Interview

Interview with Jason Steere, Managing Director of Brand & Experience at The Social Hub

March 3, 2023

Author(s):

No items found.

Contributing organisations:

No items found.

You have a very interesting background, how did you transition from retail design to heading marketing for a student housing organisation, can you take us through that?

[JS]: For me, retail is for marketing. Inherently, if you want to sell a product, you need to be good at marketing. So, it was not a huge leap to go from designing retail stores whose purpose is to present products or services in the best way for customers to want to engage, buy and come back for more. For me, having started in retail brands like The Gap, Eddie Bauer and other retailers, gave me the sales and field experience. Then moving to Visual Merchandising, working with the product, and design of the interiors and POS materials gave me brand/product marketing and interior design experience, which led me to start my own agency which allowed me to create experiences for other brands.

What motivated you to co-found Storeage, and how did you establish a team capable of changing the way brands interact with customers?

[JS]: Storeage was a combination of dreams coming together. I had moved to Nike Europe as an expat with a 2-year term after which I would need to return to NIKE in the US. After the 2 years were up, I didn't want to leave, I fell in love with Amsterdam and loved working and travelling across Europe. Plus, I always had the idea of starting my own business at some point in my career. In 2000, these 2 dreams came together and with the help of two other partners, founded Storeage. Our purpose was simple, we believed brands could create immersive experiences that drew people in, converted sales and created long-term loyalty through customers being able to feel, touch, smell, taste and breathe the brand. At that time, only a few brands were successful at this, one of which was NIKE and their NIKETOWN stores. This experience helped us launch Storeage and recruit like-minded creatives and design amazing retail experiences across the globe for great brands.

How did your experience as a Visual Presentation Manager at Nike USA and Europe influence your approach to brand strategy and design?

[JS]: As I mentioned early, when you work closely with a product like I did at NIKE, you learn about the entire process of product development, visual merchandising, customer insights, retail environments and sales. For me, this "education" gave me intimate knowledge of what makes a brand tick, how to put it in the best light, how to take customer feedback and work with it and most importantly, how a brand image and presentation can influence sales and engagement just as much as the product itself.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career as a brand strategist and designer, and how have you overcome them?

[JS]: In fairness, I'm not a trained designer. I think of myself more as understanding how to creatively direct designers and present creative work to inspire, gain alignment, and

ultimately ensure a creative idea gets executed in the best way possible. This is one of the biggest challenges in brand design. We had a running joke at Storeage, we wanted to publish a book with all of the "pitch work" done by agencies, you know, the work that clients ask for to win their business. Agencies put in weeks, sometimes months and all-nighters to come up with amazing ideas and presentations to wow their potential client.

So, if you lose for whatever reason, this work is mostly dumped. We imagined all the great concepts that never saw the light of day. This for me is the biggest challenge, making sure incredibly creative ideas don't end up trashed due to the process of creation, endless reviews and approvals and the eventual challenges of production/implementation.

What are some of the key ingredients for creating a successful brand experience, and how do you ensure that it is meaningful and long-lasting for the consumer?

[JS]: I have 3 ingredients that I learned from retail and try to implement at The Social Hub:

1. Create a great product or service. If you don't have that then you are dead from the beginning. These days, quality is ante stacks.

2. Create immersive experiences both digitally and physically so customers can interact with the brand and products at the same time.

3. Give the customer reasons to share their experience with their friends and family and most importantly also give them a reason to come back.

With these 3 ingredients successfully created and "cooked" together, it's a sure recipe for success for any brand.

Can you discuss some of the innovative experiences you have created for The Social Hub, and how you approached the design process for them?

[JS]: Joining The Student Hotel, now rebranded to The Social Hub, was my first experience with hospitality. And Charlie, our founder, and I saw eye-to-eye on those 3 ingredients I mentioned above, so it was a great opportunity to continue to disrupt the industry a bit more as Charlie has done since TSH started. So, some of the most innovative experiences are less in the details and more in the concept. For example, we create large lobbies or communal spaces that are open to everyone which creates this blend of different guests connecting with each other under one roof.  

