External branding is more than just a badge

Given the emphasis on creating brand consistency and a seamless brand experience across all channels, from digital to bricks and mortar, there is a real disconnect when it comes to the integration of the external environment. Most retailers seem to have it right with their internal shop fit outs, but external branding generally feels badged – an after thought. Brand – and how it is applied within an external environment – needs more consideration. It needn’t be just a badge!

The journey from digital to the physical in store experience is an often-overlooked area of opportunity. ‘Bricks and mortar’ tends to refer to the internal retail space and experience not how the brand is perceived and experienced in the external environment. A brand’s presence on an external façade can be the first non-digital physical interaction a customer has with it, however its external application generally lacks the consistency of other channels. There is no, or very little, integration.

Brands expect to attract customer buy-in through a holistic brand experience, but the reality is, the external environment is more often than not, left lacking. The result is a badged brand application. This is primarily due to the general perception that external branding is only signage. As a consequence, in order to achieve recognition and stand-out, brands resort to a ‘bigger, bolder, better’ mentality with signage, adding to an already cluttered visual landscape.

External branding can, and should be, more than just signage. Architectural features can be created or enhanced. Features can be made of entrances, through to the clever selection and application of façade materials, colour, finishes and illumination that can embody and portray the values of the brand. If given consideration at an early stage, brand can be successfully incorporated within a building’s design. It needn’t be brash in-your-face signage!

John Lewis have achieved this with its ‘at home’ stores creating a seamless integration of brand and architecture through store design and consistent application of materials, colour and finishes. The result is a reassurance of the trusted quality that is John Lewis, before you even step into the store.

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The brand experience can be further enhanced through use of physical interventions. Dalziel & Pow has recently created a new format for Wyevale Garden Centres which is a great example of incorporating brand into the architecture. Interventions include a grass façade, a giant spade and trees.

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Whilst brand can be easily incorporated within the design of a new-build, an existing portfolio of varying property styles may present more of a challenge. Key to overcoming this is collaboration. Rather than working in isolation, architectural and branding teams must work together to develop clever strategy and design that delivers an integrated, holistic brand experience.

Considering the investment brands have in their property portfolios, the external look and feel should be doing more to enhance the brand experience. Perhaps inspiration can be taken from ‘Best Products’, an American catalogue retailer of the 1960s through to early 90’s, who contracted architects SITE (Sculpture In The Environment) to radically redesign their utilitarian show rooms.

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Best Products and SITE created a unique and iconic brand experience that challenged the norms of the time.

External branding is, and should be, more than just a badge.