This presentation was delivered at SMPS Pacific Regional Conference in February 2023 in San Diego, CA.
Culture isn’t something you have, it’s something you do. Join David Lecours, brand, and culture expert, to learn why Marketing needs to design your firm’s culture. Hint: attracting great clients and talent is just the beginning. Then, David will share how to proactively design a flourishing culture. This will include best practices of A/E/C firms using culture as a compelling differentiator. As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” YUM!
Presentation Outline Culture:
What is it?
Why does it matter?
Who (in your firm) owns it?
How to Design a Magnetic Culture
Digital Culture Tools Donut – Slack integration for team building and Bonusly – peer-to-peer recognition and spot bonuses in a public feed Movespring – a fitness tracker program for firm wellness
Slide Deck Colophon
Apple MacBook Pro
Presented using Apple Keynote
Typography: Adobe Garamond Pro and Trade Gothic Next LT Pro
Royalty-Free Photography: Pexels.com
Wireless Slide Advancer: Keyspan Easy Presenter PR-EZ1
Emily Castillo at LecoursDesign
Evan Ross at WSP
Nicole La at Teecom
Andrea Story at R&M
Beth Shimogawa at Coffman
Maisha Christian at Boss Lady
Christy Ryan and Curtis Alling at Ascent
Grant Kirkpatrick, Duan Tran, and Joyce Lopez at KAA
Bill Michie at DPR
You probably don’t think of your email signature as a valuable brand asset. But you should, and here’s why.
According to the Email Stats Report by the Radicati Group, the average employee sends:
36 emails per day = 10,000 emails sent per year
If your firm has 100 employees, that’s 1 million annual brand impressions. Not just random impressions, your emails arrive targeted to clients, vendors, teaming partners, and potential employees.
Consider improving email signatures across your firm beyond an obligatory formality. Email signatures are the most prolific brand touchpoint you own.
To help you, I’ll identify common email signature mistakes. Then, I’ll share how to create a powerful email signature that enhances your firm’s reputation.
Common Email Signature Mistakes
Email signatures aren’t the place for personal expression. You don’t allow each employee to craft their own version of your logo, so don’t allow it with email signatures. All your brand touchpoints should speak in a consistent, professional voice.
Avoid a variety of fonts (unless you are writing a ransom letter)
Avoid too many colors (we love rainbows too, but not in emails)
Avoid too much variety in size, bold, and italic (if you emphasize everything, then nothing stands out)
Avoid including company logos, social media icons, project photos, and charity logos. Images in email signatures can flag your email as “spam,” sending it directly to the Junk folder. Plus, it is annoyingly difficult for email recipients to decipher your intended attachment files from your email signature image attachments.
3) Including Your Email Address
If someone receives an email from you, by default, they now have your email address. Including it in your email signature is redundant. If they want to reply to your email, guess what, they will hit “reply” within their email software.
4) Inspiration Quotes or Sacred Spiritual Passages
Don’t impose your personal beliefs in a professional setting.
5) Legal Disclaimers
You know the ones, similar to seen on faxes circa 1989, stating “this email is only intended for the recipient…blah, blah, blah” Since these have become so banal, nobody reads them. As a result, they become ineffective within a legal setting.
How To Create Your Firm’s Email Signature
Be respectful of your reader’s time and visual landscape by making your email signature as concise as possible.
What you might include:
Title (only if informative and consistent with your firm’s culture)
Website URL (only if different from your name@URL.com)
One Variable Link That Changes Monthly (recent blog post, project case study, speech, or primary social media channel)
I recommend using grey, or a quiet color, to distinguish between the email signature and the body of the email. I also use the dotted lines to separate the signature from the body.
Use only keyboard elements, not images, to create typographic rules within your email signature. Typography rules, aka borders, can be created by repeating glyphs like these:
+ + + + + + + + +
* * * * * * * * *
= = = = = = =
o o o o o o
. . . . . . . . .
For consistency across your firm, create a master template of your new email signature. Then copy and paste it into an email sent to your IT department, or each employee, for implementation. Obviously, each employee should replace your individual contact information with their own.
Your firm’s reputation is the sum of all experiences a person has with your brand. Since email signatures make millions of impressions, show that you care about your reader with a simple, consistent and well crafted email signature.
True, email signatures aren’t your most glamorous brand touchpoint. But, as Orrin Woodward says, “Success is the exponential effect of little things done consistently over time.” (Just don’t use this inspirational quote in your email signature.)
Slide Deck, video and links from David Lecours’ SMPS Pacific Regional Conference closing keyote speech:
Stealing From Surf Brands for A/E/C Firm Differentiation
Surf brands and A/E/C firms compete in crowded markets. Surf brands do a great job carving out distinct brand identities to differentiate their surfboards, board shorts, and wetsuits. David Lecours, surfer and A/E/C branding consultant, will share examples of cutting edge graphic design, iconic people, founding stories, messaging, and archetypes that help surf brands and A/E/C firms stand out from the pack. You’ll return from the conference ready to shred with new techniques. Expect a wave of improvement in your SOQs, proposals, websites, presentation decks, videos and advertising.
