Among the many marketing strategies available to architects today, these 5 points are still the essential touchstones all business owners working in the AEC industry should always keep in the back of their mind.
If you type “marketing strategies for architects” into your search engine, you’ll see page after page filled with articles that offer all sorts of marketing tips. Many among these sound legitimate, but may or may not work for you because there are a number of variables – including firm size, location, area of expertise, specific deficiencies and strengths – that need to be considered when creating an effective marketing strategy. This is why having a mental list of marketing touchstones is far more useful than any hand-me-down strategy you might find online.
#1 Integrate Marketing into Your Business
One of the reasons why many architecture firms with marketing departments struggle to get their message across is because marketing is still seen as an expense and a fast lane for bringing in work. When marketers underperform, it is often due to the lack of interdepartmental integration. The most effective marketing efforts are those that develop organically from a clear firm-wide vision. They reflect the principals’ awareness that marketing departments have to be fully integrated into the firm’s day-to-day activities. Therefore, enable your executive-level marketing professionals to bridge the gap between the design, marketing, and sales departments. For example, Phil Harrison, CEO at Perkins + Will, hired Allison Held as CMO to forge interdepartmental relations and to establish a cohesive direction for the firm. Held now communicates directly with the firm’s leaders, advises all levels from the corporate to the local, and gives real-time feedback from global sites where the firm plans to expand. Her team works with the big picture while remaining sufficiently connected to everyday activities. It is organizational alignments such as this that provide two-way information channels through which business owners reevaluate their strategy to keep their business on the right course.
Once you understand who you are and where you want to lead your business, the idea of marketing as a natural extension of your work ethics, company culture, and service quality starts to make sense.
#2 Be Authentic
One of the best and worst pieces of marketing advice any business owner can get is to be authentic. The old “be yourself” marketing adage sounds corny and particularly hypocritical when followed by a list of rules that offer a magic formula for success. Following rules and being authentic seem to be polar opposites, right? Not necessarily. While I strongly believe that authenticity should be rooted in any marketing strategy, it also means breaking the rules, re-writing them to fit your own strengths, and being willing to fail over and over again. Authentic marketing is both a short- and long-term game, the aim of which is to increase revenue, and more importantly, stay true to the company’s identity and to your clients.
If one of your main concerns is attracting talent, make sure potential employees see your business as a place which will allow them to grow, learn, and enjoy coming to work. Show your team having fun with a project; give shoutouts to interesting people you met through collaborations; let your most innovative design speak for itself. With these approaches, your marketing reflects that your business is about great work and the people who make it all possible.
Growing a business is often a painful process which requires taking on jobs which do not support your plans for the future, but rather pay the bills. Nonetheless, on your website and on social media, you might showcase how these “misaligned” works relate to your core values. This curated presentation will engage prospective, higher value clients and attract projects more similar in scale, type, and value to your long term goals.
#3 Create Conversations, not Campaigns!
One of the most common pitfalls young companies fall into is making their marketing content sound like a sales pitch. While an effective marketing strategy accomplishes lead generation and conversion, its main purposes are to establish market recognition, to demonstrate expert standing, and to build long-lasting relationships with clients. Instead of talking about yourself or using vague terms like “quality service” and “beautiful project,” create specific conversations around ideas, projects, and clients. For instance, a blog post relating to topical issues in the industry or a Facebook update focusing on a project’s particular aspect will likely resonate more with your audience than content reaffirming your firm’s success and coolness. Above all, you want your audience to engage with what you share.
#4 Become a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader within your industry allows you to not only participate in conversations, but also position yourself with a higher degree of authority to build trust in your company. Speaking engagements are an excellent way of networking, reaching a large number of people at the same time, and catching the attention of potential clients and collaborators. Meeting people in person is the best way of establishing valuable personal contacts and far exceeds any other form of communication.
Share unique opinion pieces on Linkedin and guest blogs on other sites. Develop or contribute to podcasts. Publish white papers, case studies, and “insider” industry reports that deliver valuable content to your target audience. These are excellent vehicles for establishing trust based on giving without immediately asking for something in return. Make your social media channels a place where peers and clients are sure to find unique content that they want to read, save, and possibly share.
#5 Get Published
There is no way around it – regardless of what marketing strategy you choose to use, getting published will always have an immense impact on raising awareness about your work. Research relevant media outlets – these can vary depending on geographic area, audience type, and themes – and find a way of establishing contacts without resorting to cold calling or sending unsolicited pitches. If you don’t have personal contacts with bloggers and editors but want to pitch a story about your recent project, make sure you have great visuals and a concise project description matching the publication’s editorial tone. Because news outlets want to generate views, images and headlines are key to attracting eyes. You will need professional looking photos and/or great renderings. Moreover, it is important for your personal website to be accessible which means having a well-structured platform with big, bold images, and intuitive navigation.
Many digital publishers now use more content marketing-led approaches such as native advertising. Increasing in popularity, native advertising relies on creating content relevant to your industry, reminds readers of your company, and helps establish a presence on other websites beyond your own. For instance, interviews and features can be more effective marketing tools when compared to newsletters, press releases, and other forms of traditional outbound marketing.
If you align your marketing with your business, you will build trust with your clientele. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings – it will make potential clients confident in the legitimacy of your strengths. Experiment and find your own marketing formula. Stay human!