Architecture and marketing Pt.1

In the last months I started to study modern online marketing techniques, as I was g myself about the ways architects market their practices and if there is any room for improvement. In the future will write a series of articles about the topic.

Very long sales cycles, but short windows for gaining new projects

After almost 10 years in the industry, I still have a feeling that most of the new client acquisition in architecture is done with referrals. Word of mouth seems still to be the way to go for most of the offices. If architects (and other planners, of course) do some strategic marketing, in general they focus on just these three channels:

  • bids and competitions: winning a competition increases your exposure;
  • journals and books: monographs, anthologies, articles about your built projects;
  • specialised websites (archdaily, landezine, world architects).

*Bigger offices also present themselves on specialised fairs, and famous architects on festivals, conferences and as (guest) lecturers on universities.

The problem is that through these channels they only reach other architects, not their potential customers. Investors, small and large, are usually reached through bids, or more often with referrals (friends, family, etc.). To enter bids for projects, architects have to nurture relationships with investors – process also known as business development. For the referrals there is not much to do. Architects have to focus on good work and hope for loud customers.

What should they do to reach beyond just these two channels? Classic advertising is out of the question for, of course. A printed ad for an architecture office would be ridiculed more than latest Adam Sandler’s films. But could the marketing practices from other industries benefit also the planning and architecture industry?

 

Why is thinking about marketing important?

In the last decade the competition between architecture studios has risen. As the distances have shortened, offices from all around the continent can even more equally compete on competitions and bids. Architecture as an industry has very long sales cycles and many project stages, but the bidding opportunities for each phase are available within a relatively short time frame. It may be soon to late to build a proper relationship with the customer and (or) bid your proposal. Some other professional has already taken your job.

How to do marketing correctly is still a big unknown. Down below I have listed three approaches from three different professionals. They suggest very different directions to go, from being more loud to be creating free content.

 

1. Architects should be more active in the public sphere

Laura Iloniemi believes that this bidding-oriented relationship should be changed. She envisions a more broad, active involvement of architects in the public debate over the built environment. In her opinion architects should build on the quality of their design and their ability of asking the right questions. Or as she elegantly puts it:

“Architects need to escape the job-pitching mentality and engage instead with an altogether bigger picture of design issues in public. Architects share and debate many intelligent and valuable ideas among themselves, and it is these ideas, rather than their “brands”, that should see the light of day in public.”

She proposes strong activism, similar to what early modernists were doing. Loud, present architects, commenting on public policies and especially educating possible investors.

 

2. Automation of marketing

Peter Wyro, a marketing professional, thinks that marketing automation can speed up the business development (nurturing relationships with investors), executing more tasks, attracting more prospects (possible future contracts), and can do it more consistently. Contact personalisation technologies could help architects differentiate their brand: it helps them approach a very specific segment of the market, the one they are the strongest in. In his opinion, automation can help architects nurture relationships with existing and possible future investors by “being on their radar”.

The problem with automation is that there is no one-size-fits-all solutions. The clients can already differ on a wide range, from families to corporate banks, or their needs from a new interior design to large engineering projects. The communication channels can be anything from emails to posts, bids, articles, and so on. Sometimes clients prefer to see architects in person. Automation takes time and effort to master. The biggest upside is the monitoring of the process.

3. Content marketing

A short explanation – content marketing is a practice of sharing useful information with your customers. For example, a fitness studio is giving away free exercises, nutrition tips, and similar. Free content establishes this fitness studio as the authority on the topic, which attracts more paying customers to join them. Tim Asimos, a marketer specialised in the AEC industry, argues that content marketing is the most underutilised marketing tool for the AEC industry. Architects have a large pool of knowledge they could share this way with the world. Besides helping building up their brand, it is also a fundamental shift of how companies approach marketing today. They can share the insight, answer questions, solve challenges, educates and entertain. He believes that content marketing represents a huge opportunity for A/E/C marketers to move the needle for their firms.

An example of how to do content marketing right is the latest redesign of Mozilla in 2016 (released in 2017). Johnson Banks studio, London , has diligently presented each phase in the logo creation, from sketches, intermediate variants, final work, and applications. Mozilla is a global brand with many users, and during the process they gave the users the chance to interact with the process of the logo creation. They could express their opinions, give suggestions, or to vote for their favourite variant. The process was smartly balanced between public involvement and giving the designers enough space to do their work properly. Could something similar be done for a building construction?