To download the slides, click the LinkedIn logo (“˜in’ square above). Within Slideshare, click “Download” button under the title.
LecoursDesign teamed with our client Murraysmith to enter three submissions for the national SMPS Marketing Communications Awards. What happened? We won all three!
Best Corporate Identity/Rebrand
Jurors said they loved the fun, engaging, impressive impact on recruitment and retention. It was comprehensive in approach and implementation. Another stated “Great job! Logo and materials look great, and the entry was very responsive.”
Jurors enjoyed this new site and their graphic approach “the visuals are fresh and unique”. Great research and planning, tied nicely to strategic plan! They clearly set out to rebrand their website as a recruitment/retention tool – did a good job at each stage. Outstanding results!
One juror stated “What a great award submission – it made me want to work for MurraySmith! It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into developing and refining each core value. And this set of coasters was a creative, perfectly executed way to help communicate your firm’s personality.
In terms of memorability and messaging, most A/E/C firms have terrible brand names. Firms named after founders can be problematic if difficult to say or spell, and challenging for ownership transition. Acronyms are even worse. Lost in alphabet soup, they are neither memorable or distinctive.
I chose to interview Leslie Young, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, CDP because her firm recently renamed using a metaphorical name, STIR Architecture. Having a great brand name is an indicator of progressive marketing.
Tell me about your role at STIR
I am Associate Partner and Director of Strategic Development leading Marketing and Business Development. Known for both large-scale, complex mixed-use projects in the United States, Europe and Asia, as well as a boutique portfolio of adaptive reuse, institutional and transit work, STIR has offices in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, and Manila. I am one of two Associate Partners and 3 Partners who were ultimately the decision makers for the renaming of our firm.
Your firm has changed names a couple of times in its history. Why?
The firm was founded in 1984 by Ronald Altoon and James (Jim) Porter, so we started out as Altoon & Porter Architects. In 2012 when Jim left the firm, we updated our name to Altoon Partners. When Ronald left the firm in 2015, we saw an opportunity to rename the firm as something not directly tied to partner names. In 2016, we reintroduced ourselves as STIR Architecture.
Metaphorical naming typically isn’t done by AEC firms. Did you consider using partner names or adopting an acronym?
Since the firm’s founding, the intent was always to create a legacy firm with a formal ownership transition plan. The remaining partners have been at the firm for 30 years, on average. There was a little bit of “I’ve earned the right to have my name on the door” thinking, so we did initially consider the typical acronym of using the first letter of each partner’s name. But we discovered fairly quickly that DSA, ASD, DAS, ADS, SDA was not going to work for us. But mostly, we didn’t want to go through the naming process again if one of the partners leaves. We thought it was an opportunity to come up with a fresh name that better describes who we are.
Any other considerations for the new name?
Many of our newer staff had never worked with our founders, Altoon or Porter. While our values and practice hasn’t changed dramatically, we wanted to evolve the firm with a new name that everyone could embrace as their own.
Did you work with an outside consultant for the naming process? Why?
For about five seconds, we thought we could do it ourselves. But we quickly realized we needed an expert and a referee. We also had a strict deadline ““ attendance at our largest annual domestic tradeshow. We hired WOW Branding to keep us on schedule. Also, working in foreign markets, we needed their help with a name that translated well into other languages.
What Was the Naming Process?
We had conference calls with our consultant and the five decision makers. Some lasted as long as six hours. We reviewed our Mission, Core Values, and prioritized goals of the firm. The strategy has to come first. Next, our consultant presented a long list of about 50 names, which we edited down to 8-10, then ultimately 5. From these 5 finalists, they did availability research and some basic design treatment. We had two real favorites, one of which we ultimately decided could cause us intellectual property problems. Ultimately, we decided on STIR Architecture, which we are very excited about.
Why STIR? What Does it Mean?
We love that stir is a verb, as in “stirring things up.” We like to tackle new design challenges. Our work also “stirs” the emotions of users of our buildings. STIR refers to how we practice””complex projects with many stakeholders and multiple team members. The energy of our new name appeals to us, our staff and our clients. It is forward-focused. It reflects who we are, what we do and what people expect of us. Our name is our promise.
How Did You Communicate This New Name to the World?
We distributed press releases stating that as of April 11, 2016, our new name is STIR Architecture. These included sharing our strategy of developing the name and what the name means to us. We followed up with a direct mail promotional piece (see below) to 600 people on our mailing list. Since we didn’t have physical addresses for everyone, we supplemented the direct mailer with a 2500 person email announcement. We chose not to reference our previous name in a tagline or as a transitional device. We went all-in with STIR. We still own all our previous URLs, so if a user inputs an old website address, it will automatically redirect the user to our new site at stirarchitecture.com. We continue at every opportunity to reconfirm our brand through direct mail, social media, press releases, advertisements, etc. Consistent reinforcement of our brand at every turn has been a priority.
What Advice Would You Give To Other Firms That Are Considering a Name Change?
