By Lood Welgemoed, Boogertman + Partners
As I write this, our firm is having a moment of introspection as one does every few years, about how we and others see us. The object of this is to make sure that we are marketing the firm in the right way to the right people. Clearly we don’t take the time to do this often enough, with the usual pressures of work and life.
Whilst I have no intention of revealing our dirty secrets nor our game plan for dominating world architecture as a global brand (got to dream, right), the comments of the brand strategists whom we have employed are truly insightful. This is from ad agency people who know nothing about architecture or the South African construction industry, therefore their views are not tainted by the politics of our trade. Instead, they are objectively looking at not just us but the entire industry and those who we perceive to be our worthy competitors.
Here is the big revelation then. We all say pretty much the same thing: “Look at us, we design excellent buildings!” They studied our websites, printed material and press articles, finding that from an outsiders perspective it’s really hard to tell the difference between any of the firms. So what sets any of us apart from the rest and is it enough?
The other observation is that we talk a lot about the product, the “what” and sometimes about the process, the “how”, but nothing about the “why”. Simon Sinek talks in his book Start with why about branding and leadership. He uses examples such as Apple and the Wright Brothers as companies or persons who lead by not what they do or make, but the reasons or “heart” behind it.
I am not saying that architects don’t put a lot of soul and passion into their designs – we are just not telling anyone about it. I am reminded by a PIA organised lecture by Peter Rich, who had won the WAF World Building of the Year Award in 2009 for the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre.
Apart from being quite an extraordinary building, it seems what set apart this building is the story of the site and the “why” as narrated by Mr Rich. We all got a rare glimpse into the heart of the person, and his deep understanding of people and their needs and dreams. Surely this is what all of our clients want – they expect that we can design great buildings. It is the personal relationship, the “story” that they need.
In closing, the latest Johnny Walker Blue Label advert captures the essence of this principal better than none. It features a short film starring Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini, who have a gentleman’s wager to win a rare yacht with a dance.
With only the most subtle of references to whisky, the director of the film manages somehow to portray in six minutes the essence of passion that goes into the making of the product, using analogies that seemingly have nothing to do with the drink. Perhaps we as architects can learn from this and recapture the imagination of clients by telling them stories, and in this way regain control of our much underrated profession.
Boogertman + Partners
Tel: 012 429 7300