Today we’re looking at Branding for Architects and how to develop your own branding strategy. Let’s start with the basics: what is branding?
What is Branding?
Many business professionals (including self-proclaimed branding experts) struggle to agree on a definition for this familiar but allusive term.
So, after 10 years of building an international consultancy from scratch here’s my go at defining the undefinable.
To me, a brand is quiet simply a promise. It’s a promise that’s distilled into a format that’s easily conveyed via the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch).
What Makes a Brand Successful?
Successful brands all have one thing in common – their audience knows exactly what that promise is.
For example, McDonald’s promises consistency. You go to a McDonald’s because no matter where you are in the world you know exactly what you’re going to get – no surprises (and people are loving it!).
Apple Computer’s promise is uncompromising detail to innovation and design – everything they build is beautiful and cutting edge, from their products to their instantly recognizable stores.
Zara (the world’s largest fashion retailer) promises reasonably priced fast fashion – they don’t wait for the season to change, with over 20 clothing collections per year, you can always rely on Zara to deliver the latest fashion at a reasonable price.
So how can Architects and Design Professionals implement a branding strategy? To better answer that question it helps to understand the history of branding.
A Brief History of Branding:
Believe it or not there was a time when the biggest challenge in making a sale was simply making a product or service that people could buy. Why? Because at the start of the 20th century, competition was in short supply – the lack of formal education, social mobility, infrastructure, technology and access to capital helped keep many would-be competitors at bay.
As such businesses didn’t have to concern themselves with catering to a wide variety of consumer requirements. For example, Henry Ford was able to build a hugely successful automobile corporation with the mantra “Any customer can have a car painted in any color he wants, so long as it is black.”
It wasn’t until after the second world war that things started to shift. As production increased so did competition, and with competition came confusion.
Customers now needed some way of differentiating one product or service from another and by the late 1940’s a marketing concept known as “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP) was born.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP):
Research into the USP concept suggested that successful advertising campaigns focused on the unique features that a product or service had to offer. By highlighting the unique features, and focusing on benefits, many savvy business owners were able to dominate their respective markets.
The term USP was originally developed by television advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves however this approach to sales and marketing soon received universal approval.
For example, Theodore Levitt, a professor at the internationally renowned Harvard Business School, went on to say that “Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which companies must constantly engage.”
Although the USP approach proved to be hugely successful it wasn’t long before businesses were looking for yet another way to differentiate their offerings and drive sales.
So, a few years later, two advertising executives, Al Ries and Jack Trout, created a marketing strategy called “Positioning”.
The idea behind this new concept was to develop the USP strategy into something a little more refined.
Rather than just focusing on features and benefits, positioning addressed the consumers emotional criteria by focusing on the position the product earns in the prospect’s mind.
By focusing on a positioning strategy businesses could align themselves with consumer values and win consumers over on an emotional level. Positioning proved to be so successful that it’s now become the cornerstone of most advertising campaigns we see today.
For example, Colgate is not just another toothpaste they’re selling piece of mind with their “Cavity Protection” tag line.
Coca cola is not just another soft drink they’re selling happiness with their “Enjoy Coca Cola” tag line.
Mercedes Benz is not just another German car company; they’re selling status with their “The Best or Nothing” tag line.
Southwest Airlines is not just another airline, they’re selling freedom to the masses with their “Low Fares, Nothing to Hide” tag line.
… and Avis is not just another rental car company they’re selling empathy with their “We’re Number Two; We Try Harder” tag line.
So there you have it – COMPETITION is the reason branding has become so important… and the more competition we face, the more effective our branding strategy needs to be.
So, how can Architects and Designers develop their own branding strategy? Below is a 7 step strategy to get you started. We’ve also developed a free Starter Kit that’s packed full of useful resources to help you build a successful design firm. Click Here to get started.
Branding for Architects & Designers - 7 Step Strategy:
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience
Ask yourself “who will you serve?” and be specific. Don’t say residential Clients. Say residential Clients located in XYZ who have ABC. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to specialize and gain a competitive advantage over your less focused peers.
