Establishing, conveying and maintaining a powerful brand is a critical component of an A/E/C firm’s overall marketing strategy. In an industry where differentiation is incredibly challenging, finding ways to stand out from the competition is absolutely crucial.
One of the primary purposes of branding has always been to distinguish a firm from other similar, qualified competitors. So how do you accomplish this goal? Here are 5 key ways to make a greater impact with your A/E/C firm’s branding efforts.
1. Focus on the why, not the what
In their branding and marketing, many A/E/C firms focus their attention on the tangible attributes of their firms—the who, what, when, where and how. But when everyone can boast the same service offerings, markets and accolades, you’re left with a crowded sea of “me toos.” Let’s face it; if a client were basing their selection decision solely on marketing materials, most would have a tough time distinguishing one firm from the next, because “everybody” on the surface sounds pretty much the same.
Your marketing does need to address basic facts of who you are and what you do, but don’t forget to talk about why you do what you do, how your approach is different (assuming it is) and how this ultimately benefits the client. The end goal of branding is getting past the tangible attributes of your company and tapping into the emotional triggers of your audience (yes they do exist!) by conveying intangible attributes—the why factor—that can’t be easily imitated by the competition. The why factor is what makes you unique, it’s your “secret sauce,” your brand promise and it has to be authentic, believable and unique to you.
2. Discover your differentiators
Every strong brand stands for something in the marketplace—at least one differentiating attribute. Your firm already has a position in the minds of your clients and prospects based on thoughts and feelings derived from their knowledge of and experiences with your firm. So it’s essential to understand how the market already views your firm and uncover what actual differentiators you possess. You can’t assume that how you see your firm is how your prospects and clients see your firm.
One of the best ways to uncover market perception and discover your differentiators is through qualitative research, ideally conducted by a third party. Through interviews with key members of your management team, employees, partners, clients and even prospects, you can uncover diverse perspectives, invaluable insight and start to answer the “Why our firm?” question. This will help identify what truly sets your firm apart from the competition.
3. Craft compelling key messages
Once you’ve identified your differentiators, the next step is to craft compelling key messages that pinpoint your unique position in the marketplace. These messages should aim to reach your key target audience at both a rational and emotional level.
As we’ve already discussed, many A/E/C firms say the same things, in the exact same way. So if you have identified unique differentiators, it’s important to communicate these throughout your proposals, website and all other marketing materials. And if you want to stand out, take a different approach, tell a different story and find unique ways to get your message across.
4. Establish a distinctive visual identity
The need for a professional, distinctive visual identity can’t be overstated. If you sound different than everyone else through compelling key messages, it’s equally important that you also look different than everyone else. Your visual identity—logo, color palette, styles, photography, fonts, textures and other brand elements—is foundational to conveying the attributes, characteristics and messaging that helps you to stand out from the competition.
Branding is not just about differentiation. It’s about setting your brand apart and standing out—positively—from the crowded sea of competition. So is your brand an asset or a liability in that endeavor? If the quality of your firm’s visual identity doesn’t accurately reflect the quality and essence of the firm itself, strategic design considerations should be given to the brand. Your visual identity should draw attention to your firm and highlight you as a leader in the industry.
5. Be consistent
Once you’ve established a distinctive visual identity, consistency across every touch point and communication is critical. People should get the same feeling whether they are in your office, on your website, reading your email or visiting your LinkedIn page. This means fonts, colors, tone and voice should all be consistent.
One of the best ways to really get a grasp on your brand is to perform a communications audit. A communications audit is a strategic tool that takes a snapshot of your current communications efforts and identifies inconsistencies and areas that need improvement. Basically every type of communications your company disseminates to external audiences (emails, proposals, your website, construction signs, invoices, etc.) is identified and analyzed for consistency and effectiveness. It’s typically a good idea to conduct this exercise at least once a year to ensure your branding efforts are consistent.
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Branding started as a very simple and practical concept: distinguishing your cattle from the cattle at the ranch next door. While branding your A/E/C firm is a much more complex process today, the simple idea of distinguishing your company from the competition is still the objective, and branding should remain a vital component of your marketing strategy. Blending in with every other firm is a missed opportunity to become an impactful brand that people recognize and remember.