By Kim Kuhteubl
The one thing that’s standard among interior design professionals is that pricing their services isn’t. Whether you charge hourly, by the square foot, as a percentage of the overall budget, with markup or without, every job is unique. Finding a formula for consensus in this delicate equation can be tricky, especially in the noisy world of flash sale sites, DIY television and increasing public access to trade resources. But there is a solution to having your worth and your client’s estimation of your worth be a match and that lies in communicating the value of your brand.
Big companies have long understood that brands are their most valuable asset. But in the last two decades, the Personal Brand (PB) has swung into focus, especially when it comes to interior design. According to the American Marketing Association’s definition, a brand is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” Way back when, ranchers branded their cattle by burning their mark onto the animal’s skin. Fortunately, personal branding is far less painful. Your PB, and by extension your firm, is the expression of your personality and values, your aesthetic and relationships and is your key to attracting your audience of ideal clients.
When I start the brand decoding process with new clients, I usually ask the question: “What’s the one thing you do that other designers forget about?” With a few exceptions, most respond along the lines of “I never forget the client … I always include my client’s personality in my design … It’s not about my taste … I’m designing for them, not me.” Sound familiar?
Another thing I hear a lot from designers is that you don’t want to get known for one style. Designers want to be versatile, not get boxed-in and limit their potential pool of clients. And yet, the most successful designers are usually known for being — and revealing — themselves. Do you think Barbara Barry worries about being known for her singular style? Or that Nate Berkus is trying to desperately climb out of his box? How about Kelly Wearstler? Bunny Williams? Rose Tarlow? Does it look like their firms are struggling for business?
Of course you must consider your client’s personality and what they want when you’re given the privilege of designing their space; that’s the foundation of any interior design business. However, when you take what you see, your vision, aesthetic, energy, story, style and interpretation of space — I call it your “It Factor” — out of your marketing equation, you’ve taken you out of your business.
Your clients may not know how to express or achieve your style, but they hire you because they recognize something visually (and emotionally) when they look at your portfolio. Whether they see themselves, or who they want to be, it’s their interpretation through your unique visual lens that is where the value lies. The higher a designer’s income, the more they are being paid for their PB, not just for what they do or sell.
A strong PB also undoes traditional notions of competition. If you confidently market from that singular space of knowing, and talk about yourself and your services in the way that only you can, you become inimitable in the marketplace. Sure there will always be other designers offering their services, but none just like you.
So, have you defined your personal brand? What is it you do that nobody else does? What’s the biggest resistance you feel about branding your firm?
For more tips on personal branding and other essential marketing strategies, register for the upcoming Image 360? Telesummit on Aug. 21 – 22. (Registration is free but spaces are limited.)
Kim Kuhteubl is an award-winning producer and writer who works with interior designers, product manufacturers and hosts in the home category on business strategy, the creation of bold brands and audience engagement through social media, publication and licensing. Her clients have been featured across the web, on network and cable television and in leading design publications. Follow her @bykimk or join her list by visiting www.theitfactor.info.
Image courtesy Business Learning Solutions.