As an architect, you know the importance of investing in great design and client relationships. Building a successful architecture firm isn’t just about having a great portfolio or developing a loyal customer base; you also need to be sure your marketing efforts are on-point. Adopting sophisticated strategies can help ensure your message is reaching the right people at the right time. But how do you know if your current efforts are actually working? In this blog post, we take a look at how to find out whether something as abstract as ‘marketing’ is actually standing in the way of better business outcomes for your architecture firm.
You know the importance of having a strong marketing strategy in place. After all, marketing is what helps you reach potential clients and build your brand. However, there is one element of marketing that often gets overlooked—the connection between marketing and business development. This relationship is critical for architects who want to ensure their marketing efforts are effective and directed.
Business development is the two-fold process of (1) determining the ways in which you want your firm to grow, and (2) creating new opportunities for that growth.
The first step involves strategizing: identifying new markets for the firm’s services, researching potential partners or investors, and establishing a network of contacts who may refer business to the firm.
The second step is where BD starts to intersect with the sales process. Armed with the knowledge of what you want to be doing more of, you focus on building relationships. These relationships are not platforms for a sales pitch; they’re a way of helping people understand what your firm’s strengths are and what it would be like to work with you. In other words, you help them understand how you can help them.
When thinking about who to build relationships with, expand your thinking beyond existing clients. Also consider people who can connect you with potential clients: contractors, current clients, other architects, other firms, people who serve on the same boards and committees you do, and even the other parents at your kids’ school.
Architecture firms need both marketing and business development strategies to be successful. Marketing is not the same thing as BD; it’s a way to support business development goals.
Put another way, business development is deciding what you want to do and specifying your ideal clients. Marketing is finding those ideal clients and telling them why they should hire you to do what you want to do.
If your architecture marketing and BD teams aren’t working together, you’re not going to achieve your goals. Worse, you can completely turn off prospective clients.
Here’s an example. An architectural firm’s business development plan includes expanding into a new geographic market. The marketing team, operating separately from the BD team, knows nothing about the expansion and doesn’t cover it in their strategies for the year. They also publish printed assets and digital ads that state the geographic area served – without the expansion.
The end result? Internally, the marketing team thinks they’re doing a great job while the BD team views this as a complete failure. Externally, it’s difficult for the firm to gain any new projects in the expansion area and potential clients question how committed the firm really is to this new service area.
If a structure is built with shoddy materials, it will crumble under pressure. The same principle applies to your architecture firm’s website. If the quality of traffic to your website is lacking, it can create a problem for growing your firm.
He wasn’t talking about websites, but Louis Sullivan’s articulation of the principle that “form ever follows function” applies just the same. Too many architecture firm websites ignore this, though, and create sites that are not findable or usable by website visitors. They achieve the form the firm envisioned, but at a price of lower or non-existent search rankings, fewer visits, and lower-quality traffic.
The first step in improving the quality of traffic to your website is to determine what “quality” means in terms of web visitors. Generally speaking, there are three main metrics used to measure visitor quality: average visit duration, pageviews per visit, and direct or indirect inquiries from visitors.
If your architecture firm’s website has an average visit of less than two minutes, fewer than two pages visited and there aren’t direct (or indirect) inquiries coming through your website, these are all signs that the quality of traffic could be improved. These stats indicate that visitors arrive on your site but don’t stay long enough to actually learn more about what you offer or contact you.
Depending on the architectural services your firm offers, these metrics may be weighted differently. For example, if your ideal client takes 6-8 months to make the decision to contact you (not hire you, just contact you), there may not be as many inquiries coming through your website as a firm whose client base makes decisions much faster.
In most architecture firms, the website is “owned” by the marketing department. They are generally responsible for approving the design and the features. They also collect and review the data about site usage.
If your marketing department is making decisions that are negatively impacting the traffic to your website, it’s time to step in. Even if your “marketing department” is an ad hoc group that has the best of intentions, it may be time for a new approach if the goals aren’t being met.
When potential customers are searching for an architecture firm, they oftentimes don’t know who to choose. If a firm isn’t found in search results under the types of work, buildings it has completed, or anything more than just the firm name, that can make it hard for new people to see your great work.
What’s even worse is when your form is found in search results for things it doesn’t do: concrete pouring, demolition, even “hair cutting services.”
When this happens, it’s usually because the site isn’t optimized for search engines (like Google). All websites have two audiences: humans and search engines. Creating website content that resonates with human beings is vital, but you also have to consider how your site’s content and structure are interpreted by search engines.
