When Annmarie and I launched Fivecat Studio in 1999, we knew that we wanted to give our firm a unique identity. Every other firm in the region was named for their founders. Another “Smith and Smith Architects” was not what we wanted to be. (No offense to any Smith and Smiths out there.) Our plans were to create a firm unlike anyone else and we needed a name to separate us from the pack.
After a few days of considering alternatives, the name Fivecat Studio consistently rose to the top. Clearly unique, the name resonated with us, as it represented well our personal dedication to homeless pets and our passion for animal rescue. It was a name that would help us tell our unique story. It was a name on which we could begin to build our new brand of architecture.
A brand though, is so much more than an interesting name. There are hundreds of strong brands with names lacking imagination. Frank Gehry is a very strong brand. Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid; each built a firm and a strong brand using their own names. For the rest of us though, creating a new entity filled with character and creativity will help us build a memorable impression.
A brand is not your name though, your logo or your marketing materials. Can you recall the logo for any of the firms I mentioned above? These elements can most certainly be ingredients in the recipe of a strong brand, but individually they are nothing more than business seasoning.
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” – Seth Godin
As your experience grows and your reputation builds, your brand will develop… with or without you. Your brand value is what others feel your brand to be. Your job is to plan, sculpt and manage your brand to tell the story that you want to be told. What is your story? What is the one unique thing you do better than anyone else? Where do you want to go? What do you want others to say when they talk about you and your firm? Why are you worth the value you are presenting to the world?
That is your brand.
How To Build a Powerful Brand in Architecture
Below are ten rules for building a powerful brand for your firm.
A powerful brand tells your story. The name Fivecat Studio begins to tell the tale about who we are and where we come from. Even as the firm is transferred to future leaders, the name will carry on with a clear history of the firm. Our residential architecture continues to develop the story. Young families throughout the Hudson Valley have experienced our proprietary process and live their lives in architecture that have strengthened relationships and have brought families closer together.
A powerful brand is transferable. Building a powerful brand will allow you to separate yourself from the brand. As a leader in the firm, you may be and should be part of the brand, but brands that are built solely upon personalities die when that individual is no longer involved in the day to day business of the firm. A transferable brand will allow new people to grow into leadership positions without losing equity and requiring the brand to adjust.
A powerful brand is differentiating. The things that make your firm different from all others is a key ingredient in the recipe of success. As Annmarie and I built Fivecat Studio, we focused our brand building more on the experience of the process than the creation of the design. Although our architecture is viewed as top quality, our focus on people more than the project set us apart from other firms competing in our market.
A powerful brand begins as an empty container; a carrier of your reputation. Your brand starts at zero, empty of all forces and influences. As your firm grows, your brand grows with it, slowly filling the container with brand elements. Will you fill the container with your story, or will your clients fill it with theirs?
A powerful brand is unique. The strongest brands in the world are “the only”. There is only one Apple. One Disney. One Frank Lloyd Wright. Everything about these brands separate them from every other competitor.
A powerful brand is easily shared. Word of mouth is critical to the success of a small architecture firm. Crafting a story that can be quickly understood and easily shared will encourage your fans to talk about you, spreading your brand to their friends and acquaintances. Give your clients the script that you want them to use and they will share it with everyone they know.
A powerful brand defines a complete experience. When clients ask me what separates Fivecat Studio from other firms, I say that it is the experience of designing and building architecture that makes us unique. From the initial telephone call, through the first meeting, the design process and throughout the construction of their project, our focus on their experience, and ultimately their happiness, is what our brand is all about.
A powerful brand is easily identifiable. Your firm’s logo, its colors, it’s marketing materials, website and business cards, when developed to support the brand, will identify your company immediately upon first glance. Your telephone greeting, your interview process and your project management are all part of your brand. Your employees, your vehicles and your architecture should all reflect your brand and identify you without needing to say a word.
A powerful brand builds upon your greatest strength. What is the one thing that you do better than anyone else? If it is design, build your brand upon that. If it is process, build your brand upon that. If it’s your hand-holding customer service, build your brand upon that. Building a brand upon your greatest strength will quickly set you apart from others.
A powerful brand evokes emotion. How did you feel the first time you held an iPad and swiped your fingers across the screen? As our clients watch their homes evolve and become the reality of the design, they are filled with excitement and anticipation. The emotions that your clients feel reinforce your brand’s value. Managing those emotions will help build your brand and support everything else you do.
There are others too. Share your thoughts in the comments below. What are YOUR rules for a powerful brand?
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