Style, Color and Branding

Smart Designs: Branding and Architecture

As the number of Fitness chains continue to grow, it is interesting to see how each group has elected to showcase who and what they offer to differentiate themselves. How they define their brand. One can see a trend evolving that basically pushes the “team colors” and program offerings to the front, while making the actual experience of being in the club the secondary. The balance of creating a true brand experience is based on a marriage of architectural design and the logo device.

One of the most important strategies to building a brand is that  branding is global, and selling is local. On one hand, you have to be able to be instantly identifiable, possibly worldwide; on the other, our members come from a typical 5-10 mile radius, or less.  Think Nike’s check, Apple’s apple, or Target’s target. These icons however, do not stand alone, there is customer service, marketing, and designs,  that all contribute to the consumer experience on a local level. The consumer experience is not just about your brand, or what you are pushing, it’s about what they want. Building loyalty to a brand is all about creating consistent consumer expectation. When a company focuses only one of the these components to dominate the message, confusing the logo power with the brand experience,  the results for the most part are not optimum. The colors of the logo do not need to become the all encompassing colors of the design experience to push the point of who you are. As a member, I wouldn’t want to spend my time in a complete purple and yellow room for even a few hours a week. The experience will suffer, and this could become a detriment rather than an asset in the long run. Once members join, I don’t think “team colors” is what builds retention.

Now, I am not advocating a complete departure from honoring the base colors and their importance to the brand. The emotional connection that colors provide the consumers is an important part of the brand building and should be respected. I am just advocating that the architecture designs and the branding devices share a genetic link rather that one dominating the other. Born from the same concept, but at the same time, legitimately doing their individual job and supporting each other; the Icon and the experience; together they can form a powerful message and market differentiator.

I have heard, “well, look at McDonalds; they built an empire on yellow and red”. Yes, different times though. Have you seen the new McDonalds lately? They are in the midst of a complete overhaul to their brand experience. They are taking the notion that selling is indeed local. Their interiors designs have been elevated to a more stunning experience: regional flavors, nice stone, warm colors, sleek lighting, and high tech looks. This is a strategic move to counter a growing consumer trend moving their support from the international conglomerates and big box brands to supporting local business. Locally grown, operated, and sourced, etc is Fast becoming an important check in the consumer checklist. An example of what not to do, is dilute the brand. In what has to be the bonehead move of the year, they changed the most recognizable brand device in the world! The golden arches morphed into a wimpy yellow eyebrow!

How can Architecture and Branding correlate? The first step of brand recognition is that it is easily recognizable. To that end, the architecture reinforces the signage; the icon. In the case of the Apple store the buildings have evolved into beautiful simple boxes.  This is always done in careful balance to support the apple icon.  The icon never changes, but the building do. They look and feel like one of their products; sleek, sexy, and seductive. The architecture and branding are both well done  and achieved the desired goal;  you know an Apple store when you see one, but no one is quite like the other.

As consolidation continues in our industry, and Brand Building becomes more important than ever, there are some excellent lessons to learn from both McDonalds and Apple. Lock down your brand device, and only evolve it with great scrutiny. Signage, shape, color, device, and tag lines need that consistency. The buildings and interior colors certainly should also have a degree of consistency and commonality, but build cousins, not twins.

We do a lot of work with a major northeast chain. They have very specific colors and a feel that they like to portray. We understand they have built an expectation and a language that helps define and differentiate their product. Because their clubs have complete reciprocity their members spend a lot of time in their clubs.  They know that a consistent look is important, but the costumer experience is even more important to their success. To support their goal, we respect their color combinations, but we use their colors with a new flair, interest, and in innovative combinations and locations. At the same time, we introduce new products and materials into their scheme. Sometimes the color can come from a product and not paint. It is the introduction of these other products; woods, brick, and wall coverings that elevates the overall experience. Respecting their logo, where we place the signage, as well as the presentation of package elevates and reinforces their brand.

In another example, we were recently were hired by Anytime Fitness to develop brand standards for their design manual. They came to us with a desire to separate their brand from the pack, believing design could make a difference. Having 1500 franchisees and growing around the world presented a challenge; how to come up with a design that could be reproducible, have a local flavor, all the while creating a constant brand experience. To further complicate matters, Anytime did not want to suppress the entrepreneurial spirit of their franchisees, which is the backbone to their success and the DNA of their culture. We agreed that the main signage requirements would be non negotiable and consistent. The brand is well done and here to stay. To provide freedom in a structured framework, we would support and enhance the brand by providing three different color and material schemes the franchisees could choose from.  Each scheme would have three major architectural components that would be distinctly anytime. This would allow for branding consistency, while the design would both support the “Global” brand and allowing for local “selling”. The three designs are diverse enough to fit into most regional flavors, and the reaction has been nothing short of complete excitement from both the franchisee and the members.

Health clubs are not Subways sandwich shops. People spend time in our clubs; they deserve a rich and rewarding, well designed experience. Branding in concert with the interior design will ensure that we can compete globally, while respecting what we sell locally; the member experience.