• Transform magazine
  • November 15, 2018

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Opinion: What’s the difference between branded environment and brand experience?

Ian Haughton.jpg

Crafting a corporate workspace can be as important as developing a visual brand, and should be approached earlier in the brand development or architectural process. Ian Haughton from Handsome Brands writes about the brand environment

We've been on a bit of a journey with our clients over the last few years. Moving sideways from what we've always seen as our core offer, which is around brand identity. Of late, we seem to be either talking about or helping our clients with brand environments and experiences. We see a difference between these, which is quite simple.

A brand environment is applying a brand (colours, textures, graphics, signs, images etc.) into a given environment. Brand experience focuses on actual interaction with customers or employees. Within these there are a multitude of different scenarios that can play out.

While this may sound somewhat condescending to brands that are at the forefront of brand experience, we've learnt that client knowledge of branded environments varies considerably. It is safe to say that some of our clients are not at the forefront of brand experience. Each project we've encountered has been totally different in scale and ambition.

Statistics show that 87% of consumers say experiential activity is more effective than TV, but not all clients have the budgets for brand environments, let alone brand experience. It simply hasn't been factored in.

If a client office is being built, then architects are called. Their job is to design the right working environment for the business. Problems tend to arise though when the architects are asked to 'brand' the space. What does that mean? Client briefs are not often that clear and thoughts tend to be focussed around taking logos, colours and pictures from the brand guidelines and sticking them on walls. Or worse, sticking up some big motivational words.

To complicate things further, clients use different architects for different global locations. Each architect will therefore interpret the office how they see fit. Often colours are picked from brand guidelines that were not intended to go on walls. As a nod to the brand, cushions get chosen in brand colours to go on sofas in reception.

This is the bit where we've been coming in. The client moment of realisation that everything is in a bit of a mess. The panic moment. They've just invested heavily in a strong, consistent brand and now their offices 'feel' totally different. We're asked what we think of cushions, wall colours and images on walls. This is where we say we need a different conversation.

Companies should make the branded environment part of the process. Brand assets that were designed for print and digital environments are not necessarily appropriate in the built environment. Images that can be easily changed and updated in print and digital shouldn't necessarily be applied to a wall where it'll stay well beyond its welcome. Any applied graphics and signs need to be carefully considered in the space they're inhabiting. Are they purely for decoration or do they serve a purpose? What materials reflect the brand values? And how can they be rolled out globally to give a consistent brand feel and work with architects plans, not against them?

The difficulty is in coming late to the party. Where the branded environment is seen as an afterthought and not integral to the process. This is not generally the clients fault, in our experience. They're often not aware of what the properties team is doing, or haven't really thought about brand environments alongside the complexities involved in building or designing a new office.

Budgets have been put in place for statutory signs and something behind reception and that's about it. Finding new budgets to install something more visionary, particularly in the current climate, is difficult the further along the path the project is. Roles and responsibilities become muddled, particularly around working with architect teams, who have their own teams. Batons are easily dropped. Compromises have to be made.

There are steep learning curves for all involved. We've certainly learned a lot and it's been a very rewarding journey. From developing a brand language in head offices, to brand experiences for gyms and hospitals of the future. One of our lessons is to involve your brand agency earlier for points of view on environments. Second, brand designers know the brand intimately, since they've been deeply involved in the development of the brand. They'll think way beyond statutory signs.

Additionally, brand environment designers think differently to architects, but complement them. They generally use purpose and personality to guide their choices of experience and materials, so everything is rooted in the brand. Fourth, technology can play a crucial role. And finally, the overall result is far greater than the sum of its parts. Ensure that budgets are allocated wisely, value engineer, and don't spend it all on the boardroom table.

Ian Haughton is the founder and creative director of Handsome Brands