ThorntonTomasetti brand image

Thornton Tomasetti, a well-respected, global structural engineering firm, found itself at a critical turning point. After years of strategic acquisitions and organic growth, it offered a broad and integrated portfolio of services, including protective design, testing and analysis, and even artificial intelligence. However, the company’s CEO knew that its reputation in the market did not reflect this expanded suite of offerings, in part because Thornton Tomasetti’s marketing was still siloed and practice-focused. For prospects and clients to recognize—and engage—its overlapping suite of solutions, Thornton Tomasetti needed a differentiated and compelling brand platform that united its practice areas. With the CEO closely involved, the firm engaged DeSantis Breindel as a partner in developing this platform.

Differentiation in a sea of sameness

Structural engineering firms have long sought differentiation through claims of “unmatched” scope and scale. Competitive marketing is dominated by case studies and images of the world’s tallest, newest, and shiniest buildings and bridges. The firm’s CEO was quite blunt about the communications challenge: although Thornton Tomasetti can boast many “-est” structures, he noted, relying on superlatives doesn’t demonstrate any real benefit to clients.

After extensive internal and external research, DeSantis Breindel identified an area of opportunity for a new brand. Thornton Tomasetti’s scientifically-advanced and technologically-optimized offerings enabled it to deliver solutions that other firms deemed impossible. This idea is encapsulated in the brand’s essence and tagline: “Here’s How.” It reflects the positive, roll-up-our sleeves attitude of the firm’s staff, emphasizing that they are true problem solvers armed with the world’s most sophisticated engineering and technological tools. Rather than focus on what has been done in the past, the brand focuses on what the firm can do in the future … for clients.

“Here’s How” the brand came to life

A key strategy was immersing prospective clients and partners in the brand promise of never-say-never problem solving, giving them a taste of how the experience of working with Thornton Tomasetti stands out. The new brand does this in three primary ways:

1. Through a robust brand personality

B2B brands are sometimes wrongly characterized as dull, as lacking in character. This is not the case with Thornton Tomasetti’s new brand. DeSantis Breindel built robust and detailed brand personality guidelines for Thornton Tomasetti built around four key traits: bold, ingenious, open, and inspiring. Detailed definitions of each, along with behavior principles to demonstrate how employees can exemplify them, brought the personality to life.

2. Through brand voice guidelines

Following our work on brand personality, we crafted full brand voice guidelines that empowered employees to create brand-infused messaging. In addition to before and after examples, we provided more general writing tips such as how to write rhythmically, how to use creative openers, and how to build clarity by using everyday language. The results of this work can be seen on Thornton Tomasetti’s website, which manages to make complex challenges approachable with copy that is both clear and full of character.

3. Through behind-the-scenes imagery

To stand apart from competitors whose marketing showcases only finished projects, Thornton Tomasetti now uses images and videos of projects in development. This includes time-lapse construction videos, portraits of workers at job sites, unusual angles of architecture, and visualizations of models and data. This visual strategy helps plunge prospective clients into the world of Thornton Tomasetti, showing the people and innovation that lie behind the “Here’s How” brand promise.

The lesson for branders

The Thornton Tomasetti rebrand illustrates the importance of brand personality in B2B. Far from being staid or buttoned up, the Thornton Tomasetti persona showcases an organization that is bold, loves a challenge, and is fascinated by the world around it—all qualities exemplified by the CEO and members of his leadership team. By investing the time and energy needed to develop a robust personality, including voice and behavior principles, the Thornton Tomasetti brand comes to life at all touchpoints: the firm’s website, social media, pitch presentations, and—most importantly—the words and actions of its people.

Thornton Tomasetti also demonstrates the critical importance of showing as well as telling. Simply “telling” the marketplace that they knew how to get things done risked sounding like empty braggadocio. “Showing” where this confidence comes from, through verbal and visual content focused on the firm’s technology, the ideas of its people, and the success of past projects, lends credibility and substance to a bold claim.

Thornton Tomasetti’s bet on a new brand backed by a strong personality paid off. The brand was recognized in the brand evolution category at the 2020 Transform Awards North America. More importantly, the firm reports that the rebrand has been widely embraced by employees and customers alike, with an uptick in cross-selling opportunities.