What is a brand? The term is ubiquitous, yet its meaning is elusive. The late advertising tycoon, David Ogilvy, often referred to as the “Father of Advertising,” defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” A brand represents the way the world perceives a person or a product beyond the tangible goods and services it provides. It represents a company’s unique value proposition and is the conduit for potential clients to emotionally connect with a company.
Multi-million dollar industries exist to help companies conjure up flimsy facsimile brands, which may have short-term success, but will inevitably fail over time. A strong, sustainable brand that develops roots, grows over time, and can sway with the wind without toppling over comes from the heart of a person or company and permeates all aspects of its operations. A successful brand is authentic. For interior designers, being authentic is an essential driver of success, because personal and professional images intertwine, and because authenticity communicates honesty, transparency, and trustworthiness to clients who may be hesitant to hire a designer or work with a small business previously unfamiliar to them.
“You need to be really honest and true with yourself because you need to make sure that whatever you define as your ultimate goal, every step along the way has to be in alignment with who you are and what your ultimate goal is.”
Building An Authentic Brand
Establishing a strong, authentic brand is indispensable; however, it can be a surprisingly daunting task. As Robin Baron, celebrity interior designer, branding mastermind, and President of American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) New York Metro Chapter, says, “You need to be really honest and true with yourself because you need to make sure that whatever you define as your ultimate goal, every step along the way has to be in alignment with who you are and what your ultimate goal is.”
If your brand should be an extension of your true self, where does one begin in defining oneself? Begin with your design aesthetic. Review your previous work and weed out projects or image boards that no longer represent the design you want to provide to clients. Look at your personal and company website, stationery, and graphic design with a critical eye. While changing a company’s logo or other key branding graphics should not be done without great consideration, it may be necessary to properly launch an updated brand. Lastly, and some may argue most importantly, pour through all past social media, both professional and personal (more on that below), and remove any content that is not in line with your vision as a designer.
Next, look at the question from the outside. Venus Williams, tennis legend and founder of super successful, V Starr Interiors, wisely said, “While building on your brand, you need to determine where you want to be, who you want to serve, and how the people you want to serve live.” Identify your target client and think about how your brand would serve them better than any of the other available options. Then, strategize about how to best communicate the company’s value proposition to this target group. While social media appears to be the dominating force in advertising at the moment, marketing can take many forms and it is possible that other platforms or channels best suit the brand. For larger companies, or established companies undertaking a fundamental re-brand, hiring a marketing consultant and in some cases, a publicist, will help you determine the most effective methods for connecting with your desired audience.
Lastly, review your personal image as part of your overall brand. Think about how your personal and professional interests overlap, and how you can represent your personal life outside of work in a way that compliments, not clashes, with your brand. Also, how you dress and groom yourself and interact with the community, both in-person and online, is under constant scrutiny as an interior designer and business owner. An important part of a lasting brand is its core values, which is why a good business plan includes a company values statement, and a successful business holds itself to those stated values. Some examples of values that can be incorporated into a brand are: integrity, honesty, timely and clear communication, and quality of execution. Building on the words of Ogilvy, when the individual components of a product’s attributes are the authentic expressions of its creator, the resulting brand will be consistent, dependable, and understood by potential clients as trustworthy.
“While building on your brand, you need to determine where you want to be, who you want to serve, and how the people you want to serve live.”
Protecting Your Brand In A Changing Landscape
Determining your authentic identity is only the first part of establishing a sustainable brand that can weather the storm. Forces external to your business will require you to fiercely fight for your brand and protect it against the misjudgments of split-second attention spans. Over time, you will have to adjust your brand to authentically reflect your evolution as a designer and person. How you handle these obstacles and times of necessary transition will allow your brand to survive through the seasons, as economic and social trends change and technology disrupts.
In the days of yore, interior design businesses enjoyed a fairly static existence. Interior designers had an easier time of establishing an authentic brand by means of personal presentation because a business’s professional profile was highly localized. Most designers relied primarily on word-of-mouth referrals to generate new business. It was easy to identify competition because the shared pool of potential clients was strongly bound to an immediate location. Also, marketing options were mainly limited to highly visible mediums such as newspaper and magazine ads.
Once the internet became mainstream in the late 1990’s, industries that relied heavily on locality had to shift perspective to a broader view. People have become more transient, economies have become globalized, and channels for marketing have proliferated. As a result, the context of location that interior designers once benefited from greatly, is constantly being diminished. Because authenticity begets consistency and clarity in messaging, it will go a long way in protecting your brand from becoming lost in the wide ocean of brands it must now compete with. It will also require you to examine all of the many means of communicating your brand that the internet provides.
We’ve already covered how to effectively use website and social media for branding; now we must discuss eDesign and how online design services impact how an interior design business should brand itself. Online design services offer interior design services to clients remotely. They are a product of the new business landscape ushered in by the rapid rise of the internet and now domination of mobile-apps. The function of offering design services remotely opens up the possibility of a much larger target audience, but at the price of offering a personalized experience, and in many cases, exclusively curated aesthetic. Deciding whether or not your company will offer an online service will alter your business’s brand and how it communicates with its target audience. If you decide to pursue an online offering, first establish a strategy to protect your aesthetic from becoming compromised by the difficulty in executing a design vision remotely. Consider the ways you may lack control over factors affecting the final result. Ultimately, the market will judge you as a designer based on your finished projects, and poor results will negatively affect your brand and hurt your long term prospects.
Now, more than ever, authenticity in branding is the driving force for long term success in interior design. Determining your individual identity and the resulting value proposition your business offers, then effectively marketing this identity clearly, is a fail-proof plan for establishing a lasting brand. Operating your businesses like a tight ship will also help reinforce your brand, as your target audience will focus on your image instead of administrative mistakes or misrepresentations. Relying on industry-specific business tools will go a long way in making business processes seamless for clients and low-stress for you. Design Manager is a project management and accounting software created specifically for interior designers, and the perfect tool to keep your business operations running like a well-oiled machine.
Presenting clients with accurate, easy to read, and professionally branded documents, such as invoices and purchase orders, is a great way to reinforce your business’s brand not only through graphic design, but reliability and consistency of service. Design Manager will not only keep your client data organized, but it will also produce professional, branded client documents that can include your logo, as well as any other images you save as part of your account profiles.
Once you have defined your brand, Design Manager will help it grow strong roots that can stand the test of time by helping you execute your design visions and provide a high-quality experience for clients. Sign up for a free trial to experience all of Design Manager’s many features today!