top of page
  • Writer's pictureJerica Liew

SOHO HOUSE: A Case Study on Branding Going Beyond The Visuals

Updated: Feb 10



The brand SOHO House is synonymous with exclusivity. And we all know it.


Founded in 1995 by English entrepreneur Nick Jones, the British social club began as a members-only association for those in film, media, and other creative industries. Since then, it has grown into a cultural and commercial powerhouse, comprising co-working spaces, a spa-goods line, and an expanding home-goods brand, SOHO Home.


The brand now functions as an empire — and their ethos and style translate surprisingly well, no matter where they set up shop.

With over 70,000 members and 39 brick-and-mortar locations as of 2023, the accomplishments of SOHO are no small feat. We believe that SOHO is a worthwhile case study on brand building and brand experience. It shows how an unassuming British social club grew into a worldwide badge of prestige with members advocating for the SOHO brand. Leveraging our professional expertise as a brand consultancy, we will examine SOHO from a brand-building perspective, listing what we feel SOHO has excelled in and what this can shed light on for businesses.


What is brand building?


Some might say it all happened by chance, but perhaps there may be a more structured reason to the brand’s success.


Much of SOHO’s commercial success can be attributed to its brand’s purpose and the aspirations it evokes in the hearts and minds of consumers, whether they are members or otherwise.


The brand sells something more than a mere membership or piece of home decoration. This is all to do with brand building.


Based on our experience working with founders to provide only what is necessary for a holistic corporate identity and brand strategy, we understand brand building as a strategic process of creating and nurturing a positive brand image for a company, product, or service.


This involves carefully crafting a unique identity and perception in the minds of consumers and stakeholders. We achieve this by leveraging data through research and implementing it in our clients’ brand positioning, messaging, and visuals to propel them to success. By encompassing a more comprehensive approach that goes beyond a brand’s visual elements like logos and colours, we improve the effectiveness of our clients’ brand building.


The objective of brand building is to establish trust, credibility, and emotional connections with the target audience. Therefore, consistently delivering on promises, values, and customer experiences is vital to foster brand loyalty. A successful brand building effort can lead to increased brand recognition, market differentiation, and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Who are your target audience?


SOHO has successfully identified its target audience as its most crucial branding consideration. They have done this so well that individuals would sign up for a SOHO membership even if their home country does not have a physical SOHO House. The club’s Cities Without Houses (CWH) program, which allows members without their own home club to use the facilities in cities with properties, is an example of the company’s successful branding strategy. Dubbed the ‘type of membership for creatives who travel’, this membership tier has enabled SOHO’s CWH to exist from just 40 cities in 2022 to 80 cities in 2023. This 100% growth metric is a true testament of the success of the programme, illustrating that there is strong desire to be part of SOHO’s international community and global roster of events.


The influence of SOHO goes beyond its visuals, reaching consumers on an aspirational, almost philosophical level and creating a desire to be part of a larger creative community. This desire continues to attract professionals, entrepreneurs, celebrities, artists, and other members of the creative community to the SOHO scene, even though they may not be located in the physical real estate of the city.


Going beyond the CWH and into a physical SOHO House, the club’s worldwide no-camera policy further fuels the brand’s enigmatic quality. SOHO bears an association that its clubs are often frequented by influential individuals who require privacy and a safe space for their personal affairs, reinforcing outside perceptions of SOHO’s exclusivity. A shift from Instagram-worthy to experience-forward places connection back into the heart of conversation, away from influence of the media. Members and guests alike are afforded a space to learn from one another without digital distraction, giving rise to ideas and authenticity that are increasingly hard to find in today’s media-consumed world. This House Rule further entices an audience who crave connection and being real.


More than a clearly defined target audience according to demographic, SOHO has created a whole brand experience that continues to attract individuals who consider themselves an advocate and keen participant of everything SOHO wants to achieve. ‘Age is a state of mind’, and SOHO makes this loud and clear, so long as nothing is recorded of course.


