One Great Example Of 100 Years Old Marketing For Architects

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100 years old marketing for architects and architecture firms

I would like to show you a secret gem. An excellent example of not one, but two pieces of 100 years old marketing for architects. If anybody asked for proof that content marketing works, these two are. Writing and printing great content to help your prospective clients is not a recent invention.

Starting to build I was a little worried. What would be a collection of posts without some good examples? How can we go further than usual chitchat about branding, SEO, content, or email marketing?

Marketing, per se, existed for a very long time, although the term was invented during the 1950s. Even the new techniques are not that new, just recently theorized.

Please, be patient! Follow me with this story! Apparently, it has nothing to do with the scope of this website. But it’s a story of how content marketing was possible before the Internet. It precedes what Seth Godin said by more than a century. “Marketing is about helping people”.

In the Public Domain, there are two titles. One is Convenient Houses, with fifty plans for the housekeeper: architect and housewife; a journey through the house; fifty convenient house plans; practical house building for the owner; business points in building; how to pay for a home.” The other is Beautiful Houses: a study in house-building.” The author was an architect, Henry Louis Gibson. He published them in 1889 and 1895.

You can find both of them on Internet Archive.

Gibsons explains how a good house should be:

  • Convenient – the architects did not use the term functional yet.
  • High tech – During the era, that is having water and sewage plumbing.
  • Durable
  • Energy efficient

That was the first book. But it is more. The author illustrated the volume with 50 excellent examples of home plans. Before that, he wrote a chapter for each type of space, a chapter, starting with the porch. He didn’t define it as a transitional space between interior and exterior but in terms of protection against the elements like rain, snow, or shade for the hot summer sun.

There are important parts where costs are not neglected. We have full lists of quantities, prices for building materials, and labor. Gibson even wrote about maintenance costs. He used interesting examples about coal consumption, which can be 7 or 14 tons per year. I don’t know how much these costs were considering the purchasing power of the era. But differences in costs that can go up twofold can be very persuasive.

Gibson’s readers were the wealthy middle-and upper-class persons that lived the American dream. From a contemporary point of view, the books are a bit misogynistic, but I wouldn’t say they exceeded the norms of their time. Although it implied the role of the wife was to keep properly the house, the scope of the books is to make housekeeping easier than ever.

Gibsons tried really hard to convince his readers to build beautiful, functional, durable, cost-effective homes. Actually, he did a very good job.

Although I couldn’t find much information about the author of the books, I think they were successful. It’s hard to estimate the number of sold copies. But the fact that a few years after the Convenient Houses, he also wrote and published the Beautiful Houses, makes me think that the first one was a hit. There is no reason to publish another one. The publishers usually don’t want to publish books that nobody reads. When they fail with an author, they don’t accept to try one more time. During the 18th century, the situation wasn’t different. I think that the printing costs and the limited numbers of each edition made the situation more challenging, not easier.

We can only make suppositions, but the success of Gibson’s books was based on his genuine care for his readers and clients. It is hard to imagine what other good advice he could give.

And what makes the readings even more pleasant and helpful is that he never patronized his readers. There is no appeal to authority. The general tone is of a gentle friend who shares with you, the reader, helpful experiences and examples. He also shared with the readers the arguments for his advice.

I don’t remember, but Gibson didn’t write about quality architecture. He wrote about the smartest way to build great houses. He also didn’t emphasize the role of the architect. There was no need for that.

The whole two books are an excellent pledge for the role of the architect and for the quality of architecture per se. But this is the result, not its scope. Every single reader, when he or she finished the book, most likely had to think there is no other way to build a good home but to follow the great teachings of this architect. I think every single one of them wanted to have an architect like the author, or the author himself design their new home.

The reader learns from the second book that there are no special costs to building a beautiful house instead of a dull and ugly one. I don’t remember meeting pretentious terms like aesthetic in the book. I also don’t remember meeting passages where Louis Gibson uses terms such as culture or cultural.

One must admit that architects love to talk about the cultural dimension of architecture. Personally, I never met a client who asked me to put some cultural dimensions into my design. But I remember them talking about beauty, elegance, coziness, etc. Actually, I don’t think anybody wants an ugly house. But I met people that were afraid that a beautiful house will cost them more.

Gibson wrote a whole book to tell everybody that this is just a myth. More importantly, he wrote it after he taught his readers how to make all the good decisions for them. Thus, he built trust first, then he said everything he had to say.

These two books carry some deep meanings. First, their casual tone denotes a steady experience of communication with clients. I am sure that before he decided to help everybody; he did the same with his clients. His discourse is precise, concise, and persuasive. Most likely, he said the same thing to dozens of his clients and he refined his speech. It’s not only a set of great advice but a method of architect-client communication.

As I said, the author built trust. But also he exposed his approach to relationships with everybody who wanted to build a house. Gibson set standards for the industry. All his readers, face to face with any other architects, would expect nothing less from those architects.

I bet some of his colleagues were not as client-oriented as Gibson. I bet some of them were either uninterested in the welfare of their clients, or they just had other beliefs. For sure, some of them had little or no interest at all in how many tons of coal would be needed to heat well the houses. And that interest made the difference.

Another important factor is how Gibson interacted with his audience.

His readers were most likely middle-and upper-class. They were educated and well aware of the complexity of their projects. They were also highly intelligent, open-minded, and curious.

Most likely, they bought the books from the bookstores. They were the kind that usually bought books. Importantly, they were looking for such information.

It is the same thing that many of our prospective clients are doing right now. They are looking for relevant information on how to build their houses. But while 100 years ago people went to the libraries and bookstores, they are asking questions on Google.

100 years ago, Gibson provided the needed help writing two books. 400 years ago, Palladio wrote 4 books. 2000 years ago, Vitruvius wrote 10 books.

If you study these three writers, you’ll notice that they are more and more client-oriented. They wrote less and less about architecture, and more and more about how to help clients.

Gibson just nailed it. He really wrote two perfect marketing materials that had the single role of helping people.

Nowadays, we are always just one click away from any information. When we decide to help our prospective clients, our content is one click away. In contrast to Gibson and his readers, we are extremely close.

Gibson’s readers were not only smart people, but they were very lucky. They entered the right bookstores, in the right places, and asked for books that were written with them in mind. In all other places or any other bookstore, there were no such books.

Nowadays, more and more such “books” are written. Google serves any other relevant content unless you don’t write something better, more helpful, and more relevant.

Content marketing is a marketing strategy best suited for our days. It’s easier than ever to publish content. Virtually everybody has all the information in the world at their fingertips. Literally at their fingertips.

Gibsons worked most likely more than a decade to publish those magnificent books. It cost a big deal of money and he and his publisher took a big risk. Remember that not everyone was literate at that time. Most people did not have access to newspapers. But now, we live in the Internet Era. It started some decades ago.

If you ever wondered how to market your architecture firm, this is a good example. There is no need for hard work and few results, as in email marketing. Creating helpful, quality, and original content can do a difference. It can make your own website to start converting your visitors into the clients you ever wanted.

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By Octavian Ungureanu

Marketing for Architects helps worldwide architects and architecture firms to better promote their businesses, attract more and better clients, and get new, exciting projects.