Lynn Juang, COO of Brand Bureau, refers to her company as a, “creative agency rooted in and inspired by hospitality.” The studio of about 35 people is based in New York and works with brands, clients, and operators to build brands and spaces through the lens of hospitality. This includes everything from strategy to visual design to interior design.
“Our favorite projects are the one’s we’re tapped to do the full spectrum of the process, it results in a more cohesive, rich, and considered experience,” she said.
Planning for the Unknown
The obvious questions we had for Lynn and Brand Bureau were around the hospitality industry amidst COVID. How has the pandemic impacted brick-and-mortar businesses? How are you approaching a constantly changing landscape with your clients? How do you design safe spaces? Where does messaging fit into everything?
From an agency perspective, much of Brand Bureau’s current client work is long-lead projects. “Those projects that are underway have been maintained as planned,” Lynn said.
However, what has changed (and continues to change) is, well, everything.
“What's challenging for owners, operators, and clients, and, subsequently, for designers, is that the rules keep changing and it's the unpredictability of the short term fixes, which may look entirely different in six months or a year or two years,” Lynn said. “It’s so hard to gauge how physical spaces will need to change from a requirement or legal perspective but also from a consumer behavior perspective.”
Hospitality clients are stuck in a quandary as many are hesitant to make major investments in change as we don’t know what the circumstances will be in a few months’ time. So, Brand Bureau has adopted an agile approach to help its clients figure out more flexible and moveable solutions right now.
“The clients who have existing brick and mortar businesses are trying to look at it week by week and explore light investments they can make to dip their toes into the idea of re-opening,” Lynn said. To navigate these unknowns, Brand Bureau helps clients arrive at answers through different sets of questions.
“Let's think about why we were going out in the first place,” Lynn said. She articulates three reasons: People go out for the offering (I can’t make this myself), for a change of scenery (it’s not my couch), and for the social aspect (meeting others within a space). For the agency’s strategy work, it’s all about thinking about these reasons -- the “why” -- in a different way right now.
While this undoubtedly includes things like sanitation practices and well-designed partitions, it’s really about the three drivers. “Let’s flip the switch and ask, what do people need in this experience, what were they looking for previously and how can we replicate or translate it,” Lynn said.
Brand Bureau has several potential clients in the travel industry, including inquiries around airport lounges and how to rethink what those spaces look and feel like, and what the food and beverage options may be. “They’re starting to ask these questions. How can we answer those concerns where design plays such an important role in how you communicate safety without sacrificing hospitality,” Lynn said.
It’s so hard to gauge how physical spaces will need to change from a requirement or legal perspective but also from a consumer behavior perspective.
Lynn Juang, COO of Brand Bureau
More Human Messaging
We were also keen to know how the pandemic relates to perceived shifts in brand messaging. This short answer: thoughtful messaging matters a lot right now.
“Messaging and communication carry so much more weight now, because it’s the bridge between a brand, concept, or restaurant and the guest. Since we lack that connection now, that messaging becomes the conduit,” Lynn said.
Lynn explains that messaging has become more “human” amidst the pandemic.
“What’s different now is being able to communicate from a very human place. It’s less about sounding ‘on brand’ and more about communicating thoughtfully. To reinsert a level of humanity in that conversation is key because everyone is experiencing this at the same time and it's all new for everyone,” Lynn said.
An important lesson is that it’s OK for brands to say what they know and, just as importantly, what they don’t know. “The priority is shifting to how to communicate with vulnerability and warmth and consideration and thoughtfulness. It’s more relaxed right now,” she said. The focus is less on brand guidelines and more on the content and how you deliver it. Think: less elevated, more human.
Creating Safe Spaces for All
Brand Bureau is asking new questions with its clients right now, to think differently about solutions. So too, the hospitality in general has an opportunity to rethink its own model.
A key strategy, Lynn explains, is to invest in mapping out the guest journey to put yourself in the shoes of your target customers. How will they navigate and interact with spaces? What will make them feel safe? It’s an additional layer of consideration that is now truly from a guest perspective.
“I think sometimes as operators or designers you get focused on how something looks or how it serves the operation. As we all navigate COVID together, it’s more important than ever to not forget, what does it feel like this for this person coming in, how does that person need to feel when they approach your entrance from the street, or how do you want them to feel when they’re moving through the space,” Lynn said.
She suggests putting time and energy into these questions to identify how guests may look subconsciously for cues for cleanliness, for example. This might be re-thinking menus that are more readable from a distance at fast, casual places. Or how host stands (especially in small New York restaurants) tended in the past to revolve around close, tactical interactions.
Again, it all comes back to the human element. As Brand Bureau helps clients make adjustments, it’s also considering the staff experience. “It goes both ways. The staff equally needs to feel safe and comfortable in that environment. Is there enough space to move around in this new way, properly,” Lynn asked.
Brand Bureau's approach is apropos of this moment; the agency is open to rethink everything, to ask new questions with clients, and to focus on people more than ever before, be they clients, guests, or the studio team.
The Future of...
Recently Brand Bureau put out insight pieces on the future of areas like Patient Care and Membership Clubs. Check them out here: