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Branding and Animating a Story

Author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, rightfully stated “Marketing is no longer just about the stuff you make… it’s about the story you tell.” For marketers this statement hits home as our roles trend further from “coordinators” and closer to “story tellers." The onus is on us to visually combine our firms’ brand with the character and anticipated needs of our clients. While we may not produce the technical details of a given project’s architectural narrative, we can shape how the story is presented and received in marketing pursuits. Case in point: brand.

A strong and consistent proposal brand reflects your team’s preparedness, informing the client you are a partner worthy of their trust. Similarly, pursuits grounded in experience humanize your firm, confirming with the client on a physical and emotional level that you have their best interest in mind.

Below, SmithGroupJJR marketing team members Michelle Harrison and Effie Nicholaou outline two successful case studies of utilizing brand strategies in marketing pursuits; Communication Design and Engagement Design.






For a recent proposal on a new large headquarters with a Fortune 500 company, we utilized project intel to influence the pursuit’s graphic and written brand. From insight that was gathered beforehand, we knew what type of individuals would be reviewing the proposal, allowing us to tailor our message and promote the firm as a trusted advisor and clear choice for the project. For example:

  • Intel: The client prefers no-frills. Approach: Keep the layout clean and simple.

    • White space: Less content on the pages meant our statements needed to be concise, transparent, and conformational.

    • Attention grabbers: Bold call-out boxes housed differentiators such as statistics and quotes.

    • Colors and Fonts: client’s colors were appropriately utilized in graphics and fonts but were kept subtle, more of a nod to their standards rather than blatant copy and paste.

  • Intel: The project was a game-changer for the client. Approach: Confirm we understand the weight of this project.

    • Human touch: Personal commitment statements and photos from the team conveyed our team was invested far beyond the typical expectations of a design partner.

    • Proven research: A photo of the prospective site taken by one of our team members told the client we have done our due diligence in researching this project.



The interview, much like the proposal, is an opportunity to communicate your excitement about the client and their work. It is an opportunity to reiterate how you are the trusted advisor and clear choice.

Recently, our firm has explored how Augmented and Virtual Reality (VR) presents a new way of engaging and connecting, in conjunction with the presentation slides and pinned up print outs. Ultimately, through this virtual experience, clients experience a more authentic, unscripted presentation that fosters human relationship.

At a recent interview, our firm presented three design concepts with VR. The technology was an opportunity to break down the ‘fourth wall’ of the interview, engage the client through immersion, and hint at the design process.

Through the very act of handing the client an object - the VR glasses - you remove yourself from center stage and place the client, or rather the audience, into the performance. Their participation in wearing the VR – their human touch - is as critical to the interview as the content you have prepared.

With the client’s participation in the interview, VR presents an opportunity for full immersion into potential design ideas. The user steps into a virtual reality, one that necessitates their movement so to explore. The experience takes them from a posture of receptivity to a position of activity. This immersive experience increases engagement and exploration for the client.

By giving autonomy to the client, you showcase, both literally and symbolically, their critical role in the design process. They literally have control over what they see, when they see it, and how they see it. Symbolically, this control nods to the need for designers to listen to the client and work with them towards the right solution.

All in all, relating your brand, whether through communication or engagement design methodologies, is an essential element in framing the first impression with a client. As collateral gate keepers, we hold the power to color the perception of our firm and drive project pursuits with proven processes. When opportunity knocks, be encouraged! Your input as a marketing thought leader can have great effect on your team and client.

How have you utilized branding strategies in marketing pursuits? We would love to hear your feedback! 


Michelle Harrison
Senior Marketing Coordinator, SmithGroupJJR 

By way of St. Louis, Missouri, Michelle has been a Valley resident for five years and a marketing professional in the A/E/C industry for three. A publicist by trade, Michelle seeks new and thoughtful ways to effectively communicate with potential clients via written content and graphic presentation.

Effie Nicholaou 
Marketing Coordinator, SmithGroupJJR 

Effie is a creative marketing and design professional. Her passion for design first led to studying architecture and architectural history, which then translated into a passion for branding and strategy. Originally from Virginia, Effie moved to Phoenix after a short stint in Berlin and a couple years in Boston.



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