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Does Design Matter? The Value of Design in Brand Differentiation

When it comes to questions of design in brand development, many professional services fall into the same trap. “Oh, it’s all subjective,” they might say.  “Our attention is better spent elsewhere.” They don’t worry about their logos or websites, allowing a certain inertia to set in. Design choices persist for years, even decades, without a second thought.

This age of tight marketing budgets can lead to a dizzying array of design styles. And it’s easy to understand why some firms might wish to avoid the question “does design matter?” completely. But that’s a mistake. In a marketplace where it’s more critical than ever to communicate your unique value proposition, it’s worse than a mistake – it’s a missed opportunity to define yourself and to stand out from your competitors.

The design makes the firm

Think about your clothes. Whether you intend it or not, the clothes you wear send a message to the people around you. They may speak to your professionalism, your cleanliness, or your attentiveness to style.

Most of us in the professional world have long since internalized this lesson – even if you don’t consciously set out to communicate anything with the way you dress, the folks around you are receiving a signal. That means it’s important to take control of your clothes (and your message) when you care about how you’re perceived.

The same goes for professional services firms. Your website’s thoughtful, contemporary design (or sloppy, slapdash design) says something about you – whether you like it or not. In fact, with so many professional services buyers and jobseekers searching for firms online, it may be sending an unintended and uncontrolled message to the audiences that matter most to you.

Professional dress for professional services

Now, that doesn’t mean your company’s image is entirely beholden to shifting tides of fashion. Just because design aesthetics carry an element of the subjective doesn’t mean your brand development has to be completely arbitrary or rooted completely in the whims of a given designer.

Again, think about clothes. There’s nothing fundamentally or objectively professional about a nice suit. But the suit is a common point of professional reference. When you want to communicate that you’re fastidious and mindful of your appearance – in an interview, say – it’s one way to get the message across. If you need to communicate this message over the course of years, you’ll probably update your suit periodically.

Honing the message

As your firm undertakes brand development efforts, consider the audiences you communicate with – both directly, and indirectly through the messages and designs you broadcast to the world. Consider the design elements that your firm uses to communicate – your logo, website, collateral materials, and more. What do these elements say? On what are they based? Do they build on brand or marketplace research? Could they?

Design is one of the most powerful ways to take control of your company’s message – not a subjective coat of paint, but a resonant language all its own. The most effective firms hone their design’s message and determine exactly how they want to be seen by the audiences that matter most.

For more tips on brand differentiation, check out our Brand Building Guide for Professional Services.

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Author: Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM A Senior Partner and the head of Hinge’s A/E/C practice, Sylvia collects many shoes and wears many hats. When she’s not traveling around the country for speaking engagements or client meetings, you will find Sylvia creating marketing and branding strategies for clients, supervising her A/E/C team, developing new business, or working on her personal brand. With a 20+ year career spanning visual communications, strategy, and marketing, and over a decade working in the A/E/C sector, Sylvia brings a creative, business-focused approach to her client engagements.

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