Are You a Brand or a Commodity?

It’s easy in this economy to adopt a “whatever it takes” approach to getting work. Believe it or not, this actually can cost you projects because clients are looking for a team who can meet their needs, not just undercut the competition. If you have been going after any RFP that moves and buying jobs, stop. Right now. You might think, “What if I don’t do these things, and my competition does, and I lose the work?” You should worry about what would happen if you do these things and you win it.

You will have just reduced your practice: expertise, resources, and professional judgment to a commodity. No one values a commodity. No one has “commodity loyalty.” Commodity work is demoralizing. It is all about spending the least amount of time to get the most marginally acceptable and cheapest design. It is antithetical to our whole purpose as architects and frankly, makes us obsolete. Do enough of this work and you have a portfolio that only lets you continue to downward spiral. If you aren’t contributing inspired, designed solutions, what purpose do you really serve?

The same goes for the firms that give away their services, producing good designs and being attentive to clients, but at a huge loss just for the privilege of doing the work. Their desperation makes them a doormat. If you really look at these projects, they are filled with unnecessary compromises and lack true integrity because the architect did not command the client’s respect. Post mortems on these projects often show a great deal of time (and un-billable hours) spent like a dog chasing its tail pursuing every little whim and without any real control of the process of design.

I am not advocating arrogance. Nor am I recommending an approach so high minded that you essentially offer your clients a take it or leave it ultimatum. I would suggest that you do some very honest soul-searching. What do you really want to achieve in your practice? Has this deep seated reason for being been communicated to your staff, consultants and clients? Do they believe in it too? This core belief is your brand. It is unwavering in good economic times and bad, project type to project type, project delivery method to project delivery method. Your brand should be the rationale behind every decision you make, large or small, internally and externally.  It is what makes a client excited to work with you and motivated to collaborate as a team to produce an inspired design solution.

Know your brand.
Don't take actions that compromise your brand out of desperation.
Believe in your brand. 
Be amazing.