Research conducted by a leading branding and marketing firm called Hinge, confirms that successful (high growth, high profit) firms are focused on having a clearly defined target audience. In summary it pays to know exactly who you want to work with.
Step 2: Understand Their Problem(s)
Ask yourself “what really motivates your Clients?” Research shows that successful firms focus their efforts on their Clients priorities not their own capabilities. Successful brands offer solutions not qualifications.
For example, could a different fee structure address the Client’s financial concerns? Could a different contract arrangement address the Clients management concerns? Could a different design strategy address the Clients sustainability concerns? Could a different construction method address the Clients scheduling concerns? Know what motivates your Clients so you can offer a solution, not just a qualification.
Step 3: Make A Commitment To Solve Their Problem(s)
Once you’ve found a solution to the Clients problem you need to commit to it. That means that everyone in the office needs to understand that your firm is committed to XYZ so that it forms part of everything your firm does. Remember Clients will pay for results (not resumes) so make sure you’re committed to a solution so that it resonates with everything you do.
Step 4: Define Your USP
Ask yourself “what’s truly unique (or different) about your solution?” If your Clients can’t easily see (or value) your differentiator then you’ll end up competing on price alone. Make sure your USP is simple and clear for everyone to understand.
For example, if your competitors charge on an hourly basis then your USP could be lump sum pricing. If your competitors provide design-only contracts, then your USP could be design-build contracts. If your competitors offer a conventional design service, then your USP could be a biophilic design service. If your competitors offer a traditional construction process, then your USP could be a prefabricated option. In summary, know what it is that differentiates your firm and then make that the focus of your branding efforts.
Step 5: Position Your Solution
What’s your tag line? How can you capture the essence of your USP in one sentence that speaks to the Clients emotional interests? You may want to start by filling in the blanks in the following sentence: We help ___ achieve ___ by providing ___.
For example, if you offer design service for attic or basement conversions then your tag line could be: We help homeowners unlock hidden space with our beautiful attic and basement conversions.
Isn’t that more compelling than a sign that says “ABC Architects”?
Step 6: Convey Your Solution (via the 5 senses)
Now is the time to develop your firms name, logo and promotional material (i.e. your brand identity):
For many firms a new name will not be necessary but if you are thinking of a new name be sure to make it unique, transferable and memorable.
Once you have a name in mind be sure to check for competition with a google search. Also think about how your name will appear on your website (URL) and as an email address – make sure it’s not too long or difficult to read or pronounce. Once you think you have a name try throwing it into a conversation to see how it sounds.
Keep the logo simple so that it’s easily transferable to different mediums. For example, how will it look in the corner of your website, on the back of a business card, or in your online content marketing posts.
Too much detail will quickly be lost as the logo gets resized to accommodate different formats. Make sure the colors fit with your brand by checking out the psychology of colors.
Step 7: Track Results
How well did you do? Were you able to complete all 6 of the previous steps? If yes, it’s now time to implement and track. Tracking is perhaps the most important part of the exercise and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
For example, if your running online advertisement or content marketing most of the tracking is done for you via the programs your using to broadcast the message.
However phone calls and emails will need to be monitored so you may want to start a spreadsheet and review the results on a weekly or monthly basis.
Remember the aim of this step is to find out what works (and what doesn’t work) so that you can refine your systems.
Obviously once you have a brand it helps to understand how to market that brand. You may want to check out the following blog post which explains how other Design Professional have successfully used content marketing to increase Client engagement.
Marketing for Architects – The Most Important Rule:
Let us know what you think:
Do you agree with our branding for Architects and Designers guide? Let us know in the comments section below by saying “Yes, if you do” or “No, if you don’t”.
Ready to Improve your Fee Proposal Skills, win more Clients and become your firms greatest asset?
The following resources are available right now:
• Marketing for Architects – The Most Important Rule (blog):
• Design Professional’s Guide to Design Fee Psychology (eGuide):
• The Ultimate Fee Proposal Online Training Course (CE/CPD points available):