From the Chairman: Building value through culture and brand

Mar 06, 2014

Being crystal clear on intent and purpose allows you to build a powerful and consistent value proposition.

Your organization has a culture and brand, whether by intention or happenstance. When asked about their brand, most firms I work with refer me to their marketing materials. Product companies tend to define their brand as the way their products are packaged and marketed. When it comes to culture, some firms may present a wallet-size card imprinted with “What We Stand For” or “Our Values.” Their website frequently talks about, “What it’s like to work here.” Very few have taken the time to ask their clients/customers or staff what they think even though these stakeholders can provide valuable insights into a company’s perceived culture and image. I’ve sat in wonder at how surprised firm principals seem to be after they hear what these constituencies have to say. Frequently, they learn they do, indeed, have an image that is quite consistently understood, but not necessarily what they think it should be. I spent my career with one firm which, from its inception, deeply pondered its culture and brand. When I became president and then CEO, I believed my most important role, the one that delivered the highest value to the firm and our clients, was as an active and engaged steward of the elements of culture and brand. To me, these elements defined the promise and experience that everyone we touched – clients, staff, contractors, vendors, building, planning or city officials – could expect from us. The inventory of culture and brand elements include: Culture
  • People. Recruiting style, selection criteria, enrollment and acculturation; expected level of engagement.
  • Process. How work gets done.
  • Norms of behavior. How we treat each other; the people we depend on, our customers/clients, our community.
  • Communication. Style, voice, means and methods.
  • Our product or service.
  • Marketing. How we reach our customers/clients; what we say to them and how we listen to them.
  • Customer/client. The script for and style of our interface, during and after product/service delivery.
  • Facilities. Type, location, and appearance.
  • Communication. What and where we publish, speak and how we interact with our communities.
When these elements are thoughtfully and purposely aligned, they demonstrate and support your intent and purpose. Being crystal clear on intent and purpose allows you to build a powerful and consistent value proposition for your entire community of stakeholders. Your mission and vision statements comprise who you are, why you exist, what value you offer and why you and your product or service are appealing to your intended audience. These statements are not platitudes: “We are the best in the world.” They contain explicit, unique-to-your market sector and product/service offered statements of intent. These statements are clear enough for you to define your culture and brand elements with great specificity. Only with this work in hand, can you and your leadership team inspire everyone in your organization to truly become your “intent.” Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with ZweigWhite and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at
More reading on Ed Friedrich’s blog at Emotional intelligence – On slowing down and answering people’s questions as a leadership style: Deep engagement, context & clarity – Targeted advice for A/E/P firms: Recruiting – On determining the strengths and talents you’re really looking for and how to find them: This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1046, originally published 3/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.