In 2019, Miller Zell met with athletic administrators from an elite Power Five program. When we described our half-century-plus of experience designing and executing innovative branded environments in retail, we were politely interrupted.
“We get it,” the administrator said. “All the best ideas come from retail.”
We recently discussed our process and capabilities with university facilities officers and athletic administrators and how they applied to all branded environments at the “Campus Facilities Summit 2021” in Houston. The consensus reaction confirmed that what was true in 2019 continues to be true today and will be true into the future.
Great retail environments provide return on investment, and ROI only comes from purposeful design and efficient execution that create great customer and associate experiences.
And this truth applies to all branded environments
What universities and their athletic departments now realize is that students and student-athletes represent a diverse and demanding customer base, while campus facilities and buildings serve a variety of distinct purposes, constituencies and brand-building opportunities.
In Houston, three concepts most resonated with universities hoping to create optimized branded environments.
- Universities want value and execution on a disciplined budget, and they are intrigued by end-to-end services that efficiently and transparently flow from design to installation with no handoffs.
- Impressive and/or beautiful buildings and interiors are now table stakes because students also want customized experiences that prioritize functionality, digital application and environmental communication.
- Optimized branding requires a thorough understanding of the diverse cultures and subcultures on campus, in sports, academics and social spaces.
When undertaking facilities renovations, universities want expertise and guidance from concept to completion, from research, strategy & design, to procurement and production, to project management, to installation and follow-up.
They don’t want surprises, complications, unexpected expenses or excuses.
Miller Zell provides universities expertise and support for all aspects of their projects under one roof. We offer a single point of contact and accountability who becomes an extension of your university’s team, understanding your internal processes while focusing on providing solutions, efficiency and cost savings.
Foundational to true end-to-end services is research, which is often overlooked and underdone by design and architectural firms.
Branding, culture and subculture
Research focuses on understanding a university as a brand and its various cultures and subcultures, whether that’s about a specific sport, academic discipline or social environment.
This requires data mining each sport or student/academic grouping: What distinguishes that culture within the university? This process cultivates “buy-in” with students, coaches and athletic & academic leaders as they participate in the creation of a sub-brand while knowing the process is about fulfilling their wants and needs. This recognition and celebration of subcultures and sub-brands elevate recruiting, both athletically and academically.
Respecting and serving these differences create a parity among revenue and non-revenue sports or larger and smaller academic departments because it includes a recognition and celebration of perhaps previously marginalized subcultures. This attention to detail creates deep connections between student/athlete and their primary university environments.
For Miller Zell, this process starts with a thorough understanding of a university’s brand core and brand attributes. This helps us develop a brand filter, which operates as a verbal and visual journey through the university’s brand and culture/subcultures.
Efficient, transparent, productive collaboration
For example, Miller Zell partnered with SMU to develop a variety of diverse projects, from sports locker rooms and stadiums, to student lounges, to dorms, to its Hughes-Trigg Student Center to its tech-heavy Centennial Hall remodel.
Each project involved a multi-pronged collaboration with SMU administrators, architects and general contractors, while Miller Zell focused on research, branding/sub-branding, design, procurement, production, décor, digital and installation.
Said Michael Molina, SMU’s Associate VP & Chief Architect, “The Miller Zell team perfectly aligned with our effort to change the paradigm on project approach and delivery here at SMU. The insight and experience from conceptual brand development through design and implementation were efficient, imaginative, creative and powerful.”
Through the years, Miller Zell has worked with many of the world’s largest retailers, banks and quick-serve restaurants, as well as challenger brands trying to increase their footprint in a competitive marketplace. Our expertise with developing and implementing branded environments grew and flourished from our understanding of the relationship between brand and customer experience, which leads to purposeful, ahead-of-the-curve innovation.
That was true in 2019 and during the pandemic. And it will be true tomorrow and into the future.
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