Best practice — Focusing your marketing efforts

Best practice — Focusing your marketing efforts

July 26th, 2019

This is the third in our series of guest posts by architect and business consultant Lucy Mori on setting your practice up for success. It’s a better business bonanza, and in this installment, Lucy shows you how to focus your marketing efforts for success. If you haven’t read the first two posts, find out about allocating time to management (part 1) here and building a multi-sector pipeline of work (part 2) here. If you want to be sure not to miss an update sign up to our newsletter for monthly content alerts. Lucy Mori, we tip our architectural, engineering and construction design hats to you.

— Synergy Ed.


I always find it astonishing that most architects don’t know even the most basic marketing frameworks.

In almost every other business you have a significant sales and marketing team — in architectural businesses, you rarely have anybody at all. You might have a bid manager, you might have a marketing assistant, but it’s only in the really big practices where you have a marketing team. Even then, very few will have someone doing dedicated business development on their own.

It’s a somewhat unique business situation because, being a professional service, you’re not selling a product, you’re selling something that doesn’t exist. The best and only person who’s got the credibility to sell it is actually the architect, the director, the founder, the creative. Some people are naturally good at that, and some are naturally not so good at it, but there are techniques you can learn to improve your ability, and either way, you should use them.

There are three frameworks I talk about with respect to marketing. The first one I start with is segmentation, which is a standard aspect of any marketing strategy, but architects don’t necessarily think in that way. The other two are AIDA, and the marketing funnel (or pipeline). I use these to help clients build a marketing plan. A marketing plan doesn’t need to be very complicated, but it ensures you’re doing your marketing seriously a little bit at a time, all the time. Not leaving it until you’ve run out of work.

One of the most successful practices I know in London that does high-end residential work says it takes about six months between going out and executing the marketing effort and bringing some work in. You need to be at it consistently.

Market segmentation for built environment designers

  1. SECTOR
    Many architects will say, “I’m a school architect,” or, ” I’m a residential architect,” and classify themselves by industry sector. Industry sector is one part of the segmentation, but residential is a huge sector. 60 percent of income of architects in the UK comes from the residential sector — there are lots of different parts to the sector. What kind of residential?

  2. TYPE
    Beyond the industry sector, what are your client types?
    a) Have you got a private, domestic client?
    b) Is it a commercial client?
    c) Are you working for the contractor?
    d) Are you working for the developer?

  3. GEOGRAPHY
    Once you’ve defined the segment by industry sector, and client type, you need to segment by geography:
    a) Are you a local architect?
    b) Are you just looking within an hour’s travel distance from your office?
    c) Do you have national reach — working all around the country?
    d) Are you international?

  4. SERVICE
    What service are you offering to that industry sector, client type, and within that geography?
    a) Are you offering the full RIBA16 architectural service (or equivalent to your national standards)?
    b) Are you focused on planning and design only?
    c) Are you focused on delivery only?
    d) Do you focus more on the construction side?
    e) Do you offer additional services like feasibility, master planning, landscape management?
    f) Is your practice multidisciplinary?

The whole thing about segmentation is that you’re grouping your target clients by shared interest. If you know that you’re targeting contractors who build schools in the south east of England, for example, they have certain needs and concerns. They’re probably very interested in your track record. They’ll be very interested in cost control. They’ll most likely be interested in the construction materials you typically design in, and that’s what they want to hear about.

If your client is a private, domestic, one-off client, doing home extensions in north London, it’s unlikely they’ll have done a building project before. They’ll want hand-holding through the whole process. You’ll need to explain all about the planning procedure, explain about contracts. They’ll probably want to have a fixed fee so they’re comfortable knowing how much it’s all going to cost. They’ll be really nervous about it.

If an architect, engineer, or construction designer can be specific about who they’re targeting, they can then adapt their marketing message, and their material, and also think about where they’re going to be able to meet these clients in terms of marketing activities. There’ll be different procurement methods, and different selection procedures for those different types.

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) framework for built environment designers

AIDA stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action — this is thinking through the process of appointing an architect, or any built environment designer, from the client’s side. How the client becomes aware of an architect, how they express their interest, and, if the client desires to work with that designer, how that desire needs to be converted into action — which is signing an appointment letter or agreeing a fee to deliver some work.

Let’s imagine an example scenario in the education sector. Perhaps the government has mandated school lunches for all students. A school might need to increase its catering and dining space to cook the lunches, and then seat the children while they eat them.

They’ve got a building-related need, and so what do they do? Maybe the issue falls to the head teacher, or they might have a premises committee. They’ll have a discussion about what’s needed, and then say, “To do this we’re going to do some building, we’ll need planning before we do anything, we’ll need to know how much it’s going to cost, and what the options are.”

At that stage, somebody will say, “Perhaps we need an architect — who do we know who’s an architect? How are we going to choose an architect? What other schools do we know that have done a project like this that we might talk to? Does anyone have a contact with related experience?” They’re going to ask around a bit. They might visit some schools and check some websites.

At this point it’s a matter of addressing what you can do or communicate to convert that into action. How you can engage with this school to show them that you can provide answers to their needs. The idea is that instead of pushing your architectural skills, you’re demonstrating your capacity to solve their problem.

The marketing funnel for built environment designers

Finally, there’s a structured marketing approach. If you’re saying, “I’m a school architect” you might think about doing a brochure with pictures of all the schools you’ve done, and you could send that to all the schools in the country. But that would be the “scatter gun” approach. Most places it would just go in the bin because the majority of schools aren’t looking for an architect.

What can you do to be cleverer with your investment in time, energy and money? You want to take that long list of all the schools and then focus in.

You could say:

That’s already a much shorter list. Now, we’re going to spend a bit of time and assign somebody to research those schools. Which ones do we know have already done some building work? Which ones do we know might need some building work? Can we go and visit a few to see what the kind of issues are? Who do we know in our network who works with schools, who might give us some more information?

Look at who you work with that does school design and engineering work:

Focus in on reducing your list down to something more targeted. While you’re doing that, do the research into the needs of that particular group. Are they looking for outdoor space? Is it about sustainability? Do they want to reduce their maintenance costs? Improve their sustainability credentials by using natural ventilation and solar power?

What kind of angle can you take to respond to their needs, so that you can then provide a service that’s going to lead to work and give you a competitive edge?

In the end, you want targeted communication to a much smaller group that you can list as potential clients. A list that you can actually manage, where there’s real and active exchange between you and your potential clients and you have the chance to build commercial relationships.

It really doesn’t have to be complicated but targeting your marketing efforts is a must for creating a successful, sustainable built environment design practice.

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