Linchpins, Role Players and Peters

A little less than a year ago I went to hear Seth Godin speak at the Warner Theatre. It was awesome. He was promoting his Linchpin book with a tour and the program was really entertaining, engaging, exciting and a ton of other adjectives that start with an E.

When I left the event, I was energized (I swear I’m not doing the E-word thing on purpose now), and couldn’t wait to implement some of the new ways of thinking about business and problem solving. However, by a little later in the evening when I was talking to my wife about the program, I couldn’t help but think, “If even half of the people in Warner Theatre were ACTUALLY linchpins, DC would be a changed place in no time.”

I mean no disrespect to my fellow attendees, but playing devil’s advocate, not everybody in that room was destined to be a linchpin. Not everybody has what it takes or there would be no “doers.” And just because we pay money to hear Seth speak (or buy his books) doesn’t mean we are going to leave that room and change the way we work, live, think, problem solve. Linchpins are rare.

Role Players
Fast forward to today, literally earlier tonight. I’m playing indoor soccer with a group of friends in an organized league. Now you should know that I haven’t played organized soccer since I was about 13 and as I remember things, I used to be pretty good.

I am currently…not good. But that’s ok.

Even though I am entrepreneurial in spirit and always want to try to run things by nature, this has been a fantastic exercise for me in reminding me how to be a role player. I’m turning out to be a better sweeper (defense) than I expected, at least for now. More importantly, I’m learning how to settle into the team, do one thing and try to do it well. I’m finally feeling better about myself when I leave and I’m not scoring goals. I’m contributing something crucial for our team.

A great friend of mine emailed me last week and jokingly referred to his office as a great case study for the Peter Principle. I provided a link, but the brief explanation is that people continue to do their jobs well enough to get promoted, and then the cycle repeats – do well at your job, get promoted. The cycle continues until the person is finally promoted into a job where they fail, usually because they are promoted to a position that they aren’t qualified for and haven’t been properly prepared for their new responsibilities. Many businesses are filled with “Peters”.

While these three principles are really applied to individuals, I wanted to apply them to firm-wide behaviors and more importantly AEC firm brands for illustration purposes.

A firm that has a strong grasp on its brand and knows how to only pursue its strengths can be a linchpin in the industry. They can change the game, apply new technologies, dominate a particular type of project delivery because they know their clients intimately. They will get more opportunities to try the experimental or risky jobs because of their reputation. They will become known for being the best by doing something nobody has ever done, or by doing something others have done in a completely new way.

Firms that struggle with prioritizing their target audiences, chase any number of opportunities that come up and market only reactively are likely to become role players. Now sometimes a role player can be a strategic move (say you’re partnering to build a client relationship or experience in a new industry), but for the most part the role player will probably compete on cost, be included to fill the necessary number of bids, or sustain a book of business based on being the go-to firm for a few clients. They may actually be great at certain projects or industries, but won’t be able to capture a market leadership position because they are afraid to discount other clients or industries.

Finally, Peters can be the firms that focus on only one or a few industries but don’t continue to develop their staff for the next shift in the AEC community (tech shift, generational shift, project delivery shift). Similar to role players, existing long-term relationships are likely the only source of business, but eventually clients’ needs shift, competition increases and Peters can’t deliver the projects like they used to. Eventually, this pattern puts this type of firm in a scramble to get new work when relationships disperse or clients retire.

Do these three categories leave a little gray area? Sure. But I’m willing to bet that a high majority of firms are on the path of one of these with their brand and marketing efforts – how about your firm?

A Logo Story

In the face of numerous consumer brands getting bashed for launching new logos, I thought it fitting to talk about what a logo story is, and even share Markitecture’s.

The Logo Story
Every logo should have a story. It helps employees believe in the brand, it helps clients understand your history and mission, and at a minimum it combats people saying they don’t like it during the design phase! (Notice I said combat, not eliminate.) People are always going to have differing opinions on design decisions. However, if your logo has a story that closely aligns it with your brand then quite frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Why choose these colors?
Why choose the font?
What does the icon mean to your company and how is it aligned with your brand values?

And what about the brand? In the case of Starbucks, coffee IS the brand (to most people). So why would they remove coffee from the logo? My take is that Starbucks is actually rebranding – not just changing their logo. And yes, those are two totally different things.

I believe Starbucks is moving the company away from just coffee and is trying to reposition itself as more of a destination by controlling and focusing on other aspects of their brand. Selling merchandise, music, alcohol, increased food selections…these are all steps in the direction of branding Starbucks on environment, lifestyle, and comfort – not coffee. If that’s their goal, then the logo redesign is a part of a strategic rebranding and makes sense. Whether or not it’s wise or will dilute their loyal following remains to be seen.

Markitecture’s Logo Story
Now, for a peek inside of Markitecture.

The logo for Markitecture represents the merging of Marketing and Architecture – two of my passions, as well as the overall mission of the company, to infuse the AE industry with more strategic marketing practices.

The font was chosen to mimic architectural lettering, like you might see on CAD drawings. It’s a little wider/more horizontal than most fonts, which tends to happen when you first learn how to “letter” in architecture school instead of “write”. (at least it did for me)

The icon is a subtle one, but it is actually a section icon used to denote where a cross-section is cut on a plan, so you can look for the sheet/drawing to correspond with that slice. The section icon is also in the middle of Marketing and Architecture to further illustrate the connection of the two.

Finally, the color palette is black and a sort of orange/goldenrod type of color. I wanted something warm to reflect the brand personality, but also practical and functional.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’d be curious to know the story behind some of architecture’s biggest logos…

Planning Your A/E Firm’s New Website? Don’t Forget the IA!

The A/E industry is loaded with some amazingly talented designers – in the built environment that is.

However, when it comes to architecture firms and their websites, it can be quite a different story. Try searching for “architecture, websites and suck” in Google. The results ain’t pretty.

Here’s one of my favorite reviews from a very reputable source – Fast Company.

I actually mentioned this particular article in a recent SMPS Chesapeake presentation. My favorite quote from the piece was:

“It’s pretty fun to zip through, too, with the images standing up like little structures themselves, giving me the feeling that I’m swooping down over city blocks like Spiderman. But if I’m visiting your site, it’s a good bet that I’m not Tobey Maguire. I’m probably a wildly wealthy potential client who wants to send one of your past projects to my business partner.”

I think that about sums it up, really. The point is, you should be designing a website for your clients or other members of your target audience. Not for your peers. Additionally, you should be ORGANIZING your site for these people as well.

Launching a new website is just as much about the technology platform, the sitemap, the navigation, the searchability, the content, the social media integration, the features and functionality…as it as about aesthetically pleasing imagery and visual effects. Actually, more so.

If you’re getting ready to launch a new website and your design team, whether it’s in-house or an agency, doesn’t start with the Information Architecture (IA), then stop what you’re doing. You could call Markitecture of course :-), but whatever you do please don’t design a new Flash website with hidden navigation, a long intro movie and every project you’ve ever worked on. I don’t want to see your exciting new website mentioned in any of those Google results.