SMPS Maryland: Interview with Ida Cheinman

This interview was first published by SMPS Maryland.

As part of our program to spotlight a different SMPS Maryland sponsor each month, we sat down with Ida Cheinman, Principal and Creative Director at Substance151, a Platinum Sponsor.

SMPSMD: What are your areas of expertise?

S151: Substance151 is a strategic brand communications firm for organizations on the edge of evolution – whether that evolution is inspired by growth, changing conditions, stronger competition, new customers, products and services or a desire for a stronger, more relevant brand.

Our expertise includes every step of the branding process – from strategy through design, across print and digital media, and covering all aspects of marketing communications.

SMPSMD: What differentiates you from your competition?

S151: Strategy-based design. It’s the thought process behind our work that leads to deeper insight, solid brand strategy, stellar creative and more effective marketing communications.

By focusing on strategy before tactical and by bringing the full force of our thinking to every project we undertake, we help our clients harvest the power of thought-based design in order to evolve their brands to meet today’s challenges, cement their position and grow their strength in the marketplace, and to deeply connect with their customers.

Since its inception, Substance151 has been a champion of sustainability. We’ve been able to develop unique offerings for the AEC firms looking to leverage their own sustainability message more effectively.

SMPSMD: What trends have you seen change the way AEC firms must market to stay competitive?

S151: There’s a number of transformative trends that is reshaping the industry’s view of branding and marketing: the realization that it’s no longer possible to achieve significant growth by relying on referrals only; the desire to find an alternative to the never-ending RFP competition; and the ever-growing fear of commoditization.

All of this requires a different marketing mindset, behavioral and cultural changes and a completely different set of branding and marketing tools.

Creating a clear positioning for an AEC firm is a must. By focusing on a few key areas of expertise – what a firm not simply does well, but better than anyone else – not only creates a laser-sharp focus for marketing and business development efforts, but ensures that the firm is perceived as a premium brand and the top expert in solving its clients’ business problems.

Everyone from Principal/CEO to receptionist needs to become a brand ambassador and be able to understand and articulate to the outside world the value of the firm’s brand. This requires a strong internal engagement program focused on transforming all employees into brand champions.

Sharing new thinking, leveraging niche expertise and positioning the firm as thought leader and a resource has become essential in developing strong, lasting relationships with customers. It creates trust, an opportunity to stay engaged with clients in between projects, and enables the AEC firm to become the clear choice when the next opportunity comes along.

SMPSMD: What are some unique, successful marketing projects you’ve executed for AEC clients?

S151: We are proud of all AEC projects we’ve done. One of our most recent rebranding projects was for Soltesz (formerly Loiederman Soltesz Associates). Taking the firm through a comprehensive brand strategy process, Subsbtance151 developed a future-focused brand position, followed by equally forward-thinking brand identity. From the new tagline, logo and corporate collateral, to a considerably more robust website, to the brand launch plan, Substance151 enabled Soltesz to fully leverage its new thought leader position and to stand out from its competitors.

SMPSMD: What (free) advice can you give to marketing professionals to make the most of their social media efforts?

S151: It’s been said many times that the key to effective social media effort is a clear strategy and discipline and consistency of execution. Part of social media’s value is in creating multiple audience touchpoints at a relatively low cost. If you create a different, but aligned brand experience with each social media tool, you can add depth to your brand and engage with your audiences at touchpoints of their choice in a manner that suits the channel.

Begin by finding the right brand voice for each channel. This is much easier to do if you create a metaphor for each social media network. For example, think of LinkedIn as a live business networking event – speak and act appropriately, and really get to know people; don’t pass out your cards and run – nobody likes that person. Facebook is a happy hour attended by a group of professionals – talk about both business and personal interests and have fun; yet remember that those are your colleagues and potential clients. Your twitter feed is like an NPR and The Daily Show sandwich – it’s great for news flashes and real-time reporting, and witty and clever are welcome; the meat of the sandwich is the content you’ve created or found, or relevant commentary.

You can find more about social media metaphors in the article “Will You Like Us? The New Integrated Marketing for Professional Services” (SMPS Marketer).

SMPSMD: And what about unique activities for AEC clients to engage with their brand?

S151: Just like any other human relationship, business relationships need to start with an initial spark and then move into the lengthy and involved process of cultivating a real and meaningful engagement. Yet many firms neglect to put serious focus on this game-changing mindset. Life-long friendships don’t form overnight and you don’t expect someone to marry you after the first date. You need to have strategies for both: creating that initial attraction and then making sure that you stay relevant through the first project opportunity and beyond.

The strategies and tactics that we find work best for B2B and proved most successful with our AEC clients in building strong and real relationships are Content Marketing, Corporate Citizenship and Internal Engagement.

  • Content Marketing is one of the most powerful tools in the B2B Marketing toolbox. It helps an AEC firm build awareness and become an idea leader in key markets. With so many tools and channels available for creating and publishing content, the barrier to entry is very low.
  • Nothing brings people together more than shared values. High-growth companies understand that having a brand with a strong sense of purpose is more attractive to customers, employees and suppliers.
  • Internal teams are the conduit between an AEC firm’s brand promise and the overall success of its brand experience. It’s critically important that the firm’s management, as well as every single employee, feels passionate about the firm’s brand and is fully engaged in delivering its promise to clients.

About Ida Cheinman

Ida Cheinman is founding principal and creative director of the strategic brand communications firm Substance151. She has more than 15 years of branding, marketing and design experience for professional services, with a niche focus on the A/E/C industry. She is President of SMPS Maryland and can be reached at