Branding is more than defining a name, logo and tagline. Branding communicates values, emotions, recognition in the industry and the visual identity of a company. Efficient branding aims to create experiences both for consumers and all the stakeholders involved in the project.
There is no defined way to brand a business, but nowadays it is necessary to invest in this asset in order to be successful and stand out from the fierce competition. Branding efforts can be performed in multiple ways, both online and offline. In this article we are going to analyse the spatial dimension of brands and the opportunity to design space purposefully.
The professor and business consulting expert Bernd Schmitt indicated in his book Marketing Aesthetics, the Strategic Management of Brands, Identity and Image that brands are decoded in spatial environments whether you want it or not. The branded space is every location where people interact with your brand. According to this view, space is being experienced with or without the presence of branding elements, meaning that not communicating brand values and identity through space can be considered as a missed business opportunity.
The extension of an organisation’s brand using space is defined in architecture and interior design as branded environments. Branded environments reflect the personality and vision of a company within the physical environment, both in interior and exterior settings. It is about creating a space where people feel emotionally connected with the brand, integrating its key values and driving loyalty.
Efficient spatial branding makes your brand experienceable.
This can be achieved through interior design, technology, the choice of materials and furniture, as well as fixtures, signage, wayfinding, posters, brand collaterals and sensorial experiences (smell, touch, etc.). The possibilities of adding distinctiveness to the built environment are endless.
Developing a branded environment always begins with strategic planning and requires the involvement of different players such as architects, engineers, graphic designers, branding experts, marketing teams and media. Spatial branding varies broadly on the type of business and goals that it wants to achieve: for example, corporate offices can express their history and vision, retailers use spatial branding to create in-store customer experiences and it can be used by hospitality chains to differentiate themselves from the competition and communicate their brand values.
Whether a business is focused on products or even digital services, almost every company sits in a physical office. This space can be designed to communicate the culture of the brand, attract talents, retain clients and foster employees’ wellbeing.
The workspace has a significant impact in expressing company’s culture and spatial branding is helping employees to truly experience and live the brand. If done correctly, this will contribute in making employees to become brand ambassadors and help them to translate the company’s mission to customers. Moreover, creating a connection between employees and the physical space will increase productivity, enhance creativity and boost loyalty and team building. Introducing inspiring visuals can spark a sense of belonging within the team, making them feel as if they are part of a meaningful mission.
The organisations that are able to live their brand through space are also in a better position to attract and retain talent. Especially when looking at corporations, potential employees evaluate the organisation of space and amenities as an important decisional factor. From colours, to desks, to lamps, to window fixtures and the choice of framed photos, every element in the space creates an influence and should be well thought in the design or refurbishment process.
Spatial branding can also increase the feeling of professionality of the company for clients and other stakeholders visiting the office environment. Every visit of a branded office helps building a sense of credibility and trust around the organisation. On the other hand, an office lacking in identity will communicate confusion and clutter.
The residential and hospitality sectors offer a wide variety of opportunities to deploy branded elements within the space. From hotels, to restaurants, coliving spaces and student housing, programming the space is a necessity, but why keep it bland when you can express your full branding potential through creativity?
Branded environments have a great significance in residential and hospitality since the goal of developers is to create a sense of belonging with the building and residents, reassuring that a longer or second stay will be a positive experience. A strong visual identity, distributed in multiple spots, will reinforce brand awareness and the affection with the living space. The emotional connection can be achieved through a purposeful use of lighting, colours, patterns, posters, signage and the choice of furniture. Other areas with untapped potential, that should be considered when placing branded elements, are the interstitial/in-between spaces, such as stairs or lifts, and functional spaces such as toilets and gyms.
Shared living premises, for example in coliving, are designed according to the brand promise, which includes more than the tangible product, such as the feelings people expect to be associated with the products. These spaces are precisely designed to bring people together and build an authentic community. Spatial branding can indeed be functional to the brand promise and needs of the guests, while enhancing the messages of the company.
If used consistently some of these elements can bridge the digital world to real life. For example, the first impression of a PBSA will often take place online, where you can already get the look & feel of the brand. When actually visiting the building, the user could see the same icons used in the website also being placed in the physical environment. Branded elements can also be designed specifically to create Instagrammable moments that people will be willing to share on social media channels, contributing to communicate the brand’s identity also in the digital world.
Spatial branding is especially crucial in the retail industry, since in-store design and the way of showcasing products influences the purchasing behaviour of the consumers. Branded environments build a deeper understanding of the brand and its products, improve the shopper experience and foster loyalty. All of these factors contribute to promoting products, justifying premium prices and increasing sales.
The design of the store should be regarded as part of the overall retail brand strategy. A visually appealing store design helps in the representation of the brand and serves as a tool to attract new customers. Signage, images and the placement of products should indeed be based on the research of the target audience and their values.
In order to focus on in-store opportunities a brand could create interactive and customisable experiences using technology such as touch screens or sensorial artefacts like aromas. Sparking interactions between space and the users will then represent another touchpoint in the customer journey.
The physical environment is a primary asset to communicate with customers in retail stores. Clients are willing to pay a higher price for products purchased in a more favourable environment, while stores that have a poor layout may lead to reduced shopping pleasure, resulting in a decrease of returning customers. Creating a friendly environment makes shopping easier for consumers, reassuring the repetition of purchasing.
Ideally, a brand having multiple stores should provide to the visitors the same range of emotions and feelings in every of their location. A popular example of this kind is represented by Apple, which was able to make store design an actual asset of the brand. No matter where you are, every single Apple Store has been crafted to give you the same sense of clearness and minimalism through the attention to details and the use of specific materials like glass, wood and stainless steel.
Offices, retail stores, residential and hospitality projects and are just a few immediate examples to express the possibilities offered by spatial branding, but the process can be deployed in and add value to any physical environment. It is also important to mention that spatial branding should be well designed and not be overdone, overwhelming or too direct. As for digital communication and advertising, the best way to build a long lasting impression is to be subtle and allow people to decode the messages inherent in these branded environments.
We learned that spatial branding is not just about putting a logo on things. It is an extension of the brand in the physical environment, it is a vehicle used for communicating messages and values, it creates an holistic identity for the company.
Since the individual brand experience goes beyond the digital or physical space, branding efforts should be deployed in several touchpoints of the customer journey to maximise their effect. Spatial branding can be supported by a digital strategy and other promotional tools such as the use of merchandising. If you are curious about this topic, in one of our previous articles, The Power of Merchandising in Real Estate, we outlined how brand collaterals and merchandising can represent a cost-effective way to increase brand recognition and connect with the audience.
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