Marketing is not simply an expense reserved for already established architecture firms. Small businesses in particular can benefit from a smart marketing strategy by aligning their operations with some of marketing’s most basic premises and concepts.
Architects in general have a tendency to underestimate the importance of marketing in creating and running a successful business. Even those who claim to understand the role of marketing in acquiring clients and building relationships, they often fail to fully utilize its potentials. Principals of small architecture firms often get caught up in trying to keep their practices afloat and end up treating marketing as a luxury that they will be able to afford once they achieve stability, thus missing the true role of marketing as being a catalyst for growth. Architects need to apply marketing to their practices from the onset and treat it with the same amount of dedication as they do with their floor plans, sections and 3D models of their building designs.
Marketing is a complex discipline, but its fundamentals can be broken down to a few simple concepts. As long as you keep these in mind at all times, your marketing efforts will be more successful, and easy to analyze and adjust. You need to be able to answer these three relatively easy questions and communicate them effectively to your audience:
Who are You?
In order to define your place in the industry and your target demographic, you need to determine who you are and what you do. Vague phrases about quality services, multidisciplinarity and “cutting-edge design” on your About Us page will not provide any useful information on what your company actually does. What do you stand for? How is this vision reflected in your office culture, design, and the type of projects you take on?
What Need Do You Fulfill?
Answering this requires you to formulate a value proposition. A value proposition explains how your service or product can help to solve your client’s problem and must be formulated in a concise and clear way, showing concrete results where possible. Even if you offer great value, if you fail to communicate it, your business will not attract new clients.
How are You Different?
Being able to differentiate yourself from your competition is a huge advantage. This is not easy, but your efforts have to go beyond mere sound bites. It can be achieved either by simply offering services in a more organized, client-oriented and reliable way, or by creating a unique, game-changing product or service.
Once you can answer these three questions, your marketing efforts basically filter into four-step process:
- Attracting potential clients
- Converting visitors to leads
- Closing the deal
- Cultivating relationships
These steps may seem straightforward, but there are several schools of thought on how to apply them. With the recent widespread adoption of social media and online tools, marketing has expanded to exciting new ways that architects can engage with and build an audience, and then successfully convert them to leads.
Today’s users have much more control of their media, and this has leveled the “marketing playfield” by offering businesses the opportunity to organically reach audiences by using relatively affordable channels and winning them over with engaging content. This phenomenon has introduced the concept of “inbound marketing,” which contrasts with the traditional “outbound marketing” in almost every significant way.
Before coming to a verdict as to which is better, let’s see what each entails:
Outbound marketing includes traditional advertising practices, cold calling, email and newsletter blasts, sponsorship, and word-of-mouth referrals, to name a few. It is generally known as an interruptive marketing practice that has become less effective in the last few decades. Spam protection tools and blocking techniques, along with the development of new communication trends through social media, have empowered users and limited many of the elements of outbound marketing.
Inbound marketing embraces new media tools, and promotes creating and sharing content that appeals to specific demographics. Publishing the right content at the right moment is at the core of inbound marketing. It focuses on building communities and relies on organic search traffic. It uses blogs, social media, calls-to-action and landing pages to convert visitors to leads.
Data is also an important element of inbound marketing as it uses surveys and social monitoring to find out where your target audiences are and what they want.
Most architecture firms will not have to choose between inbound and outbound marketing. Despite hyperbole from proponents of both concepts, they actually work best in combination. You will probably need to keep sending out newsletters and press releases, publishing in magazines, and attending seminars and conferences. However, inbound marketing will allow you to track your return on investment (ROI) more easily, and thus build your reputation. Just remember, there is no single marketing solution that works for everyone.
To learn more about how some of the leading architecture firms use social media, networking, blogging and other marketing tools, check out Archipreneur’s book on new business models for architects, “The Archipreneur Concept”.