How your brand gets screwed up

Apr 06, 2009

As a board member for an international engineering firm I have recently been participating in a series of interviews and meetings related to their brand. What their brand is, how to make it real, and more are all hot topics of discussion there right now. They are working with some consultants who actually seem to understand our industry— wow— how unusual that is! I think there is little appreciation for branding in our business. I am convinced the majority of professionals in our “industry” don’t understand branding. They think trying to build a brand is mainly a waste of time. And if not that, they think branding is strictly the domain of the marketing people when in fact, it permeates every single thing the firm does. Anyway, over the course of this process it got me thinking about how design and environmental firms screw up their brands. There are many ways! Here are a few: Firms don’t take the time to figure out what their brand is. Your brand is pretty much all about how your firm is perceived by those outside of it. If you don’t ever ask you may make some erroneous assumptions. Those false assumptions could lead to bad decisions about what types of people you hire, how you approach a project, or even what services you provide. You have got to find out what the market thinks of your brand now so you can better promote it or change it. Don’t figure out what the market thinks of you and you’ll screw up your brand. Firms don’t understand the impact of the people who work there on the brand. If you want a recognizable brand, you have to provide a consistent experience for your clients. Yet, doing things the “company way” can be perceived as a sell out to many design professionals. They want to exercise their right as intelligent, independent-thinking, experienced people to deviate from “company standard” at their will. This problem is exacerbated when you have a staff with more advanced degrees or to the extent that you hire more experienced people from other firms as opposed to “growing your own” from interns, co-ops, or new graduates. Ignore the types of people you have and their impact on your brand and you’ll screw it up! Get the high-level message right! This is never easy and Lord knows I have wasted a lot of time in meetings over the years trying to do this! It takes some real creative thinking and an understanding of what the passions are of the people who own and run the firm. We are all bored and tired with the cliché-laden missions and taglines used by firms in this business. Yet to the extent that we can define a noble cause that rallies our people and justifies all we do for our clients will in large part determine how successfully we can convince the public that our brand actually means something. Don’t worry about a high-level message for your brand and you’ll screw it up! Firms don’t insist on total compliance. Whether it is graphic standards, outgoing e-mail message templates, colors used in project signage, or company vehicle choices we’re talking about, the bottom line is the same. Most companies do not insist on total adherence to the standard. It seems too Draconian to do so or insulting to the freedom of those working there. I had one principal say he didn’t want a firm that ran like Nazi Germany! Yet, how can you have a brand if you don’t have some consistency? You cannot. Don’t screw up your brand by tolerating unnecessary cancerous non-compliance in the name of protecting freedom of choice. I have to believe that many of our readers can identify with some or all of these problems. While none of these are simple to solve, my experience is taking the time to work on them until they are resolved is time and money well-spent. A strong brand will help you weather recessions, get past the comings and goings of key staffers, and help sustain higher billing rates. It’s worth it to protect and promote your brand! Originally published 4/6/2009

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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.