This is the authoritative guide on marketing for architects, with case studies on how to raise visibility through effective architecture firm marketing.
This guide is directed primarily to small and micro architecture firms of 19 employees or less, which according to the American Institute of Architects, compromise 91 percent of the architecture firms in the United States — the percentage is even higher in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other nations.
Most architects know what it feels like to be price-shopped, to have clients question architectural fees – to hear them say: “this was a lot more than we expected” – to wonder where the next architecture project will come from, and to always be plagued by the ‘feast or famine' cycle of the industry.
Between answering the phone, running to meetings and getting the work done, it feels near impossible to find time to build the book of business.
And if you're an architect like me, traditional ‘selling' and self-promotion leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
That's why I've put together this Authoritative Guide to Marketing for Architects, to create the go-to resource for effective architecture firm marketing strategies.
I developed this guide over the past decade through my work consulting with architecture firms as well as my own experience owning and running an architecture firm.
Like so many small architecture firm owners with the role of ‘seller' and ‘doer' – felt frustrated just waiting for the next word of mouth referral.
I was either overloaded with work, or didn't have enough work.
This situation led to stress when there weren't any new projects on the horizon.
I also wondered – how could I win more challenging, bigger and more impressive projects?
Before we move on, let me clarify something:
Advertising is not marketing.
Advertising is one form of marketing, but it isn't marketing.
Like a German Shepherd is a dog, but not all dogs are German Shepherds.
The same goes for advertising and marketing.
Advertising is a form of marketing, not marketing itself.
Effective marketing is the process of making your prospects aware of the value your design firm provides and persuading them to take the next step in your process.
In other words, marketing is the process of building trust that occurs before the client signs the contract.
Why Traditional Architecture Firm Marketing Doesn't Work
Let me define “doesn't work” by “doesn't get the phone to ring with inquiries from qualified clients.”
Here's why traditional architecture firm marketing doesn't work:
When most architects market their firms (including the misguided marketing agencies or departments), the only offer they make is the ‘hire me' offer (the BIG commitment).
What's the ‘hire me' offer?
To explain this concept, let's backtrack a bit and talk about what I call the Client Demand Pyramid.
The Client Demand Pyramid
Let's say we draw a pyramid that represents all the potential clients in your market.
At any one time, a very small percentage of your potential clients are at the stage where they are ready to hire an architecture firm – generally around 3%.
The problem with how most architecture firms market their services is that they only target this 3%.
Take a look at these examples of Google ads I recently saw for architectural services:
The underlying hope of these ads is that a potential client is in the ‘ready to hire' stage and will pick up the phone and call.
That's a long shot.
A REAAALLY long shot.
And that's why if you've tried marketing in the past, it just seemed like a big black hole where you sent your dollars to die.
The reason most traditional architecture firm marketing fails is because the marketing message is targeted at a very narrow segment of the market – clients who are ready to move ahead and hire an architecture firm right now!
If you haven't entered the conversation BEFORE the client thinks about hiring, you've entered the game too late.
Without the advantage of a little ol' fashioned “know, like and trust”, you're not much more than a commodity.
You know this.
So let's move on.
Going back to the Client Demand Pyramid, you'll notice that below the 3% who are ready to hire now, there's another 91% of your market that is not ready to hire an architect right now.
Now imagine you had a way to communicate with this 91% of your market and build a relationship with them over time, convincing them of the value of hiring your firm, instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park with one swing?
When you do this properly, the prospective clients already knows, likes and trusts you, meaning there is no sales or dog and pony show involved.
And this brings us to our next point – a strategy for finding and connecting with potential clients before they start searching for an architecture firm.
How To Increase Your Marketing ROI By 500%
Instead of marketing your services directly, as other firms might do, develop educational material targeted to people in the ‘information gathering' phase of the Client Demand Pyramid.
By targeting people in the information gathering stage, you give your potential clients the opportunity to develop liking and trust with you … before they ever meet you.
In my own work with clients, I've found this strategy to give a 5x return compared compared to traditional architecture firm marketing efforts.
Here are some examples of educational marketing material that we've helped our clients develop.
An architect based in San Francisco wanted to pick up more optometry office build-outs.
So we helped him develop this guide titled, “8 Step Optometry Office Design”.
Here's what he wrote me in an email:
I hope you and your family are doing well.
I recently went to my first convention (ever) with my guide in hand, 8 Step Optometry Office Design Guide (I know- it is not the best title) and rather than handing the guide out to anyone walking by I targeted three people. Two were national publishers of eyewear/eye care industry magazines and the third was a speaker at the conference on marketing for eye care professionals.
I was extremely surprised how well it went…3 for 3 !
The two publishers would like me to write an article for their upcoming publications and the third would like to broadcast the information to their (mostly Canadian) client base.
That was pretty good for an afternoon and still left Vegas with money in my pocket!
Leaving Vegas with money in the pocket – now that's something to be truly proud of.
Let's take a look at another example of creating educational content.
This architect targets corporate clients who are looking for webcast or broadcast studios.
So we worked with him to develop the Webcast Studio Environments: Cost Guide and Project Budget Considerations.
This guide was marketed it by writing several articles for an industry blog with a link back to a page where this guide could be downloaded.
Taking Your Marketing To The Next Level
After creating your educational content, you now need to get it in front of the right people.
In the examples above, we marketed this content through an industry convention, and an industry blog.
The beauty of the educational content strategy is that it goes hand-in-hand with your current marketing efforts, like networking at events, in person meetings and online marketing.
The only difference now is that instead of telling people about your firm, you are now spreading the word about your valuable educational content.
A bonus of using this strategy is that you and your team members can say goodbye to feeling hesitant about promoting your firm, or being ‘salesy' and annoying.
You're armed with valuable resources that will help your ideal clients.
This is the ideal win-win.
As you've seen in the three examples above, the this strategy is the key to creating a lead generation system for an architecture firm, that works for both residential and non-residential architecture firms.
The beauty of having a systematic way to generate leads is that it works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to feed your firm.
And when you do this right, these leads are highly qualified and pre-disposed to doing business with your firm.
Essentially, it's like having a team of trained people doing your selling for you.
Summary: Using Marketing To Drive Positive ROI
Congratulations – you now know more about effective marketing for architects than 99% of the architects out there.Aligned with the right positioning, the right market, and the right message, having a lead generation system using this strategy is a great way to build prominence, recognition and relationships in your market.
You've seen that targeting the 91% of your market that is in the information gathering stage is the key to marketing that works.
Aligned with the right positioning, the right market, and the right message, having a lead generation system using the Monkey's Fist strategy is a great way to build prominence, recognition and relationships in your market.
Be sure to bookmark this page in your browser as I will continue to update this article with new case studies and information over time.
If you want to know more about creating a lead generation system for your architecture firm, attend my next free, AIA-approved training webinar on How To Win Good Architecture Projects Consistently (Even If You're Shy, Don't Like Selling, or Are Just Starting Out).
In addition to learning how to generate quality inquiries for your firm, you'll also get 1 credit of continuing education.
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 win better projects.
When you click the button, you'll also get a free account on Business of Architecture as well as access to the architect marketing case studies:
Great informational. I’m working on the marketing strategies for my husband’s architecture firm ( over 13 years he’s had own firm). I’m looking into such resources to help identify a new strategy for the new collaborative efforts he’s working on with development/real estate/architecture/etc.