Rebranding your architecture and engineering firm can significantly improve how prospective clients think about you—and visual brand design is a key to making it happen.
Using a firm’s brand strategy and positioning as its guiding principles, brand design encompasses several distinct visual elements, including a firm’s logo, color palette and key marketing collateral. Here are some objective thoughts about what distinguishes exceptional brand design from the rest.
The Visual Elements of Brand Design
As visual beings, we constantly use our eyes to assess the world around us — including the businesses we choose to buy from. This is why many firms invest considerable time, effort and money into their visual brand. A well-designed array of branding components evokes trustworthiness, confidence and credibility — theoretically easing the conversion of prospects into clients.
At a minimum, visual brand design should communicate an appealing, distinct identity for a firm that is consistent with its positioning and overall branding strategy. Another important goal is to improve unaided brand recall. But regardless of their branding goals, the reality is that many firms end up creating brand identities that look almost indistinguishable from their competitors. That equates to a major branding opportunity for a firm that’s ready to explore new territory.
There are many strategies and practices that constitute great brand design — and four come immediately to mind. Great brand design …
… Uses color for impact. To illustrate, consider this fact: the most commonly used color palette on AEC firms’ websites and logos is red-and-white, followed by blue-and-white (this insight is based on my firm’s extensive AEC focused research and benchmarking data). There’s nothing negative about these color combinations. However, when so many competitors are using the same narrow palettes, buyers are essentially conditioned to believe that their choices are all pretty much alike.
In reconsidering the use of color in your brand, you don’t need to abandon the identity you’ve invested in. For example, your core branding colors may already be one of the two combinations just mentioned. If so, consider adding bold accent colors to help you stand out from the pack, even as you retain key elements of your visual brand.
… Features compelling, on-target imagery. This strategy starts by understanding the needs and interests of your audiences. Clients will likely be drawn to photos of projects and teams in action, while recruits may be more motivated by images showing members of your firm collaborating on diverse teams, mentoring or engaged in other activities. The images you choose are another chance to show your audience that you understand them — and thus move them further along in the selection process.
Based on my firm’s research, architecture firms typically have the most interesting and unique selections of project images, followed by those of engineering and construction firms. But regardless of a firm’s current visual brand, there is often room for improvement. For example, it’s not uncommon for an architecture firm’s images to focus heavily on their buildings and their key features. That’s good — but it’s also smart to feature images of owners and end users, not to mention collaboration between team members and clients. Look for images that are a little more unexpected, and more real.
… Is consistent on the web, in print and in the field. The most effective brands are developed with practical applications in mind — right down to how logos will look on vehicles, equipment, and even nametags. For larger companies, strong design may also include a branding system that identifies specific practice areas or business units, while still retaining the firm’s broader identity (ideally, supported by a brand style guide to ensure consistency). Consistent execution of visual branding supports unaided recall and demonstrates attention to detail.
… Takes calculated risks. Spend some time learning what your competitors are doing visually, and look for trends. If you learn that most of your competitors are headed in one visual direction, your best route is elsewhere. Take risks, and be bold with your brand. Ultimately, you should evaluate your visual brand objectively and commit to embracing its new visual direction.
Powerful visual brand design relies as much on finding your own way as it does on typefaces, grids or colors. When you work with a branding firm or graphic designer, encourage them to explore new territory and be bold, while staying aligned with your brand’s larger positioning strategy and differentiators. Great brand design can help ensure that your firm’s differentiation begins the instant a new prospect or potential recruit encounters it.
An experienced branding partner can create an identity that evokes all the qualities that make you special — but it is up to you to give them permission to take you into uncharted territory.
About the Author: Karl Feldman manages a portfolio of leading national and international architecture, engineering, and construction clients. He guides clients through the complexities of research, marketing strategy, brand building, and high-performance web development. Before joining Hinge, Karl was Director of Marketing at HITT Contracting, a top 50 US-based general contractor with 700 employees and five offices nationwide. Karl regularly blogs and speaks about professional services marketing and strategy. He is an active participant in SMPS events and has served as Co-Chair of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Branding Committee.
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