Most hotels have smaller lobbies and rarely would you go there if you weren't a guest. In our lobbies, we have locals, students, business travellers, digital nomads, and tourists all making connections and having fun together. The process of creating these communal spaces takes dedication because it's not the norm. We are taking away valuable real estate that could be sold as rooms, meeting spaces or coworking desks, so commercially we are "giving-away" space for free, then there are operations, it's not easy to manage big public lobbies with all sorts of needs, then lastly there is the design challenge, big spaces are sometimes cold, lack personality and can be dead spaces if not designed well.  

But if you manage to do it right, you will not only increase sales through repeat business, a desire to dwell in the space and meet people to share a drink or meal together, but you will

also create a destination for local neighbours, businesses, and guests to form a community and be a place to come together.  

What do you think sets The Social Hub apart from other hybrid hospitality concepts, and how has it evolved since its inception?

[JS]: Besides what I mentioned early, I believe it is the only brand with such a unique community mix. No one else draws locals, students, businesses, entrepreneurs, and travellers all under one roof to come to learn, stay, work and play. I think that is what distinguishes us the most from other brands in either the hotel, PBSA or coworking industries. Also, the way the brand has evolved is distinctive. Charlie started with a simple belief, "Students deserve better" which was the purpose of The Student Hotel. And over the last 10+ years, we have grown almost organically adding new products and experiences based on consumer demand and market conditions to become this hybrid mix of everything a city has to offer, a place to stay, work, eat, play, and connect with others. Then, with a recent, repositioning to The Social Hub, our purpose has evolved, today, we believe that "together, we create a better society". By blending this diverse community of both locals and travellers, we learn more about differences, relate to one another better and in our small way contribute to a world with more respect, tolerance and appreciation of our people and planet. Sounds lofty, but we are already doing it today with over 60 nationalities staying with us any given year.

How do you balance the needs of the demanding 21st-century student with those of the design-savvy traveller, and what are some of the key considerations in doing so?

[JS]: They are not as different as we think. Students today see themselves as just at the beginning of their careers. Getting an education is the first step of their adult lives and those that stay with us see their journey start with an experience of living with plenty of entrepreneurs and business working across the table from them, they go to events where they will meet locals and learn about their city, and they will make life-long friends with fellow students, guests, local and even our TSH staff members. Now, I consider myself a design-savvy traveller, and the student experience I just described, is exactly the experience I want when I travel to a new city.  So, our considerations are less about any design or product experiences, but more about our programming and events we want to host or bring into our Hubs for our community to connect around.

Can you discuss your approach to establishing meaningful brand/consumer dialogue, and how do you leverage your global experiences to inform that approach?

[JS]: I think I have covered most of this in my answers above, but one additional point that helps create brand/consumer dialogue is don't forget to listen, ask customers questions and be constantly visiting our hubs and connecting with our community. We wouldn't be where we are today if we didn't have guests asking us about whether they can work in the lobby, or locals asking if they can host a meeting in our spaces or join our gym classes. This curiosity has proven the best way to ensure we stay relevant.

What advice would you give to aspiring brand strategists and designers looking to make a name for themselves in the industry?

[JS]: Don't take no for an answer. Take risks. I know it may sound cliché, but I come across plenty of creatives, who say they have refreshing ideas or new concepts, but most of the time it's an iteration of something existing. Be bold, think big, and try find a place to work or a team to join, that allow you to express your passions and inspirations. If you can find that, you will not grow your talent, but you will be able to be proud of your contribution to something bigger.

How do you stay current and relevant in a constantly changing industry, and what are some of the emerging trends you are most excited about?

[JS]: Stay curious. It's a brand statement of ours at TSH, but it's so true for my role. Be open to new ideas, travel, read, meet new people, connect with locals when abroad, be super critical of all the details when I stay in a hotel, learn from the best and don't slip into doing what everyone else is.  As for trends, I see a lot about how technology, AI, and smart devices improve your experience as a traveller and also enable staff to serve customers better than being stuck behind a reception desk or back office. So, we are looking at technology as an enabler rather than a nifty trick. And I would say, greenery. We will see more biophilia within indoor spaces, whether just plants, but also other natural materials, sounds, smells, and lighting.

Join us on our journey.

Subscribe to our newsletter