The most effective solution for this is search engine optimization, or SEO. There are many factors that go into SEO, but the gist is pretty straightforward. Websites are crawled by search engine bots that read your site’s code and make limited assumptions about what you offer and who you’re trying to attract. Search engine rankings are determined in large part by what these bots find and the conclusions they draw.
This is why a solid marketing strategy includes an SEO strategy. That document ensures everyone is on the same page about the terms the firm should be found for online and the important aspects of what needs to be done to get there.
Knowing that your competition is landing coveted commissions can be disheartening, but it can also indicate one very valuable thing: your marketing strategies are in need of revitalizing.
If your architectural business is missing out on opportunities you weren’t even aware of, it’s a sign that your marketing isn’t reaching the desired audience. Decisions to invite firms to bid or compete or even discuss a project can be made at lots of different levels, from the owner of the development company to the junior assistant asked to create a short list of names. When your firm isn’t on their radars, or they don’t find you in a search, your firm will keep getting passed over.
Even when your firm has lost out on a project that they did bid on, it’s worth looking at whether your marketing played a role. Did your submission materials align with what was on your website, or did it seem like these were two separate . firms? Was your digital presence up to date and consistent? Was your website functioning correctly and loading quickly? Was there something troubling on your social media feeds? All of these can reflect your firm’s brand and influence how a potential client views your capabilities and what it would be like to work with you.
Many architecture firms struggle with social media. While younger architects tend to embrace it because it’s part of their daily life outside the firm, leadership are a different story.
Their feelings about social media can range from “I’m too busy for that nonsense,” to “I don’t understand why anyone cares.” There is also the unspoken reason for aversion: leadership may not be familiar with how it works but don’t want to admit that.
Leaders of architecture firms need to realize the importance and value of using social media platforms. By not taking advantage of this effective and inexpensive marketing strategy, architectural teams lose out on opportunities to spread the word and remain relevant in clients’ minds – even when they already demonstrate a high level of proficiency with their work product. Through staying active on social media, an architecture firm can easily demonstrate how they’ve solved problems similar to those being considered by potential clients. This approach is key in both standing out from competitors as well as in building lasting relationships.
Because leadership are not usually consistently active on social media, they aren’t aware of the positive effects it can have on business development (and recruitment). The first step in getting them to be active is to help them understand the ways in which it would be good for the firm. Data points, especially about competitors, can be particularly effective here.
The next step is to educate leadership on best practices and onboard them. This is where marketing can be very helpful. Create guides for leadership that walk them through each social media platform the firm is on and give them sample posts, images and tags. Most importantly, help them see how their individual personas are valuable to the firm.
From time to time, firms may have a partner who is active on social media but not using it correctly or causing inadvertent damage to the firm’s reputation. This is not a time when “post more!” is the appropriate response. Instead, consider speaking with the partner to help them understand what the problem is and how to improve.
When it comes to marketing completed projects in architecture firms, there is a tendency to spread the responsibilities across staff members who may not have previous marketing experience. This means the “marketing” (case studies, social posts, web descriptions, tear sheets) may take longer to be completed due to a lack of understanding or a lack of time available.
When the firm is in a busy cycle, there may not be enough time for marketing tasks and project marketing can completely stall out. More than one architectural firm has realized that they forgot to market a project because they were so busy with other things.
In firms where the marketing team has been trained to obtain approval from a senior partner before doing anything, this can also torpedo project marketing. Empower your team to do things like solicit and hire photographers, obtain client testimonials, write descriptions and case studies, and design marketing materials without needing permission at each step.
Show an architect a picture of a building and they will form conclusions based on their education, training, and experience.
Show a non-architect a picture of a building and they will form conclusions based on other things: the “prettiness” of the photo, whether it reminds them of another place or person or time, the colors, anything else in the photo (children, dogs, trees, etc.).
This is why it’s so important to make sure that the photos your firm uses in marketing tell the story you want to tell. Does simply looking at the images convey the expertise in designing the project? Is there any information that cannot be effectively communicated through visuals? Without an understanding of architecture, would viewers still be able to appreciate the solutions and how they solved each client’s unique problems?
Successful marketing calls for thoughtful consideration of all aspects, including imagery. This can mean including captions and long descriptions, showing progress photos, presenting photos in a linear order, or even including video or virtual reality walkthroughs of a project.
Architectural firms invest a lot in quality photography, so it’s important to make sure they’re as effective in telling a story as they are in being a pretty picture.
If any of these signs describe your firm’s current marketing status, there is good news – they are all fixable problems. The first step is to accept that marketing and BD go hand-in-hand in to drive new business opportunities for your firm. Marketing sets the stage for business development by generating quality leads and visibility for your firm online.