If you ask an architect how architects get clients, most likely, you get this answer:
“Word-of-mouth: Create great architecture, and your satisfied clients recommend you for new projects!”
This piece of advice is not that bad. After all, the quality of products and services is the strongest base for reputation, both on a personal and professional plane. Outstanding reputation precedes outstanding individuals.
Besides that, architecture is a noble profession. In many countries, architects’ codes forbid advertising, although advertising doesn’t equal marketing. But built projects speak for themselves and their creators.
On the other hand, marketing works. It works in commerce, industry, politics, and personal life. This word-of-mouth thing is marketing. Combined with networking, it’s the old-school marketing for architects.
The adepts of this method will probably tell you that marketing doesn’t work for architecture firms and it’s at least bad taste, if not misconduct.
However, if marketing is so effective in all other areas, there is no reason for architects and architecture to be exceptions. Most likely, this myth resumes some bad marketing experiences. But if one tried something and it didn’t work, most likely that person did something wrong, too less, or both.
But marketing is not about self-promotion. Marketing is about helping others. It’s about clearly communicating the benefits of specific products or services.
Nevertheless, the architecture is complex. It’s hard to fit marketing definitions with architecture. What should we promote? Good architecture or good architectural services? Both? But are great architecture and excellent services also successful constructions and developments?
Developers and investors have their success criteria. First of all, it’s all about the return on investment (ROI). Secondly, it’s about costs’ predictability. Great architecture? Why not if great architecture doesn’t stand in front of ROI? Nevertheless, we know that good architecture pays off.
Real estates have prices that significantly grow each year. During good periods, this growth can be over 10%. That is, these phenomena feed the real estate bubbles in each economic cycle.
Thus, in this market, the value of architecture is not a decisive factor in real estate value. The location and the incomes that buildings generate determine almost entirely the price levels. This makes it harder to push good architecture. But not impossible.
The word-of-mouth recommendations are based on what our happy clients say. This is not what we would like to be. Most likely, they recommend us as reliable, fast, affordable… You name it!
An online marketing campaign, on the other hand, can send exactly the messages we want:
- Our architecture firm can help you reach a good ROI – return on investment.
- In doing this, we create excellent architecture.
The marketing message should contain all the qualities that our previous clients think are relevant. There is no reason to feature their testimonials too. Online, hundreds of prospective clients can read them. If you are limiting it just to word-of-mouth channels, they reach only one or two other prospective clients.
Besides that, when we buy a new car, we search online for relevant information. Of course, a good friend can still recommend us the car he or she currently owns. But there is just a little chance to go on his or her hand.
Look, word-of-mouth can’t harm us. But it works way better when it is backed up by a well-built website that addresses all the concerns of our prospective clients. Imagine that Harry, a friend of Garry, our client, finds out about our site, looking for information on land acquisition. He gets the answers he was looking for. He also finds lots of great insights related to his project. Then he sees that we designed Garry’s new office building. He also reads Garry’s testimonial. Obviously, Harry will call his friend. They talk about the new project. Garry encourages him to hire our firm.
This is the perfect circle.
A word-of-mouth recommendation is worth nothing if Harry finds out good pieces of advice on our competitor’s site. Our competitors have also good recommendations from other clients that also can be in Harry’s circle. Our hard work earned word-of-mouth recommendation is lost. Harry won’t call Garry.
Good marketing is nothing more than creating excellent content that helps Harry to start his construction project.
I really like Seth Godin’s quote on marketing. It catches the real meaning. Marketing is not about a company but about its customers.
Most likely, the word-of-mouth recommendations work because they tell how an architect helps his clients. We think they are about how marvelous we are.
When architects market themselves, they often tell how good and talented they are. This is not something to tell. Everybody can see beautiful pictures of beautiful architecture. But the clients want to solve their own problems.
When you have a problem, you don’t really care how good somebody is. Actually, this bothers you. You need solutions. You need someone who does that, who solves problems.
Look, as architects, we also recommend other people, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, and so on. I don’t know about you. When I recommend someone, I never choose the best. I always point to the most reliable, flexible, and team player. I like the engineers who team up with me to find the best solutions for our projects. Everything else can be fixed.
What do developers want? An architect who will team up with them to get the best out of their projects!
Marketing is not advertising. It is not a set of slogans in pretty pictures. Marketing is hard work to offer effective solutions to those who want to build. It’s not about getting email addresses and sending emails in the dark. It’s about earning trust.