Enoch Bartlett Sears, AIA
last updated: July 2, 2018
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, comprise 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 several years because I – 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?
Then I received the email you see copied below.
You see, during the “Great Recession” of '07, I was let go from the architecture firm where I was working as the head of a satellite office.
I had to move home to California and take two non-architecture jobs while I freelanced as an architect to make ends meet.
After graduating from an Ivy League university I was shocked to discover that such a thing could happen (youth and wisdom do not often walk together).
This experience is what led me to create this website, Business of Architecture and the Architecture Business Instutite – a think-tank for resources on building and running a successful and profitable architecture firm.
Here's a copy of the email I got in mid-2013:
I'm starting to implement marketing strategies for architects and as a result I am very busy!
It really works once you get the hang of it …
This was the first time I'd heard of an architect talking about marketing strategies that actually worked.
Most of what I had heard from architects about marketing in the past was that it doesn't work – either that it got zero results or took to long and cost too much.
It wasn't until later that I realized that everyone was going about marketing all wrong.
If you've ever done any advertising for your firm, perhaps you've noticed that you got 0 results.
Most firm owners who try this throw their hands up in the air and say:
“Marketing for architects doesn't work!”
“I'm just getting my name out there.”
Well ‘getting your name out there' doesn't pay the bills!
Before we move on, let's make one thing clear:
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.
Well 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.
Here's my definition of effective marketing for architecture firms:
“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.”
Effective Marketing for Architects
So let's get into it – how can architecture firm marketing be truly effective?
Remember the email I got from the New Zealand architect above?
It really works once you get the hang of it …
Well I interviewed this architect on my podcast, the Business of Architecture Show, and she revealed the marketing strategies that she's used to triple her architecture firm income and win better and more fulfilling projects.
It all started when she went to a marketing seminar hosted by her local chamber of commerce in Christchurch, New Zealand.
She had recently left her job working at a large firm to have more freedom and flexibility to spend time with her two children and choose the projects she worked on.
With little funds and no portfolio she soon faced the stark reality that finding and winning new work was going to be no easy task!
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 paid ads I pulled from Google:
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?
What would that be worth to you?
Quite a bit I'll wager.
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.
So let's go back to our story.
At the marketing seminar, our New Zealand architect met marketing coach Richard Petrie who revealed an unusual but highly effective technique for marketing architectural services he calls “The Secret of the Monkey's Fist”.
The Secret of the Monkey's Fist
Richard tells the story shared in the book How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger. One day, Frank was waiting at the seaport to go on an ocean cruise with his family.
As he walked the docks, he noticed the large ropes, called ‘hawsers' that are used to tie up the massive ships, like the one in this picture:
He wondered how the sailors are able to get these large ropes to shore and tie up the ships.
As this thought went through his mind, he saw a ship approaching shore.
On the deck of the ship a sailor had a thin rope with a “Monkey's Fist” tied to the end of it.
A Monkey's Fist knot looks like this:
When this heavy knot is tied to a thin rope, it allows a sailor to throw the rope, known as a ‘heaving line' a great distance.
As Frank watched, the sailor swung the Monkey's Fist around his head like a lasso and tossed the heaving line to a person waiting on shore.
The longshoreman caught the rope, and pulled the line which was attached to the large hawser, tying up the ship.
In our little analogy here, what does the large ship represent that we as architects are trying to bring to shore?
If you said, “A new project,” then you're right on the money.
Richard Petrie explained to his audience that selling professional services is like bringing a large ship to shore – a smaller commitment helps bring in the big one!
How To Increase Your Marketing ROI By 500%
Instead of marketing her services directly, as other firms might do, this New Zealand architect develop educational material targeted to people in the ‘information gathering' phase of the Client Demand Pyramid.
Your educational and valuable information becomes the Monkey's Fist to bring in the ship.
Using the Monkey's Fist marketing strategy gives your marketing material much broader appeal, and in return, much better results.
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 the Monkey's Fist strategy to return results 500% greater (or much more) compared to traditional architecture firm marketing and business development efforts.
Now let's take a look at some specific examples of how to use the Monkey's Fist strategy.
The Monkey's Fist Strategy Step-by-Step
Using the Monkey's Fist strategy is simple, two-step process:
- Create your Monkey's Fist
- Get your Monkey's Fist in front of your target market
Let's have a look at how this New Zealand architect deployed the Monkey's Fist strategy.
First she developed her educational content.
Because she focuses on historical home renovations in New Zealand, she prepared a booklet about the “7 Mistakes People Make When Renovating”.
Next, she got the Monkey's Fist in front of her target market.
She did this by setting up a booth at a local trade show.
As a result of this first marketing effort, she got over 140 leads in one weekend!!
In fact, there was actually a line of people signing up to get her information.
Compare that to the typical trade show booth that resembles a ghost town!
Now, it's important to note that going to a trade show is only one of many ways to market a Monkey's Fist.
Let's look at a few non-residential examples.
Does the Monkey's Fist Strategy Work for Marketing An Architecture Firm With Non-Residential Clients?
You may be wondering – does the Monkey's Fist Strategy work for marketing to institutional, corporate, educational or other non-residential clients?
Here are some examples 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 Monkey's Fist titled, “8 Step Optometry Office Design Guide”.
He went to a convention, Monkey's Fist in hand.
Here's what he wrote me in an email:
I hope you and your family are doing well.
I wanted to give you and the Academy some feedback on my recent experience with marketing my money's fist.
I recently went to my first convention (ever) with my monkey's fist 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 one more example of a Monkey's Fist (pulled from our Architect Marketing Academy program).
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.
He marketed it by writing several articles for an industry blog.
75 leads in the first month.
Time To Take Your Marketing To The Next Level
Now, once you've created a Monkey's Fist that works to generate leads, great!
The next step is to set in place 10 – 12 marketing channels for your Monkey's Fist offer.
Marketing channels are places where you can market your Monkey's Fist.
In the examples above, you saw 3 channels: a trade show, a convention, and an industry blog.
The beauty of the Monkey's Fist 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.
10 -12 places may sound like a lot of work, however the first step is to get started with one.
Once you see how this works, it will be easy to find more opportunities to market your firm effectively.
As you've seen in the three examples above, the Monkey's Fist 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.
[pullquote align=”right”]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. [/pullquote]
You've discovered that the secret to successful and effective marketing that brings results is using the Monkey's Fist strategy in addition to the ‘hire me' offer.
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 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: