it comes to some of your IT-strategy.

    WordPress:
    Wordpress is a great platform it is not however
    *Modern 
    It was launched in 2003, compared to epsierver 2, launched 2007, probably what  vaskronan was using. WordPress is hated worldwide by avant-garde webdevelopers for it’s nutoriously crappy design. Whenever you want to excell “the wordpress modell” of building stuff, you hit a dead end and end up with frustrated developers and overdue projcet time and budgets.
    *Scalabale
    Apart from above wordpress is not appropriate for sites with big traffic. For a company big like Vasakronan, you should aim for bigger traffic than the kind of sites wordpress is suitable for powering.

    WordPress is great for:
    *small sites
    *quick and dirty
    *cost efficient
    *standard widgets, all seen before
    *Publishing information

    It’s crap when:
    *You want to lead the way
    *You intend to build something great
    *You want to stand out.

    The site you have built is great in terms of communication. It really is. Crisp, clear, focused. However, it is not the future of digital presence. It is not leading the way. It is a very well executed, digital version of the glossy magazines that companies like Vasakronan has been pushing out for decades. I can see why you sold it, because it’s safe. I think in this case the client wanted safe, because I believe you know, the most risky thing to do theese days is to be safe.

    Here are some examples of what leading in digital presence means in regard to property brands:
    *Social features, such as eventcalendars or shoutboxes based around each house or property-project. To improve persanl ownership of the estate and longterm customer relationships.
    *Promotion of social-network Check-ins in every hallway
    *Ensurance of great presense on google maps and possibly also facebook locations.
    *Updated history on all the houses on wikipedia.
    *Apartment-swapping within the company, because old customers are cheaper than new ones and the trickiest part with apartment swapping is to get the landlord to allow it, here there would be no need.
    *atleast a friggin’ comment box

    None of this is suitable for a platform like wordpress.

    I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. I really appriciate your work, that is why i took my time to write this long post.

    Best Regards,
    Kristoffer Nolgren, Hemliga Byrån 

  • http://www.ronnestam.com/ Johan Ronnestam

    Thank you for your comment :)

    First – the technical analysis was done by independent engineers – not me. Secondly – Vasakronan is not about building something customized or something based on cmt with little support – the single most important thing is speed of change. Fine, maybe Drupal or Ruby matches that speed of change that WordPress has – but you have to spend tons of time thinking about the content management architecture – something we didn’t as it’s a main part of the design thinking.

    Regarding your list of ‘leading’ 

    Social features, check ins, FB locs, Gowalla, Wikipedia, etc etc etc….That’s not a list of ‘leading’ – that’s a list of stuff the school book produced by people who don’t really know digital to the core include. It’s the stuff ‘you should sell’ I’m pretty tired of things people sell cause they think it matters cause they’ve seen it on Mashable etc. You’ve gotta dig into the deep stats to know what really matters – and it’s not those things. 

    Cheers
    J

    ps. New York Times among others are running wordpress – I do think they harnest more traffic than Vasakronan.

  • Kristoffer Nolgren

    :) It’s not about the check-ins, that example was beside the point, I wish I didn’t put it in the list there.

    I feel very strongly about this, but it’s really hard to grasp, ;) unfortunately I don’t have your wickid communication skills full of whit and clarity.The realisation is this, and I don’t mean this in an “one day inspirational bullshit keynote-speaker” kind of way. I mean this in a sincere, realworld, everyday, fundamentaly changing everything kind of way.

    I don’t care about your brand. I don’t want to know what you have to say. 

    I care about my neighbours and possibly my caretaker, that is the communicatoin that creates my experience of the product that Vasakronan is selling. That is what those examples are about and that is the opportunity that is being ignored. This opportunity will be grasped and the grasper will have the competition on a stick, like the arab spring had with the dictators, annonymous had the pedophiles, blåtaxi.se is about to have taxi Stockholm, to take an example closer to what we are talking about. Information was freed by the advent of internet, after a few years the results started to affect the buisnesses dealing with information. The next step is communication. This transformation is very real, none of your clients will ever make it through without adaption. But everybody ignores it because they don’t themselves posess the skillset requierd to do it, because it’s pretty tricky.

    I think i’m getting into a “someone is wrong on the internet”, (http://xkcd.com/386/). This entire situation get’s me really worked up. I hope that maybe you got something from this. I’m certainly curious about what you beleive really matters and I’ll keep reading your posts and maybe I’ll figure it out some day.

  • http://www.ronnestam.com/ Johan Ronnestam

    First – I was about to ask after your first comment but wasn’t sure. Now – you do know that Vasakronan is not a B2C company? Your examples in the last post and now “I care about my neighbors and possibly my caretaker” – points in that direction.

    Secondly – We’re talking a digital solution for a company where the ‘target group’ are looking for offices that can host +400 people. Everything you see (and don’t see) on Vasakronan is focused on converting those prospects. In this case the client has not ignored it at all – quite the contrary.

    Third – What does BlåtaxiDOTse, that actually sends me via a domain called http://xn--bltaxi-juaDOTse/ on the way…that in itself is a SPAM domain….very bad in every way, has to do with all this? I hope you don’t mean Vasakronan should play it the SEM/SEO way here??? Or that you think things like Blåtaxi (or the equivalent to the property industry) will challenge Vasakronan?

    Fourth: I’ll give you some links to other posts I’ve written that I think shows you my point of view.

    http://www.ronnestam.com/aida-transformed-by-digital-media-what-does-it-mean-to-your-brand-communication/

    http://www.ronnestam.com/future-integrated-communication-from-a-digital-perspective/

    http://www.ronnestam.com/social-media-its-there-to-give-your-brand-a-body/

    http://www.ronnestam.com/all-your-brands-are-belong-to-us/

    http://www.ronnestam.com/seduce-us-or-excuse-us-11-ways-to-bring-your-brand-up-to-date/

    And finally: http://www.ronnestam.com/a-book-mashup-pdf-or-whatever-you-wanna-call-it-by-johan-ronnestam/ (ps. Mail me your adress and I’ll send you a ‘traditional copy’

    To sum up – I do think you think Someone is wrong on the Internet…but in this case I’m not sure we’re speaking about the same things here.

    ps. Which technical platform would you suggest?

    Best regards
    Johan

  • http://www.etui.se tjompa

    I beg to differ.

    Kristoffer, du skriver “WordPress is hated worldwide by avant-garde webdevelopers for it’s nutoriously crappy design. Whenever you want to excell “the wordpress modell” of building stuff, you hit a dead end and end up with frustrated developers and overdue projcet time and budgets.”. Kanske har vi mött världen på helt olika vis men jag tycker det låter som att du jobbat/har erfarenhet av fler personer. Det där är precis den typen av kommentarer som jag mött från personer som kommer från någon annan plattform och inte hanterar WordPress. Speciellt för några år sedan då det var lite krångligare att få bort bloggkänslan från WP. Nu är jag inte en kodare men efter att ha jobbat med webb i 12 år på leverantörssidan (oberoende mot plattformar) och med 100% uppbackning från byråer/frilansare så har jag fått en helt annan bild av situationen. 

    Vidare när det gäller skalbarheten är det delvis samma sak. Satt nyligen och gjorde ett uppdrag där delar av det strategiska innehöll en plattformsanalys. Där handlade det om att titta på att skala upp plattformen x (den som ej var definierad) till 1100 dottersiter och en sjuhelvetes massa medlemmar… och allt pekade på att WP skulle klara det. Om man hade rätt personer med på tåget.

    Så. När det gäller kommentarerna kring vad WP klarar och vad WP är till för så kan jag bara se två vägar. 1) du har inte koll på WP alt. har dessvärre jobbat med fel typer av personer och/eller 2) du har intressen in någon annan plattform, troligen en som bygger på licenser. 

