…if you keep horsing around with the backdated boilerplates, crapshoot colors, inconsistent images, mixed-up messages and scattershot slogans that create chronic confusion about what your firm’s brand really is and how to communicate it consistently to clients, collaborators, even co-workers.
That was a key issue raised at the March meeting of the Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards. The focus was proper brand development and implementation for uniformity of image throughout a firm’s marketing collateral, and the challenge of keeping vigil on the firm’s brand identity amid the runaway horserace of social media and electronic design/production tools, the constantly changing marketplace, even in-house personnel and team comings and goings.
I took away from that meeting the necessity to follow the 5 Cs in branding:
Clarity is attained by sifting through the haystack of concepts, catchphrases, clauses, clichés and keywords you’ve bandied about for eons to find the needle of necessity to pinpoint your firm’s core values: who we are, what we do, our mission, our philosophy, our approach, etc.
Once those core values are agreed upon, now comes a bigger hurdle: unifying them into a strong message that captures the firm’s essence, image and brand in a nutshell. This message must guide the creation of marketing materials accordingly, leading you toward…
Cohesion between message and graphics. At the meeting it was mentioned that “there are two parts to your brand and identity, and the whole graphic piece and message should be thought of together.” As form follows function in building, material should follow message in marketing.
Payette’s website is a prime example. The firm evokes its 75-80 year history and honors its roots with an older-looking logo and archival images. Their “collaborative and participatory” process is shown in photos of staff teaming on models, plans, construction sites, etc. Shots of building materials used — brick, exposed wood, concrete, etc. — signify that “we value process as much as the end product.” A picture of a pin-up board they use to encourage constant collaboration and idea-sharing emphasizes the firm’s “innovative process.” Images of their office displays of brand words like “Integrity” drive home their message.
Consistency is another big hurdle if a firm’s employees buck its brand standards (if any exist to begin with) and use “random cowboy” fonts, titles, templates, logos, palettes, signatures, stationery, etc., in its outgoing marketing materials and correspondence.
This certainly doesn’t promote the firm as a cohesive team — especially since this inconsistency’s main cause is poor communication and enforcement of brand guidelines in the firm as a whole, particularly to newbies who might be using an old letterhead or studio report template without being aware of it. Brand standard setting and up-front communication of it to all firm members (discussed below) is key to averting a bucking bronco of a brand.
HMFH Architects, Inc., sets a great example of branding consistency by perpetuating its green, blue, orange and purple color scheme throughout its business cards, office signage, origami candy holders, website dropdown menus, etc., as well as some of its school building designs.
Perkins + Will has simplified its logo to fit easily into lots of collateral across its 22 international offices. All individual office websites share the same logo, menu and home page. This presents the firm as one cohesive company committed to interoffice interaction and consistency of quality throughout the world.
Communication with co-workers about brand standards, as mentioned above, must precede communication of the brand to the public. This is where the style guide comes in — which must have clarity in its own right.
“I wrote it in a fit of frustration,” remarked a meeting attendee. “It’s hard to follow, so no one follows it.” The solution, in Thoreau’s lingo: “Simplify, simplify.”
The style guide should be:
- created by a team, including a project administrator and coordinator, who know the firm’s fonts and colors cold;
- presented as a hierarchy of headings, subheadings and texts, and hues, shades and tints, within coherent schemes that bring out the brand;
- made easy for the entire firm to read, learn and follow — no pedantic or awkward language, complex sentences or the like;
- made accessible to all through the company intranet, a printed manual to keep at your workstation, or a findable file that’s not like looking for a needle in a haystack.
For template consistency, a firm using InDesign might consider training its entire staff in that software to familiarize everyone with the firm’s template style, design/branding components and collateral production process. Elizabeth Brown (who attended the meeting) does just that through Soft-Teach.com, a customized computer training program offering on-site instruction right in a firm’s office.
It is also important to give every new employee a formal orientation to the firm’s branding approach and style right away, so s/he’ll know it right off the bat and not end up using a letterhead, masthead or subhead from 5 or 10 years ago.