While there are no doubt some costs associated with making a brand for your firm, a lot of it just boils down to a little work and some discipline.
I think a lot of people who own and manage AEC firms think they cannot create a real brand for their business that would allow them to better compete with larger national/international firms. They’ll say, “We’re too small,” or, “We’re just a local business,” or, “There’s no way we can afford to do that,” or, “That’s impossible.” None of these things are true!
While there are no doubt some costs associated with making a brand for your firm, a lot of it just boils down to a little work and some discipline, and voilà – you will have a brand!
Some people may ask why it’s important to have a brand that is known and recognizable? Hey – if you don’t want to get better fees for whatever you are selling, don’t want to grow your business, and don’t want a stream of good people trying to get jobs with you, don’t worry about creating a brand! If, on the other hand, those do sound like good things, then here is the way to make it a reality:
- Consistency. It’s amazing how many firms in this business do not have complete consistency in the name and colors they use. Many times, names of companies are turned into “alphabet soup,” when “Johnson, Jones, and Smith” is referred to both inside and outside the company as “JJ&S” because the real name is deemed too long to write out. The next thing that happens is “JJ&S” becomes “JJS,” because the “&” is deemed by someone to be unnecessary. Before you know it, the company now looks like it is operating under three different names. It gets even more confusing when the people in one office decide they like a “pretty maroon color“ because those are the colors of the college football team in their town, instead of the red color the firm originally used for its logo. Then, someone in an office in another city decides that grey is a better color than the corporate red, and when they get a new sign for their new office they use their grey color for the logo. Oh yes, they may also change the font slightly so the sign, in the judgement of the office manager, is more readable driving by at 50 miles per hour. You get the idea. Before long, everyone uses the name, colors, and font of their choice, and the brand is greatly diluted. I was once an outside director on the BOD of an engineering firm, and when I suggested they order all of their company-branded shirts in their company color scheme, I was laughed at as if that was the craziest idea anyone had ever heard. Anyone could order whatever they wanted. This stuff is important!
- Repetition. With the same name, colors, and logo design, this needs to be used everywhere ALL of the time. Every vehicle, project sign, title block, business card, letterhead, email signature, office sign, website, technical paper, social media post, company “swag” items, and more, needs to be using the same name, logo, and colors. It should be put on everything and used constantly. Look at how consumer product companies do it. This is the only way people outside the company will become super familiar with the company, which reduces the perceived risk of hiring you and creates a “larger than life” image for the firm.
- Brand ambassadors. Every employee of the firm is a “brand ambassador,” for a lack of any better way to describe it. Those of us who are old-timers remember when there was a certain standard of dress for IBM employees. They all had white shirts or blouses. This became the “IBM look.” And today, with social media, the stuff your people post will either enhance the brand of your firm or take away from it. What do they put out there? Are there certain causes they promote? Do they show the work of the company? Or do they get on certain polarizing political topics and complain about their jobs or workplace? Do they promote the awards, accolades, and accomplishments of the company and its people, or do they not talk about their work and company and instead bait controversy? This is far more important than you think – and no doubt not easily managed. But you should constantly be bringing it up and talking about it with all of your people so they understand the importance of putting the right stuff out there.
- Working visibility. This means that the world can spot your people and your projects everywhere you are. ALWAYS using huge and prominent project signage is one example. Painting your offices inside and out with a particular color scheme is another. Having all company vehicles painted or wrapped in the exact same color scheme is yet another. I have never been able to understand why any AEC firm would have company vehicles in different color schemes or worse, ones with no company name on them. The company is paying for those vehicles! They can either be a rolling advertisement for the firm or be nothing that promotes recognition of the company. And one more thing – the colors you use should be memorable and recognizable. The introverted design and technical professionals who make up most of the ownership and management of AEC firms gravitate to white and silver vehicles, so when you see a job site with various firms represented, everyone’s vehicle looks pretty much the same. That is crazy. I can tell you with my design/build/development/construction firm (not Zweig Group), we always had black vehicles, and we had the only black company vehicles in town. We also kept them super clean. I got more comments about our vehicles than you would believe. Ditto for our project signage. Instead of white with black lettering, we had black with white lettering. We also got regularly named the best developers, remodelers, and builders because of that brand recognition that larger companies in our area did not have.
Critics of this article will write in and tell me none of this matters, and that corporate values such as a certain level of service, quality, creativity, and other intangibles are far more important than this other stuff when it comes to establishing a brand. No doubt, those things ARE important. The performance of the company has to match the image projected. But those things – as necessary as they are to work on – are not mutually exclusive to the other aspects of creating a brand covered above.
Work on what you can control most easily first. That’s usually a good way to go!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.