Give yourself time. On one hand, it was good that we had a strict deadline to get the name done by, but it caused a lot of stress. Keep in mind that getting the name done is really just the beginning. Then you have to develop a new logo, visual branding tools, marketing collateral, and website. Also, having a formal program in place to keep reinforcing the brand moving forward is key.
In general, I recommend other firms dream big, be bold. As long as you are consistent in continuing what has been successful for the firm in the past, clients will continue to follow you.
In start-up mode, most firms, unfortunately, put little thought into the firm name. The sole focus is bringing in any project that pays the bills. Moving out of childhood and into adolescence, firms should start to think and act for themselves, developing a distinct point-of-view. If not done previously, this is the time to develop a distinct brand name that reflects where the firm is headed, not where you’ve been. Renaming isn’t easy””few things of value in life are easy. As Leslie and STIR Architecture have shown, with the right approach, a small focused team of decision makers, and an expert guide, success is attainable. Past clients will continue to work with you and future clients will gain a favorable first impression.
Lately, I hear a lot of A/E/C firms talking about culture. When competing for talent, firms often cite their culture as a differentiator to lure new hires.
I define culture as the shared behaviors and beliefs of your firm. So, how do you share your culture with a prospective hire or client? Don’t they have to experience it?
First, codify the shared behaviors and beliefs of your firm as written Core Values. Sadly, most firm leaders develop a set of banal Core Values at a weekend retreat, then send them out in an equally uninspired mass email to all employees. But, as you’ll see in this post, Core Values can be so much more. A creative manifestation of your Core Values is a powerful marketing tool and an essential artifact of your culture. An artifact that prospective hires or clients can experience to determine if there is a match.
Manifested Core Values Attract the Right Talent and Clients
Prospective hires and clients want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with your firm. They imagine themselves on a typical day at your office and judge whether they’ll fit in. Simultaneously, you want clients and talent that harmonize with your culture. For both parties, this requires a leap of faith. But you can minimize the risk by sharing a creative manifestation of your Core Values. The goal isn’t to create something safe that resonates with everyone. You only want people who fit with your culture. Communicate your point of view. Then let clients and talent self-select.
Here is an example of Manifested Core Values we recently created with our client, Murraysmith. First, we helped them with their positioning: geographical focus on the Northwest, obsession with detail/quality, fun, and the right size (120 people). Sounds like like a craft brewery, right? So, we decided to invent a faux craft beer for each of their seven Core Values. Each Value became manifested as a letterpressed (a craft printing technique) beer coaster. The Core Value is on the front, with a description about what it means on the back. To give each Value the gravitas it deserved, and to create a sense of anticipation, we recommended one new coaster be distributed to each employee for seven consecutive weeks.
Manifested Core Values Demonstrate How To Behave
Most firms have a particular way they like things done. Everything from how to bind a proposal, close out a project, or even write an email.
Some firms even develop a clever name or use The (Firm Name) Way to brand their culture.
I suppose you could create a 10-volume employee manual that imagines all scenarios employees will encounter. Or, you could manifest your Core Values as a guide to allow employees, who are adults, to use their best judgement. I recommend the latter.
Starbucks manifests their Core Values in their Green Apron Book. As you can probably infer, it’s pocket-sized to fit in a barista’s green apron. I like to think the pocket position (over the heart) helps baristas takes the expected behaviors to heart.
Manifested Core Values Demonstrate Quality
Stated or not as an official Core Value, all firms embrace quality. So, whatever form your manifested Core Values take, make sure it’s done well. Use quality materials, professional designers, writers and photographers to communicate the professionalism of your firm. While not specifically designed as a Core Values manifestation, the 20th Anniversary book we created for Schmidt Design Group helped them communicate their beliefs. There are 20 quotes or statements coupled with project photography to express their point of view. The firm received such positive feedback, we created similar books for their 25th and 30th anniversaries. To demonstrate quality, the books feature great photography, graphic design, paper, printing, and perfect binding. One client even told the owner of the firm, “I keep the book on my desk. If I’m having a bad day, I read through the book to find inspiration.”
No. 5 – A good designer is a good listener
Below are more ways to manifest your Core Values. You could design and print oversized graphic panels to cover boring blank walls within your office.
Clark Construction shares their values through a series of videos on their website. Each video summarizes one value with different employees sharing what that value means to them.
You could hire a designer to create an infographic or poster as shown below. They took an acrostic approach where R-I-S-E are the first letters in their four Core Values.
When you bring your Core Values to life, do so in a medium that reflects your culture. Many employees at Murraysmith go out after work and enjoy the burgeoning craft brewing culture of the Pacific Northwest. So, beer coasters were a great fit to communicate the firm’s Core Values. As Marshall McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message.” Choose a medium that fits your firm.
To effectively pass culture on to the next generation in your firm, it must be manifested. You can’t rely solely on oral tradition. Stories get lost, skewed by the teller, and forgotten by the listener. Share your Core Values and culture through a tangible artifact.
When the right prospective client or employee experiences your Manifested Core Values, a fierce loyalty will develop.
How does your firm creatively manifest Core Values? Please leave a reply.