The Truth About Marketing For Architects

Enoch Sears, Founder Business of Architectureby Enoch Bartlett Sears, AIA

Successful marketing for architects draws the attention, interest, desire and action of the ideal prospective clients.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all magic bullet solution to marketing for architects.

There is, however, a specific formula that should be followed to successfully market an architecture firm.

This acronym “A.I.D.A.” is a great way to conceptualize the necessary steps for successful marketing.

A.I.D.A. stands for “Attention”, “Interest”, “Desire” and “Action”.

Every firm, large or solo, must use this framework to effectively land new work.

In this article, you’ll discover how to make sure your marketing follows the A.I.D.A. formula with specific case studies and examples.

Attention

The first part of our marketing formula is “Attention”.

If potential clients don’t know that you exist or where to find you, it’s going to be hard to land more work!

To get attention, you need to have some way for potential clients to hear about you and your firm.

There are many ways to do this, here are just a few:

  • Being referred through word of mouth
  • Getting an introduction
  • Sending a letter
  • Public speaking
  • Writing an article for an industry publication
  • Guest posting on an industry blog or website
  • Making a ‘cold’ phone call
  • A job site sign
  • Having a project published

For example HMC Architects, a multi-national firm with a strong portfolio of educational and healthcare work, gives a workshop for integrating education with facilities planning. This workshop is presented at a conference for Community College administrators.

Residential architect Mona Quinn got a booth at a tradeshow and got 120 prospect leads in one weekend (as shown her interview on Business of Architecture here).

Architect Randy Cole, of Stratton Brook Associates, cold calls healthcare contacts to set up introductory meetings.

The key to getting attention is putting yourself in situations where you’ll be noticed by prospective clients.

Don’t dabble – pick one strategy and pursue it 110%.

Interest

The second part of the AIDA formula is “Interest”.

After your prospective clients are aware you exist, it’s your job to heighten their interest in working with you and your firm.

How do you do this?

You may think that it’s by proving you’re “better” than your competition.

However, proving you’re “better” is hard and also very subjective.

What does “better” mean anyway?

Fewer change orders? Lower building operating cost? Higher client satisfaction?

“Better” works well in a new market or where there isn’t much competition.

However, as a market matures, “great service” becomes the norm and you end up looking like every other architecture firm.

Rather than trying to prove you’re better, there’s a much easier way to stand out from the pack and attract your ideal clients: show how you’re different.

There are many ways to set your firm apart in your market (positioning and differentiation).

For instance, Duvall Decker Architects in Jacksonville, Mississippi, has a develop-design-maintain business model.

Instead of providing only design services, they also develop and maintain the project post-occupancy.

This gives their firm a powerful point of differentiation that other firms can’t compete with.

Using this strategy, Duvall Decker Architects beats out mega-firms with large marketing budgets and huge portfolios (as principal Roy Decker shares in his Business of Architecture interview here).

Now, one of the easiest and most compelling ways to differentiate your firm is to specialize in a specific project type or niche.

Wait! I know what you’re thinking…

I don’t want to specialize because:

  • We can do many kinds of projects well
  • It’s too confining to limit myself to one project type
  • Specializing makes me more vulnerable during a recession

Most architects hate the idea of limiting their work to a specific project type or niche, so they present their firms as ‘everything to everybody’.

This is often the last nail in the coffin.

Recently, my local school district was selecting architecture firms to compete for $120 MM in facility funds.

The budget included a new middle school, several elementary schools, and millions of dollars in modernization and accessibility upgrades.

As part of the selection committee, I sat in on the interviews with the competing architecture firms.

One of the architects, head of a smaller firm, came in and showed us his portfolio.

He showed us restaurants, churches, and some school work.

Yawwwn – I couldn’t believe it!

Why was he showing us work that wasn’t school work?

In his mind, as an architect, the projects were similar because he was solving a design problem.

Yes, I know that as architects we believe we can design it all.

However, our clients don’t see it that way.

Showing a church during an interview for school work is like a potential architecture hire showing you her rock collection.

Kinda cool, but not really relevant!

Needless to say, this architect didn’t make the shortlist.

In contrast, another firm who didn’t have a large K-12 portfolio teamed up with an out-of-town firm that did.

They were selected because they presented themselves as specialists.

This doesn’t mean that to be successful you need to specialize to the exclusion of other projects.

Au contraire.

What you must do however is develop a specialized marketing message for each niche you wish to pursue.

If you’re a small firm, tackle one niche at a time, as resources allow.

Focus your marketing on this niche.

After you’ve dominated that niche, you’ll have the funds and position to pursue others.

This is the strategy side of marketing for architects.

Desire

So you’ve captured some attention, you’ve increased interest – now you must amplify that interest and turn it into desire.

Desire is a powerful emotion that compels a client to work with you.

It’s important to understand that desire is created by emotion, not logic.

Facts aren’t enough.

To create this desire, you must deeply understand the needs and goals of your clients.

Most architects make the mistake of thinking clients want one thing – a well-designed building for instance – when really a client wants another thing – like higher student test scores, faculty retention, or a home that gives them space to entertain guests and strengthen relationships.

If you deeply understand the needs of your clients, you’ll find that desire will take care of itself.

Your job isn’t to create desire, it’s to channel and amplify the desire already exists in your potential client’s mind.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do you deeply understand the business problems of your clients?

List them.

Do you understand the mission of your client and their organization?

Write it down.

Do you deeply understand the core motivations of the decision makers?

Study them.

Now take this list and compare it to the services you provide.

Link the services you provide to the desired end result of your clients.

A good way to do this is to create “…so that” statements for each service you provide.

Example

Let’s say that you’ve identified “improving student test scores” as one of your client’s objectives.

You might come up with a statement like this:

“Studies show that better classroom daylighting improves student test scores. That’s why we employ a full-time daylighting consultant to create dynamic classroom spaces – so that students can perform at peak levels.”

Using the phrase “so that” is your reminder to include a client-focused benefit statement.

In this case the statement is, “so that students can perform at peak levels.”

When clients feel understood and see that you can deliver what you promise, they trust you.

Trust amplifies desire.

Develop a systematic way to keep in touch with prospective clients over time.

Show them you understand their business and continue to add value.

This is how you cultivate relationships that lead to work.

Action

The last part of our formula is “Action”.

If you’ve followed our process, you now have relationships that have been built on attention, interest and desire.

And yet all the relationships in the world won’t help you if you can’t turn these relationships into an invitation to work together.

Most architecture firm marketing fails because there’s no clear call to action with a powerful, client-focused benefit.

“Action” applies to every article, postcard, speaking engagement and meeting.

Every marketing message and step in your sales process should include an invitation to take a further action.

This could be as simple as saying, “let’s meet next Tuesday,” or “when can we work together?”

If you set the stage by doing the above steps correctly, you won’t need to “close the deal”.

The deal will close all by itself.

Putting It All Together

To find and win more projects, you need a way to get attention, create interest, amplify desire, and invite to action.

This is the framework that makes up an effective architect marketing system.

The exact execution of these steps will differ for every architecture firm and sole proprietor – that’s why it’s important to set aside the time to develop your own ‘client acquisition’ strategy.

For more information on client attraction strategies, click the button below to get a short video case study showing how 3 architects have used these principles to attract clients. When you click the button, you’ll be able to create your FREE account on Business of Architecture and get instant access to the architect marketing case studies:

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