    När det gäller checkins och annan porr så blir det intressantare. Gillar verkligen dina punkter och när man läser dina kommentarer så är det uppenbart att du är lite påläst om nya vägar för kommunikation, och hur den kommer att fungera. Men, det som slår mig och där du tappar mig lite (som sagt, även fast jag gillar dina bullets) är att jag inte tror att du jobbat så mycket med större organisationer. Den känslan baserar jag på två saker, och det är möjligt att jag har helt fel här men ändå. 1) Det finns fortfarande företag/organisationer där ute där det är ett mindre underverk om man kan få igenom att de ska ha en dela-knapp på informationen eller att, gud bevare mig, kunderna ska kunna konversera kring vissa typer av information. Att gå därifrån till att bygga in någon form av checkin-pryl är rätt långt. Säger inte att Vasakronan är ett sådant företag men ibland kan det krävas att man tar mindre steg, och det är både för företagets och deras intressenters bästa. Nummer 2) är lite klarare och den gäller insikt i hur människor de facto använder dessa nya prylar, i vilken utsträckning och vad som händer när implementering sker. Överlag så springer inte alla där ute (nu kollar jag på Sverige) och checkar in överallt, intresset och användandet existerar inte. Och när det gör det så handlar det allt som oftast att knyta det till en social sfär, att koppla det till ett helt hus ser jag som en helt irrelevant strategi och saknar bäring. 

    När det gäller uppdaterade saker på Wikipedia, att skapa en närvaro mot Google Maps  så talar jag inte emot dig men ser inte riktigt att det ligger i ett projekt som beskrivs här. Det är något för Vasakronans kommunikationsavdelning att fixa, om man ser att investerad tid kontra utfall över tid är positivt (men det är klart en bra idé du tar upp). Har inte en susning om hur projektet var uppbyggt men kan tänka mig att sådana delar inte ingår då det ligger hos tredje part och oftast löses internt. 

    Avslutningsvis. Inte menat att låta superneggo och tycker verkligen att dina kommentarer är intressant lagda. Men precis som du så går jag igång lite på det här ;).

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  • http://thinkdigital.dk Klaus Silberbauer

    Great case – thank you for describing it and for defending your choice of platform. Having designed for “heavy duty” CMS platforms as Episerver, Sitecore and (cough) Sharepoint for years, I do absolutely agree with you on your choice of WordPress. Not that Episerver or Sitecore are bad platforms – if you have tons of content, complex publishing worksflows and a very elaborate plan for targeted or adaptive content, integration to dialog program, etc. Let’s face it: Most companies don’t.

    Yes – maybe WordPress doesn’t scale into infinity and maybe the architecture is less than perfect (I honestly don’t know – but that’s what I’ve heard from more conventional CMS people) – but the time-to-market is what matters. And building on WP is just amazingly fast.

    The fact is that most organizations are putting out too complex websites with too much content where they could have done with simpler, smaller and well designed sites.

    So, here’s to open source, best-of-breed platforms. Cheers.

    /K

    Think! Digital
    Copenhagen

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  • http://www.ronnestam.com/ Johan Ronnestam

    Hey Klaus,

    Thank you so much for your comment!

    Rock on!
    J

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  • http://stefanpettersson.posterous.com/ Stefan Pettersson

    Very interesting case. Under what circumstances would WordPress be a bad choice for a corporate website? About to embark on a project… We are currently running EpiServer.

  • http://www.ronnestam.com/ Johan Ronnestam

    Hey,

    There are of course several cases where WordPress would not be the best choice. It depends on the purpose of your site.

    For example E-commerce sites or sites with complex community functionality would be things I wouldn’t use wordpress for. That said I might still recommend it for the publishing part.

    If you’re looking to implement a content management system that ties closely to a huge content organisation I would also think twice.

    Alternatives however is Drupal

  • http://stefanpettersson.posterous.com/ Stefan Pettersson

    Thanks – appreciate your comments. Not a straightforward decision to make.

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