Branding B-2-B Environments

Episode 07

Derek and Tucker discuss the Branding of Spaces.


In this episode, we’re talking about branded environments.


Yeah, branded signage, wayfinding, and not just that, but also when people think of graphics, when they walk in the common spaces or something like that. We’re really talking about B2B environments rather than retail, right?


Yeah, the branding of spaces. I think when it comes to retail, the people that work in retail, that work in stores, that sell anything in a customer environment, they’re very aware of signage and how to brand the spaces and the environment to make that a welcoming place for people to shop.

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And so if you think about when we’re talking about retail, that might be a product display sign or design of like maybe a kiosk. And how does that look? But when we’re talking about B2B spaces we’re really talking about office spaces, common spaces, maybe warehouses. Just the place where business gets done.


For anybody listening who is connected with the creative industry, the industry itself refers to this as environmental graphics. Which actually causes a lot of confusion.


Well, yeah. Because you think of green, right? You think of something that’s environmentally friendly, which confuses our clients all the time. So we refer to it not as that really, it’s just branding environments or experience design. But experience design can even be confusing because that’s like digital or physical experience? So how does that work and what is that work? So there’s a lots of nuances, but how is this any different than interior design? So if you just said environmental design, what’s different are environmental design and interior design?


And even architecture. Well, architecture in a nutshell, they’re engineering the physical space.  Interior designs are experts in lighting, furniture, spatial layout, arrangement of flow, how people move-


Through the space-


And how to decorate that space. What we do complements both of those things. There’s certainly some overlap. But an interior designer or an architect who simply specs your logo in a sign above the reception desk; that is absolutely signage and that is often part of the package that they provide. And one of the things that architects often provide in a package, especially if it’s an initial-build, if it’s a build from scratch versus a remodel or a renovation, they’ll often include a very basic wayfinding or signage package that directs people upstairs, downstairs that the numbers on the outside of whatever the naming, convention of restrooms, conference rooms, etc..


Mm hmm, and I think when you look at interior design and some of those things, those really focus on like the fabrics, the furnishings, those things that don’t have specific branded elements within them. So they can absolutely help support and convey some of those things you’re looking for from a branded environment, but they’re not going to include your logo on the wall and some of these other things that will help identify with who that space belongs to.


From our point of view, in attempting to connect people to these physical places and spaces; it’s leveraging the brand and its visual identity, its messaging, its personality, and infusing that brand personality into the the environments to energize it so that you have what we call a sense of place. So that if you’re in your, say, office environment and somebody walks in that door, maybe even before they get to the door, as they approach the door, they need to know where they’re at.


We talk a lot about story on this podcast and what story means. And I think that branding environments is just that next level of saying your space, your environment that you live in, that you work in, that you spend time in, has to convey that same story. It has to tell people that story in their own way, and I think that this is a piece that a lot of clients that we have don’t think about. They don’t feel like it’s as important. Especially in this digital age where people now work from home more and people have more meetings online, and what’s important and what’s not important and that’s probably what we’ll start talking about here.


Yeah, exactly. I think when it comes to brand, which is what we talk about all the time in these conversations, you know, it’s in the name. People experience a company’s brand in a lot of different ways, and I think we all default to the marketing versions of those ways that a brand is experienced. You mentioned digital; website, people experience your brand and the way that your product is packaged if you’re selling something, in your ads on your LinkedIn feed, even by word of mouth and the language that people use to describe you. But a tangible, physical part of your brand that’s often overlooked in, (we say B2B or business to business, so not necessarily consumer facing environments) but in a business to business brand strategy, one of the things that’s often overlooked are the physical spaces in which you work.


Yeah, and I think with those physical spaces, a lot of people consider their clients or the external side when they think about those spaces. But when we find really great results, it’s really with the internal side by, how do your employees see you? When new people off the street come in for an interview and and look at your space, how does that look? How do the warehouse workers feel when they’re working? And those are things that people aren’t thinking about normally. So how can we move that story forward from an internal perspective?


In branding, and in that in the act of branding, one of the strategies that we’ll talk about often is the approach of of being intentional of how you want to be perceived. How you want to be thought of, how you want the experience of associating with you and your company and your products? How do you want people to describe that? So think of the impression you just mentioned, say, a prospective employee walking in for an interview, the moment they walk through that door, they are presented with an impression.


Yeah, and that impression goes a long ways. I mean, a lot of people talk about first impression means the most. If you walk into a space and you’re like, “Wow, this place is kind of dreary.” Do they want to work there? Then they go to your competitor space, and that space is nice and bright and vibrant and conveys the story that they’re moving forward with and inspires people. that can go a long way.


We actually had a client share that at all costs they would avoid hosting meetings of any sort. They would always go to their clients spaces to meet. And this is kind of right on the beginning of the COVID and work from home and Zoom era where there were more face to face meetings. But in his own words, they were so embarrassed by the state of their own office space that they wouldn’t host anybody to visit. I mean, the good news was they finally recognized that and they did something about that. But for years they worked in an extremely uninspiring space.


And I think that makes it hard in general, not even just to have client meetings, but to hold internal meetings in a really sad conference room can be difficult. It can kind of put a damper on what you’re really working towards and this larger vision that you’re trying to chase, and those spaces really help support the energy in the building.


And we won’t even get into some of those architectural or scientific engineering aspects of the quantity of space one needs to promote productivity, to promote health. There’s an entire aspect of construction companies that build air quality and lighting quality. We’re not even talking about that, that’s that’s also extremely important. But we’re talking about just the basic impression and representation of who you are, what you stand for, what you do, and doing it in a way that supports and energizes and inspires the work that needs to be done and the interactions that can happen in those spaces.


So when we’re talking to a client, walk me through the top three things that someone could look at either as problems or even opportunities that you would say, “Here’s a reason why you might consider doing a branding project, a physical branding project.”


The most common reason somebody reaches out to us about their space is because they’re renovating, they’re building something new, or they’re moving. So moving, renovating into a new space; now you’ve got a blank canvas.


Yeah, and I think that’s probably the same time that people call interior designers or anybody else, I think you’re on that same page.


Yep, so if you’ve got a bunch of blank walls and you’re thinking about painting colors and what do we do in our entryway or reception area or how do we treat the warehouse space in our shipping area? How do we direct people? That blank canvas is the most common one.




Then number two, which is what I just started to talk about earlier, is when people, either somebody conveys to them or they self realize, how uninspiring their space is. Many calls that we get around environmental graphics, office signage, spatial branding are motivated because somebody’s space is outdated. They haven’t done anything in a long time, it’s dark, it’s uninspiring, it’s not conveying their culture. We’ve had conversations with really culturally driven, value driven clients who have incredibly passionate leadership and incredibly inspired employees who then say, “Well, if we stand for X, Y and Z, and our culture is about one, two and three, besides just putting a sign on our wall with our core values on it, why shouldn’t our space reflect, support and tell that story of our culture?”


Yeah, I think it’s really easy when people look at, let’s say, websites. They think of at all the time where they go, “Oh, here’s our website. This is the way we’re seen digitally. We need to be re-upping this. We need to revamp this.” Now, a lot of people don’t think about their physical spaces, which kind of blows my mind. And I almost think that’s because they sit in it every day and they become used to it. If you think about a lot of people’s houses sometimes just sit and they’re always the same because they’re used to it.


Well, it’s a great analogy. Think about when you and your significant other decide to host a dinner party or have friends over for dinner. All of a sudden you see those spaces that your guests are going to see with a fresh lens.


Yeah, and you get a little nervous.


And if your first reaction isn’t one of pride or energy or optimism, then it’s quite likely you’re seeing things that all of a sudden need a little tender loving care.


I mean, in that same sense, imagine if you had an opportunity to have a client meeting and instead of going virtual (I mean, nowadays everyone’s like, “Oh I’ll just send you a zoom link it’s so much easier”) but you’re so proud of your space, you’re like, “You know what? You should really come in here and let’s have a conversation.” Just that fact of getting someone in your office, especially if it’s an inspiring space, can really move those conversations forward. Whether that’s an employee, maybe it’s a prospective employee, maybe it’s just a client that you’re like, I really want them to feel like we have great value in this and coming to our space would really show that to them. So I think that just like you said, with a house party, it’s the same thing when you think about your office space and you need to feel proud of it so that you can use it properly.


A note on that work from home piece. First of all, absolutely it’s working out great. Digital aspects, digital tools, working remotely has actually been, I think, a really strong benefit to the way that we are able to do business. But that said, there are certain interactions with prospective employees or prospective customers or current customers that meeting digitally cannot replace.


Yeah, I agree. And I mean some of our listeners will probably have clients in different parts of the country or maybe even different countries for that matter, and they can’t do anything about this. But at the same time there’s still, I would say, a value when we sit in most of our meetings, (we actually hold in our conference room with the camera that’s there) the people still see our space. It’s a little bit less recognizable than actually being within it, but you can still tell that there’s something going on.


And that was leading to my other note, which is your virtual environment is still a physical space that you need to be intentional about. So the background of your Zoom meeting or teams meeting still can be curated in such a way that it reflects the attitude and personality of your brand.


We had a client, we actually had multiple clients come to us with the idea of a Zoom background or a microsoft teams background. And they said, “Hey, we’re not in the office anymore. We’re not holding these meetings (because they’re all virtual at this point) but we still have that need for space.” And so this Zoom background became their environment that they were kind of displaying. That same idea needs to be applied when you are in a physical space. So it’s interesting because it’s virtual, it’s just easier to understand and it’s acceptable for some reason. But these physical spaces are really interesting.


A third reason that prompts these conversations with customers quite often goes back to prospective employees and the recruiting aspect. Back to that. We talked about this a little bit already, but the pride in presenting that space and the first impression that especially now, recruiting talent is a challenge-




For many, many industries. And how to give them a reason to choose you over somebody else, especially if the financial packages are comparable, it often will come down to your brand. And by way of extension, whether you’re working from the office or at home or in a hybrid model, that office environment and that physical space in which you interact with them is critical as part of that recruiting tool.


Yeah, I think that almost conveys the value of your company, right? When you walk into a space and you’re a prospective employee and you’re like, “Oh, do I really want to work here?” And you walk into a space and you’re inspired and you feel like there’s something great happening here, that makes you feel like this is it. This is where I need to be. This is that company that’s doing something. That’s just the goal of all of these things. If someone goes, “I’m trying to really inspire employees. How do I do that?” If someone wanted to do one of those three things where you said maybe they’re trying to recruit top talent, maybe they’re moving, and there’s a really great opportunity because you have blank walls, blank canvases to really do something. Or you have this opportunity to host more people or you want to feel pride in your space and you’re not moving, you’re just saying, “I need to be able to do this,” because maybe we’re going back to work, maybe we’re going hybrid or something like that. So if those are the three things that are symptoms or we’re saying that’s what people are calling us for, how can someone start? How can someone really start thinking about, what do I need to brand the space? Do I just reach out to you and you guys do it? Or what are some things I need to start considering as we move forward?


I think there are a few things that rise to the top within that consideration. And these are things that we’re thinking about with our goal of making the physical spaces in which you work (and that can be, like I said, that ranges from warehouse space to corporate office space to retail space, even though we’re not focusing on the the retail aspect of this today) it’s to get those spaces to become a seamless extension of your culture and your brand. And so there’s a handful of things that somebody can consider without getting deep into the tactics of materials and types of signs and signage sizes. You have an opportunity to connect people to your culture, and one of the ways to do that is by leaning into what we refer to as the foundational aspects of your brand.


Yeah, so get into that a little bit. What pieces would they lean into?


From a real process oriented approach, what we would hold that up against are the desired characteristics and how you want to be perceived. So there’s an exercise that we do that helps our clients get to half a dozen attributes, adjectives that, when combined, start to craft a really nice guidepost, that when combined describe the way that we want our brand to be perceived. And I would use those exact same five, six, seven words to make sure that describes the space. So is it relatable or exclusive?


I think when we move through those, either or, when you’re going relatable or exclusive? Is it bold or is it humble? Or is it these or that? Or how do we start wanting to be felt? I think that, yeah, it’s a great starting post. I think another thing from someone’s foundation or the core of their brand that really needs to move forward are those guiding principles, the purpose, the mission, the vision. Maybe those don’t go up on the wall because sometimes people think of those pieces as being a little corny to just throw up on the wall like, “Hey, here’s our mission up on the wall.” But those should really guide the, “Are we conveying that this is where we’re going and this is who we are?” And I think those are very interesting as guideposts, not necessarily just placeholders.


Yeah. We’ll get deep into this aspect in a future conversation, but one of my favorite parts of the brand foundation process that we work on is getting to a one word answer that describes what we refer to as the business that you’re really in.


Yeah, the brand essence.


The brand ethos, that one thing that people want from your brand on an emotional level that can summarize the whole thing, that doesn’t necessarily speak to the products that you sell, but speaks to this emotion that it conveys.




So imagine walking into an office space and saying, “Yep, this company is all about confidence.”


