The intersection of
branding and architecture

Brands can foster powerful emotional connections with their customers when they invest in the customer experience. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to build a deeper connection with an audience. However, in oversaturated industries like retail, it can be challenging for brands to offer a unique point of difference. So how can brands leverage the built environment to attain marketplace differentiation?

Storytelling is a powerful tool for brands to build their profile and differentiate themselves. Done well, it can spark intrigue and cultivate an authentic connection with an audience however, it doesn’t always have to take the written form.

In Processing Meaning and Metaphor, author Dan Fass describes non-literal language as a language that conveys meaning figuratively or symbolically, as opposed to accurately descriptive. In her article on emotional branding, author Christine Barakat draws on the power of non-literal language. For consumers to develop a meaningful relationship with brands, Barakat states that brands need to portray a particular personality with specific values and symbols attached. In the context of brand differentiation, symbolic and non-literal expression is as important as literal expression.

An example of successful non-literal expression in the built form dates back to the early 19th century when Art Nouveau emerged as a new aesthetic. Going against historical models, French architect, Hector Guimard, designed the striking, and now revered, Paris Metro entrances in quintessential Art Nouveau style with sinuous, organic lines and stylised stalks.

His aim was to use non-literal expressions to visually enhance the underground travel experience on Paris’ new subway system. Formerly associated with the luxury market, Guimard brought Art Nouveau into the popular culture realm. His unique design differentiated the Parisian transport system from conventional models and evoked an emotional response from commuters by enhancing the travel journey. Guimard’s design successfully influenced public connection with, and perception of, Paris’ transport system through non-literal expression.

Today, many major fashion brands evoke an emotional response from their customers through similar striking contemporary designs. These non-literal expressions not only exist within showroom interiors but externally on the high street. Cheongdam-dong Luxury Fashion Street in Gangnam, South Korea, is an excellent example of designed differentiation in the built world. A decade ago, the 760-metre strip was underdeveloped.

Now, it boasts major luxury brands including Diadem client Ermenegildo Zegna, as well as Burberry, Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton. From bespoke facades to glitzy showroom cafes, these luxury fashion houses have gone to extensive measures to design and build unique brand experiences along the iconic avenue. By investing in non-literal expressions, luxury retail brands have established a connection with their customers that extends beyond a product offering. Their commitment to the customer experience at all levels has built cult followings and stanch brand loyalty.

Closer to home, examples of design differentiation in the built form include ISPT’s 90-metre Wintergarden facade studded featuring 24,000 LED lights in Queen Street, Brisbane, and the exterior of high-end retailers like Prada at Diadem client, Westfield Sydney.

From Cheongdam-dong to Sydney, major fashion houses have mastered non-literal branding techniques to help differentiate themselves in a competitive market and strengthen customer loyalty.

In the world of retail, differentiation is king. The challenge is to create it, harness it and use it to build consumer advocacy.


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