If you wanted to reach out and appeal to clientele in Melbourne, would you greet them on your web site with a large picture of Sydney Harbour Bridge?
And if a large number of the projects on your site were from wealthy inner and middle Melbourne suburbs like Bayside, Toorak and Kew, would you follow up your Sydney Harbour Bridge view by making the next image they see one of a rural mountain range area?
Most likely, the answer would be no. Yet conduct a Google search for ‘Melbourne Architects’ and one such site opens with an image of the bridge followed by one of a rural landscape somewhere in a mountainous range.
To be fair, the images are beautiful to look it, and indeed, the one of the Harbour Bridge may well resonate with the portion of the practice’s target audience that lives in Sydney (the firm in question services clients in both Sydney and Melbourne). From the viewpoint of the part of the firm’s target clientele that is based in Melbourne, however, the image may well promote an initial impression that in fact the practice’s primary area of focus might revolve around Sydney rather than Melbourne.
This is one example of how marketing professionals and business coaches suggest architecture practices in Australia are potentially missing out on opportunities through marketing and promotional efforts which are not as effective as they could be.
“They don’t perform well,” marketing, public relations and business consultant Lindy Johnson said when asked how effectively or otherwise small to medium sized practices fared when implementing promotional strategies.
“A lot of improvement is needed. Their major issue is that they are not clear about what their brand is, what they are competing on and why their clients would choose them over their competitors.”
They are not only not clear about that, but they don’t make it clear to their customer, they don’t always make it easy for their customer to choose them and they don’t put their customer at the centre of their brand or business strategy.”
Johnson says a core challenge for architects in this area revolves around the establishment of a clear point of difference which is relevant to their target market and communicating this to their clients. Without this, she says, there is little reason for prospective clients to select them over their competitors.
In terms of how to find this point of difference, Johnson says one way is to target specific areas of specialisation (high end apartment design, heritage buildings and so on). Another way could be to look at unique aspects of not just of your practice’s skills and experience, but also of the passions and culture of members of your team and to translate that into a something which represents a critical viewpoint from the perspective of your client.
Dr Greg Chapman, founder of small business coaching practice Empower Business Solutions and author of several books on business strategy, offers a perspective along similar lines. Whilst many architects maintain web sites which are appealing from a visual and aesthetic point of view, Chapman says a number of practices need to go back to the basics and understand why people should choose them, what makes them different and to who these differences matter to.
Prior to deciding which market to target, Chapman says architects should look to the more basic question of why anyone should choose them at all - from which they will then be in a position to understand and evaluate what their points of difference are and who these matter to. If you are good at designing properties with waterfront developments, for example, that might be your point of difference and you may wish to target a clientele that would be in the market for waterfront property.
He says a large part of discovering areas where you are indeed able to offer valuable points of difference revolves around observing the type of clientele your firm tends to attract on a consistent basis over a period of time. When that happens, you enable the marketplace to provide feedback about the area in which clients feel there is a suitable match between their needs and the ability of your practice to deliver excellent quality outcomes.
“If you find that you are getting a lot of clients within a particular type of client, the universe is probably telling you that this should be your niche,” Chapman said. “For some reason, these people have found you out and you start to find that your practice has a focus, whether it is deliberate or not.”
So what should happen once you have found your niche? How should you make your practice known as the ‘go-to’ practice within that target area?
The first task, Johnson says, is to understand your target clientele and to develop an in-depth appreciation of the types of dreams, aspirations and fears which they may harbour. In the case of a commercial or multi-residential development where your client is typically a developer, it may be important to look not only at the needs of your immediate client but also of their clients and their clients’ clients.
In an aged care facility for example, this might entail looking at the developer’s needs but also at the needs of the facilities operator and staff (for a safe and efficient premises in which the functional requirements for caring for older people can be met with minimum fuss) and ultimately, the needs of aged care residents for a comfortable, safe and pleasant environment and their families who wish to know that their family member is comfortable and well cared for.
In terms of making yourself known, Johnson says this can take place via several means ranging from cold calling to interaction on social media right through to speaking at events which are attended by decision makers within your target market - or indeed, asking some of these people in and holding your own event. Writing in publications which are read by your target market is also a good idea, she says, as is publishing articles in leading architecture and design publications – both of which help to position yourself as a leader in the field in the mind of your clientele.
It is important when doing this to ensure that any information you share when speaking or writing articles meets the audience at their need and to be generous with the amount of insight which you choose to share. Topics addressed could include, for example, the processes involved in working with your architect in order to deliver the best outcomes for your project. Taking the aged care space as another example, you might present at an aged care conference or write on an aged care website about the five biggest trends in aged care facility design.
It is also important to share any articles you write or information about any presentations you give with your existing clientele via mechanisms such as newsletters/e-newsletters and your web site, Johnson said. This helps to maintain their perception of you as a leader in their field.
Finally, it is important when writing and communicating to do so in such a way that directly appeals to clients and addresses client needs, Johnson said. Too often, she says, language on web sites of architects is written in a way which would be more likely to appeal to their peers rather than their clients.
Chapman, meanwhile, warns against relying on any singular mechanism of becoming known and instead suggests a portfolio of approaches which might include conferences, web sites, social media and blogs.
When clients visit your site, he says, you will want to give them a compelling reason to take the next step and contact you - potentially a free initial consultation. Given what is often a considerable time lag between what the initial approach to an architect and the eventual purchasing decision, a regular newsletter/e-newsletter provides an important mechanism by which to remain front of mind during this process. Also, by including helpful and insightful articles within this – such as effective strategies with regard to going through the design process and some of the critical errors and mistakes which can be made in design – you help to build up trust with the prospective client in question. This could help make them both more inclined to go with you and also less inclined to be overly price sensitive when doing so, as you are competing on trust rather than necessarily on price, he says.
As with any business, implementation of an effective marketing and promotional strategy represents an integral part of running a practice which delivers upon its full potential.
With a few sensible approaches, architects can increase the return on any money and time which they invest in this area to an extent which cannot be understated.