Yeah. And that looks so much different than a space that’s all about unity. Right? And you can start kind of picturing this, “Okay, so maybe the walls have this type of graphic on it, or maybe this is the type of wording that we use across the front wall.” And those really start helping move it in the direction of that story that we’re really trying to convey.


Well and that jumps into one of the other solutions that can help; is utilizing some of that language on your walls. And that can be the mission statement, especially if it’s done well. But it can also be branded language and messaging that’s stretched out in your own brand personality that is more of an inspirational, aspirational mantra that talks about what it is that’s going on in these spaces.


We had a client a couple of years ago work on a project and they really had nothing like that. They wanted a new space. They wanted to do all this stuff and you can talk to this as well, Derek. But when it kind of came down to it, they didn’t necessarily want words on their wall. They just wanted graphics. But those words make a really big difference in someone reading it. And and when they’re crafted, right then the internal culture gets amplified onto the wall where you’re not being told it every day, you’re just reading it. And it’s this back of the mind, seeing it, seeing it, seeing it. Yep, that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we’re doing here. That goes a long ways that people don’t quite understand it.


That type of execution is going to leave an impression. And when you do have the opportunity to host somebody else within the places and spaces that you’re meeting them, those words and images and the things that go beyond the couches and the chairs and the furniture and the carpets, that go beyond just the (say decoration, that gets applied, I kind of go to the generic frame posters or artwork that you might get in a hotel) which looks great, makes the wall not look bare, but doesn’t tell a story necessarily.


It could.


Some of the better ones do.


I think really great interior designers do an awesome job of getting that story and saying, well, let’s convey that story through furnishings, through paintings, through this thing, and how are we telling that story? So I think yes, it absolutely can. What most people don’t realize is that it’s more than just the furnishings. And it can be a painting on the wall, and that’s great. But at the same time, there’s really nothing that replaces an original piece of art or a piece of work that does a lot of the heavy lifting for you in telling that story. So how about you talk a little bit about how we approach signage, and I know that over the last two decades, you’ve had incredible amounts of experience in all these different spaces. So how about you just talk about that a little bit.


The process really isn’t too scientific, and it’s probably not unlike how an interior designer or an architect would approach it. As we’ve seen when we’ve come alongside them in a handful of different opportunities that we’ve worked on. But for us, the first part I would say there’s two sides to it. Part of it, within our discovery, is understanding the space itself. Sometimes it exists and it’s being demoed or built. Sometimes it hasn’t been built yet so we’re experiencing it through blueprints and drawings. Then at the same time, it’s understanding the experience of the brand and what it is that client’s companies brand stands for, and what their goals are with their space. The space can be extremely functional and extremely hardworking, but the personality from organization to organization to organization differs drastically, just like it does from person to person to person.


Yeah, I think this is also something that can be a differentiator, or maybe a distinction point, not differentiation. But when we look at, if you’re going from our office to a competitor’s office, it should look different. We should have different fields because we don’t have the same story. So that’s an important part of saying it can’t just be generically updated. It should really be tailored to what you do. But when someone comes to us and they say, “Well, I want to do these things,” and we say, “Okay, look, what are the goals of this? What are the goals of what we’re trying to do here?” And I think it really revolves around retention, onboarding. When someone comes and they already got the job and it’s like, how are we onboarding them and how are we walking them through our space and how do they get inspired every day? And then it’s also engagement and trying to gain this customer over time. Not customer engagement, but employee engagement and saying, how do we really keep people in tune with what we’re going for here? And maybe that’s updating the space every five years because we have a new direction and we’re moving this way. Or maybe that’s adding a graphic in this area because it makes a big difference. So some of those things, it’s interesting to say, how do we approach it? Well, I mean, absolutely, you can do a lot with a lot of different budgets. But what we approach it with first is what are we trying to tell? How are we trying to tell the story and what’s the space we’re trying to tell it in?


Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s the same parameters as helping somebody craft a message, helping somebody work on some portion of their identity. It’s back to helping them communicate, helping them differentiate and be distinct and helping with that engagement. And it is customer engagement, business to business, pet vendor or partner engagement and absolutely employee engagement too.


Yeah. So any takeaways before we sign off here?


An effectively branded environment can be extremely inspirational and motivational. It can be a closing tool from a sales standpoint. It can be a closing tool from a perspective employee standpoint. And think about especially if you’re not working from home and you’re working in that space and you’re there for six, eight, ten, twelve hours a day loving and being energized by the space that you live in.


You got to make those spaces special.


Use them to tell your story.


Absolutely. All right. Till next time.

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