What is your brand purpose?


This is SOHO House’s brand statement.


SOHO House is a place for our diverse membership to connect, grow, have fun, and make an impact. From the beginning, and throughout our 25-year history, our members have always been at the heart of everything we do

When individuals purchase a SOHO membership, they don’t just think they are making a simple transaction. They are making a commitment to better themselves through ‘making an impact’. They are making an internal promise to elevate their quality of life, buying into a society that prides authenticity over pretence. It is this sense of aspiration, of wanting to be a better version of themselves that SOHO’s brand messaging has been successful in selling to them.


When crafting your brand, identifying your brand purpose is a crucial first step. Your brand purpose outlines “why” you exist. It determines the meaning behind your brand’s existence, money aside. It poses you an important question - what is the greater good behind building your business?


From the inside, a brand purpose fosters camaraderie among your team, instilling an innate motivation behind the work that all employees do, as they are made aware of the business goals from the very start.


And like how SOHO has demonstrated this so clearly, from the outside, a brand purpose enables potential customers to decide if they should work with you, forming the basis for all present and future business decisions. SOHO has identified its brand purpose, and in doing so, enabled its brand to grow to 39 physical locations and counting.


What is brand activation?


Contrary to the reputation held by private member’s clubs around the world, the intention of SOHO was never to create climate of stuffiness and snobbery, but instead, open up to the world with a “home away from home” feel.


This ethos has indeed translated to the brand’s commercial success, and how it was able to penetrate the interior design space. The SOHO style is characterised by a series of spaces obsessed over localised sensibilities and individuality, effusing a sense of atmosphere yet prioritising comfort. Be it Bauhaus industrial in Berlin or Cycladic minimalist in Mykonos, each space thoughtfully infuses a mix of vintage, custom pieces that blend to create the vaunted SOHO atmosphere. It’s a style that’s proven popular enough to demand the SOHO Home venture, where enthusiasts can buy SOHO House decor for their own homes and apartments.


Brand activation is the process of bringing a brand to life, creating a strong and lasting connection between the brand and its consumers. By activating the SOHO interior design style, individuals will constantly be reminded of the SOHO brand right within the comforts of their own home. Brand activation functions to drive brand awareness, drive customer engagement, culminating in the ultimate goal of fostering brand loyalty and sales.


The popularity of SOHO’s design style can be attributed to several factors: comfortable elegance, blend of vintage and contemporary, aesthetic cohesiveness, and a sense of community. But above it all, the brand has further developed its identity to transform itself into a name that stands for everything lifestyle - from the corners of its clubs to the homes of individuals. People want a slice of the exclusivity that SOHO brings, and while its clubs are not open to everyone, its interior design style is. The keen effort of SOHO to extend its brand beyond the walls of members’ clubs and into the home and decor industry encapsulates the importance of constantly re-inventing one’s brand beyond visuals and identity.


They key difference between marketing strategy and brand activation lies here: Where marketing strategy is focused on getting your product in front of your target audience, activation deals with your brand’s overall portrayal. Where marketing involves identifying effective channels to reach out to your audience, branding ensures that these collaterals and tactics are aligned to your brand and audience, even before the campaigns take flight. Brand activation is an essential strategy of your business, and is tailored to suit the specific goals and target audience of a brand.


Conclusion



SOHO House is a successful case study on brand building and brand experience, with a unique identity and perception in the minds of consumers and stakeholders. The brand's commercial success can be attributed to its brand message, target audience, and the "home away from home" aesthetic that translates well to the interior design space.


In a world driven by media, artificial intelligence and gadgets, SOHO’s ethos may probably a response to putting impact and authenticity back into the hearts of people, leaving individuals to place emphasis on the important things in life.


If you are launching a new brand, expanding into new markets, or experiencing structural change, contact us to develop your own holistic strategy and visual identity.

Comments


bottom of page