This was among the things Michael Colacino, president of Studley, told me when we talked about Landor’s work for what is now one of the largest (and still very successful) commercial real estate companies in the world. While many commercial real estate firms derive their income from serving landlords, Studley’s focus is on tenant needs. The firm actually originated the practice of tenant representation and to this day designs and executes solutions that meet tenants’ needs worldwide for those seeking everything from office to retail to industrial space.
The fact is, in its early days, Studley didn’t necessarily have to know who it was or what it wanted to be. For fifty years, it was led decisively by its founder who believed that doing what was right for the client was the only principle the company needed to adhere to be successful. It was, after all, a service provider. Simply provide good service. Over time, however, the industry started to change. With the expansion of the global market, the number of firms dealing in tenant-focused commercial real estate on an international scale grew exponentially. What’s more, the management team at Studley changed. The new team recognized that to compete in a world of service providers it needed to focus on identifying a way to differentiate the Studley brand. After all those years, it had reached a point where it had to determine who it was and what it wanted to be. This was obviously in addition to doing what was right for the client. The commercial real estate market was hot and getting hotter.
I talk in my book about two topics that are particularly germane to Studley’s BrandSimple
success story. First, the Studley branding team along with the team from Landor, assessed what I refer to as the “Brand Enemy”
as a way to identify a differentiating idea. Second, Studley took great care to ensure that every one of its employees understood exactly what the Studley brand represented in the market and what it meant relative to their role in the company. You can read more about taking on the Brand Enemy in Chapter Four, and how to engage your employees in the idea that drives your brand in Chapter Six of BrandSimple
. In the meantime, here’s a bit more of my conversation with Michael.
You told me early on that you didn’t want Studley to be marginalized. What did you mean by that?
MC: I knew, instinctively, we had to find something we could own. We needed to identify a simple idea on which to build our brand that was proprietary. It had to be an idea others didn’t own, couldn’t own, actually didn’t want to own.
AA: That’s called defining the Brand Enemy. Determine what you want to be by determining what you don’t want to be.
MC: Exactly. And it was during our work with Landor that we identified what we didn’t want to be. We didn’t want to own the everyday stuff. We wanted to be known as the brand that took on the complex projects – the tough transactions. Anyone and everyone could do the bread and butter – and they did. We wanted to stand for being able to execute the complicated deals. The negotiations that other firms wouldn’t take on or couldn’t take on. We wanted a higher profile. We wanted to be known for “executing complexity.”
AA: “Executing complexity” sounds antithetical to being a simple brand idea, but that’s exactly what it is.
MC: Some brands would have perceived it as a complicated idea, but it made perfect sense to us. It was already part of our culture. We were already executing complexity but hadn’t captured it in what you guys call a “brand driver.” It wasn’t formalized in any way, but we had – and have – the credibility and experience to be able to own this idea. We have smart people working for us. We have the intellectual capital and the track record to prove our success rate on complex commercial real estate assignments.
AA: You also have lots of people working for you. Once you decided this was the ground you officially wanted to own, how did you communicate this internally?
MC: Well, as I said people were already executing complexity, taking on the challenging deals. It was part of their nature. When we started talking about it formally, when we gave people the tangible materials and resources that go along with any branding effort – it clicked. The idea became viral. People had actually been starving for material that reflected our company position. When we codified what they had been doing every day, people began to play back the idea in their daily exchanges. I kept hearing stories about how some team was “executing complexity.” This idea wasn’t something stapled on. It was organic.
AA: Did people understand that “executing complexity” was meant to be an internal driver of brand behavior – not a tagline?
It didn’t matter. Whether they thought of it as a tagline or understood it to be the essence of what we stood for as a brand, the outcome was the same. We knew what we stood for. Our clients knew what we stood for. We could own it, and like any powerful brand idea, we can own it for years to come.