ASID Update: A Pivotal New Year's Resolution

Jan. 1, 2009

Forgo the typical pledges to improve dietary habits, or increase exercise regimens; designers should make it a top priority to strengthen their personal brand in 2009.

By Bruce J. Brigham , FASID

Now that another new year has arrived, it's a good time to think about our resolutions, including our likely work in the immediate future and our plans for success in this difficult economy.

There isn't a single part of today's economy that isn't acting up right now. And no matter what type of interior design you practice, our profession depends on a vibrant expansion of the U.S.—and global—economy. Our entire industry, in fact, is directly linked to the demand for new construction and renovation projects. There needs to be money in the marketplace—not only in the form of residential and commercial mortgages, but in the form of credit—to allow businesses to expand or just renovate existing spaces. Without optimism, and an upward tilting market, few people will start new businesses or move forward with the kind of expansion plans (or new locations or new stores) that interior designers depend upon.

It will take real effort to maintain the vitality of our own businesses during this major recession as well as "financial correction." If you work by yourself or have a small design firm, like many of us do, it seems to me that this is a perfect time to work on refreshing and refining your own personal "brand."

McKinsey & Co., which publishes a business journal, The McKinsey Quarterly, has some interesting things to say about "learning to love recessions." Investing in brand development, brand expansion and using assets wisely to capture market share are all smart, seemingly contrary moves during a downturn.

They say, "Some companies emerge from a recession stronger and more highly valued than they were before the economy soured. By making strategic choices that sometimes defy conventional wisdom, they increase their valuations relative to those of their peers."

In my retail design work, I have often noticed that those clients of mine who have worked on the positioning of their brand most diligently and created the most unique and personal customer experience seem to be the ones who weather these storms the best. They seem to find some small piece of customer loyalty—hard as that is these days to find—and that loyal customer base gets them through the hard times.

You know what they say, "reputation is everything." Well, reputation is just word-of-mouth branding. It is something that comes about slowly and should be controlled by a company. The best companies create such a powerful and excellent experience—a truly unique experience—for their customers, that they really control the evolution of their reputation. That is branding at its best.

In their research on past recessions, McKinsey says, "While most companies tightened their belts, successful leaders, trading short-term profitability for long-term gain, refocused rather than cut spending. Indeed, these successful leaders actually spent significantly more on selling, general, and administrative costs than did companies that lost their market leadership. Expenditures on advertising followed a similar pattern."

The companies in the McKinsey study may be much larger than yours, but I think this philosophy of taking advantage of a recession to capture market share is a sound one.

"Thus, when other companies simply battened down the hatches, seeing only risk during the recession, the more successful competitors found opportunity and pressed their advantages," the study concludes.

So, take heart. Find your strengths as a designer and a business owner. Press your advantage. Take this opportunity to define your value and really come to understand who your best clients are and why they really love you. Then build on what you alone can offer them.

ASID president Bruce J. Brigham, FASID, ISP, IES, is an award-winning interior designer and authority on retail and lighting design. He is principal of Retail Clarity Consulting, specializing in retail design and brand

development, based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with clients in the United States, Hong Kong and PRC China. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at

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