Practice: The Third Dimension of Brand

Walk into any Marketing 101 class, and you’ll discover that “brand” is almost always taught in two dimensions. Sure, everyone knows that the act of branding should be more strategic than tactical, but that doesn’t keep most account managers from thinking in terms of a flat, two-dimensional sensibility that focuses on identity and advertising. “All I need is a logo and a media buy” is a line all brand strategists fear, but it’s a common edict handed down from countless clients and front-line managers.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Without a doubt, we have all come to understand the relationship between brand and experience, and that’s a good thing. The retail world and, especially, the food and beverage world certainly have embraced this idea, as that awkward adolescence of themed restaurants and so-called shoppertainment of the 1990s has given way to venues like the Apple store, quality dining, and other more sophisticated outlets that embody brand, foster fanatical loyalty and actually move merchandise. So, all is well in the world of branded environments. But what’s next?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Lately, corporate clients--many of whom could be considered titans of conservative values and flame-keepers of traditional design--have shown a significant interest in something beyond an efficient and pretty workplace. They want a brand, they claim, and they want it now.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> It’s hard to say where this awakened passion comes from. Perhaps from all those CSI shows in which office space presents more like a nightclub than a workspace. Or from a younger workforce that seems more interested in the social aspects of work than, well, the work aspects of work. Or a wall of media that incessantly drums home the value of a good brand (ah, yes, the branding of brand). Whatever the case, corporate end users have grasped the idea that a dynamic work environment can be an instrumental strategic asset.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In the last five years, we at RTKL have re-tooled our approach to corporate design to include not only a stronger strategic component to get closer to our clients’ decision-making and push us higher up the value chain, but also a brand component that focuses on a company’s core values—and how those values can be translated into a built environment. It’s a way of giving that two-dimensional sensibility a third dimension—a bricks-and-mortar take on brand.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Today’s corporate users, however traditional they may be, are all jockeying for position in an increasingly competitive and cutthroat world. They need an edge, and a branded work environment can help them: <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Improve the recruiting, retention, and morale of employees;<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Simplify the integration of corporate mission, core values, and company history into the design process--and the environment;<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Create a higher perceived value from investors and stakeholders;<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Strengthen the public’s perception of the corporate entity--its mission and values; <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Differentiate the company through a deeper understanding of products and services.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Already, we’ve helped clients see results. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Our design for the new American Trucking Associations (ATA) headquarters enabled the organization to strengthen its mission by translating intangible business objectives into tangible design solutions. We began by leading ATA through a series of interactive visioning sessions, helping the organization define its strategic goals and articulate its mission prior to putting pen to paper. As a result, every design decision carefully reflects different aspects of ATA’s identity. Today, the organization’s brand is an experience that permeates the entire workplace environment.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The CoStar Group approached us with a different challenge: employee retention. Significant growth within the firm had simultaneously led to increases in staff turnover--creating a need and opportunity for CoStar to refocus its corporate identity as a way of attracting and retaining a new generation of workers. We developed a branded concept to be rolled out in multiple office locations that strengthens the firm’s ability to deliver real-time, industry-specific information in a vibrant workplace that is inimitably their own. CoStar’s staff turnover has gone down by as much as 24 percent since the implementation of the new workplace concept.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Most recently, we used this same strategic approach to design our new office in downtown Washington, DC. We wanted the entire process to serve as a laboratory for our design talent and as a test case to share with clients. As a result, we’ve created a workplace that, we believe, serves as a tangible representation of who we are and what we stand for. Regardless of our client’s goals, we combine architecture and interiors with a range of non-traditional design services to help clients make the most of their environments. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Thom McKay, a vice president at RTKL, heads up the Environments Studio in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. McKay brings two decades of marketing and communications to the brand-oriented and experience-based design studio. RTKL, an international design, engineering and creative services firm, has been part of the ARCADIS global network since 2007.</i><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <a href="" target="_blank">&#x2014; Nielsen Business Media</a>