In an increasingly digital and ephemeral world, brands take on new forms to immerse customers more fully and communicate more effectively – tangible touchpoints to make the idea of the brand more real.
Call it brands in space. How does a brand materialize? How does it show, not just tell, its story and its values? How does it become touchable and relatable? Seems easy enough to answer those questions on the consumer front – through product, packaging and experience, to name just a few ways.
Now think of corporate headquarters. How does brand become something to experience, to move through? Can corporate history or innovation be made tangible?
Davis Brand Capital recently had the opportunity to help The Timken Company think about brand in the context of the industrial leader’s new world headquarters. The brand team wanted to use the company’s story to inform, animate and organize the space that was under construction in new, engaging ways. But that story was largely shaped by the math of engineers, by the invisible details that make daily life move forward. Powerful, but impossible to see.
The leading authority on tapered roller bearings, The Timken Company engineers and manufactures bearings and related products, and offers customized solutions for incredibly difficult engineering problems in extreme conditions. Like providing parts to the Curiosity Rover on Mars, for example. Timken has more than 16,000 people operating in 28 countries, so the headquarters receives an enormous number of visits from its employees and its customers around the world. It couldn’t just be a building; it had to make visible what is normally invisible. The “wow factor” of the solutions had to come to life.
The first step was to think about the story – not the typical first priority in engineering cultures or B2B brands. Timken’s brand story centers on twin points of emphasis: making and knowing. In other words, what the company makes informs what it knows and what it knows informs what it makes. The story would be cyclical, dynamic – not linear. These fundamentals of the story shaped the technologies, interfaces and media ultimately used to bring Timken’s new home to life.
From the outset, some of the elements in the space would be fixed, stable. Others would be flexible, always in flux. Those guardrails required an executional balance of static installations and dynamic systems. They helped assure the building’s daily inhabitants would not be overwhelmed by a flood of fluid content, but also allowed for updating and customization for customers visiting from around the globe.
With the help of trusted collaborators at Local Projects, a master plan for the building as a content platform emerged. The result, a branded environment that:
1. Starts in the lobby with a dynamic set of facts about Timken at any given time
2. Traverses the company’s perpetual cycle of innovation over time (from critical engineering diagrams sketched on the back of a napkin to space exploration)
4. Features the products in all their complex engineering beauty in an interactive Product Showroom
Each of these elements is critical to the Timken brand and reputation: its history, its people, its performance and its products. And all of these are made active within the space – an experience of knowing and making brought to life.
The interactive product showroom is the most technically advanced execution of the project and allows one wall of the building to function as a giant touch screen. With simple hand movements, tour guides can choose from among critical products, show them in context in the world, examine CAD drawings and even expand the product detail to show the various components up close. It renders Timken’s specialized know-how both visible and navigable – in completely intuitive ways.
All of the interactive elements can be updated so the space stays fresh and relevant. The building is powered by a content management system unlike any other.
Branded space like Timken’s new world headquarters requires story – not just visual dress, as too often happens. It requires thoughtful development of narrative, which then reveals the right media or platforms to deploy. Yes, it is all in the final details – but it all begins with a simple story.
Taking this approach allows the Timken story to cycle forward, to progress, to incorporate what’s next as making and knowing continue to shape each other. Otherwise, the new world headquarters would have opened as a museum, stuck in the past the minute the doors opened.
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