Environmental Branding: Meeting strangers.
James Joyce once said that if Dublin suddenly disappeared from the Earth one day,
“it could be reconstructed out of my book [Ulysses]”.
Now, let’s talk about strangers for a while.
If a stranger walks into your room, what do you want him to know?
what do you want him to see?
how do you want him to feel?
what would you tell him?
Let’s be strangers for a while and walk into some place, like a stinking parking lot. Traffic cones, reflectors, entry & exit signs, fire extinguishers, water sprinklers running all over the ceiling and bare walls; except these, we do not find anything to feel or see in a parking lot. Yet, there is always something that communicates with us in these places. Some brands utilize parking spaces to communicate with their customers. This is why we see different kinds of parking systems. Some divide the parking space into alphabetized blocks and some use numerals. Every wall may act like a traffic director, carefully guiding us. Before we say ‘where on earth is my car’, environmental branding comes to our rescue.
Let’s walk into a museum now and a hospital next.
Unlike parking lots, museums do not pose bare walls. In fact, if it is an art museum or an art gallery, no wall is left un-hammered. Museums try to take us back and forth in time with prehistoric relics, dinosaur fossils, ancient civilizations, sculptures, utensils, paintings and what not. Some museums are housed in centuries old buildings and some in newly designed ones. Wherever it may be, the environment just blends into the era which the museum posits. It is here where wayfinding and environmental branding marry design to walk us through every gallery. We might not be knowing this, but behind every good ‘A visit to the museum’ school essay, there lies an intelligent branded environment.
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No hospital would want us to feel more sick. It is not that the walls and windows cure our illness, but they can ease our visit for sure. Good hospitals always possess segregated departments, time saving routes to pharmacy and intensive care units and easy walk-in & exit paths. Environmental branding escorts us all along our way.
A subtle brand identity is also mixed up with environment so that our visit remains as a soothing experience in our memory.
Let’s now walk into the knowledge hubs – schools and universities – to experience how strange it feels to get lost. This is a place where structured segregation and systematic architectural planning takes place. Numerous departments, labs, lecture halls and millions of books sit in the same vicinity. Numerous flights of stairs, huge walls, giant facades and wide, open spaces offer a great chance to communicate with people. A student should be able to find the book he/she is supposed to carry to the lecture, pick a coffee at the cafeteria, collect passes for the play in the evening on the way, and reach the class on time. It looks like quite a task but environmental branding and wayfinding makes it easy. Educational institutions provide great opportunities to experiment with new communicative ideas. Most successful environmental branding projects happened in educational institutions.
Let’s now walk into stores. Stores are the only places where branded environment/environmental branding can be felt overtly. Irrespective of the size of the store, branded environments can pull or repel the customers. A store can offer an immersive experience to the stranger. The most talked about Apple stores, where we find ‘Genius Bar’ and the glass staircase (which was patented by Steve Jobs along with the designer) also fall under overt branded environments. In stores, we unknowingly take routes because they are built that way. Some stores have different entry and exit doors. Some do not have an exit in the middle. So, all that happens between entry and exit can be influenced by environmental branding.
The latest co-working spaces, corporate workplaces, libraries, airports, stadiums, bus shelters, movie theatres, the largest complex and the smallest store, whichever place it may be, branded environments meet, greet and guide the strangers towards the brand.
We at Marks+Methods comprehend environmental branding as a concoction of psychology and decision making. Here, everything boils down to only one question – ‘If a stranger walks into your room…’, which is our method. When we meet someone new, we would want them to think about us and understand us for good. A dialogue, a relationship and an association starts with a person who was once a stranger.
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The 20th century literary giant James Joyce is a celebrated writer all over the world. He was both famous and infamous for his detailing in his writings about the city of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. His most famous novel ‘Ulysses’ is an account of the happenings of one day in the life of the protagonist; yet the novel runs for more than 700 pages. He writes explicitly about many streets in Dublin along with markets, a church, a hospital, a pharmacy, a college, a national art gallery, a museum, a bank, a bridge, a school, a hotel, a famous tower and so many more locations which are actually present in Dublin.
Joyce decocted Dublin into his writings. He was so sure that the entire city can be rebuilt – as it is – even if the city gets erased all of a sudden. Branding and branded environments is all about this nexus with the environment. When a brand owns its environment or surroundings, it helps in building brand identity within a stranger, turning him into a customer and a patron.