Digital marketing for architects - how does it work?

You may have seen your competitors and their logos on some local architecture exhibitions, but that’s only the visible part of the iceberg when it comes to marketing.


Most of the activities and client decisions happen on the individual level and are influenced by digital marketing. In this chapter, we provide an overview of marketing concepts relevant to architects.

Learning them will help you better understand the ways to approach the clients.


1. Lead generation for architecture firms


The term customer lead is omnipresent in the world of marketing. It denotes your potential clients, quite often those that left their contact details with you. Many marketing agencies and sales outsourcing firms may offer you lead generation services. It’s a blanket term covering all the actions that lead to delivering you a spreadsheet with people’s contact details or populating a CRM system.


1.1 Do architects generate leads?


Technically speaking, they do. As an architect, you already had or will be gathering contact details for people interested in your services. Then you will stay in contact for the sake of future projects and may call or email them sometimes.


As the clients will rarely buy your services immediately, most enquiries or promotional efforts will bring you leads that may turn into paying clients. It obviously takes time and maybe some convincing to sell or schedule a project.


Qualifying leads and determining whether they are likely to use your services is crucial. However, it is not often that straightforward for the architects to make sense of this process. There are many techniques, ideas and solutions. Many companies also use software or outsource the process of customer acquisition.


1.2 Should I use the help of a lead generation firm or software?


And here is the plot twist - more often than not, you should stay away from such firms and software. Architectural services are a relatively high-end type of service. They are not purchased by your prospective clients as quickly as a massage or a haircut, and because of that, the ways you approach your clients should be more sophisticated.


Lead generation services suit well the businesses in which you can identify your potential customers well, such as software companies. They may exactly know that their prospects are companies of a certain size and from specific industries.


As an architect whose clients are individuals, you wouldn’t have a broad pool of prospective leads that you can find on LinkedIn or originate from an acquired email database. If you tried targeting and pitching all of them this way, it would be a completely ineffective process and a nuisance to them.


It is a bit different if you work with other companies, such as developers or building firms. Directly reaching out to them is fine, but it would rarely be a matter of messaging 1000s of companies with the same message template. Instead, it is scouting a handful or maybe a few dozen the most suitable companies and establishing a personable relationship with them.


Typically, the companies that offer lead generation outsourcing might have problems qualifying prospective customers and assessing their match with your expertise. They may also have trouble understanding the scope of your services and may misinform your clients. That’s unless they are specialised precisely in the marketing and selling the architectural and design services.


2. Choosing the activities that bring results


The major problem with marketing is to grasp its basics and make sense of what services are offered on the market. On the one hand, you see smart technologies and tools backed by science; on the other hand, there is no shortage of aggressive salesmen with their “magical techniques”. How to make sense of it without losing a fortune or the good name of your architecture practice? Well, you have to match your goals with the characteristics of each marketing activity.


2.1 From dreamers to buyers: Top-of-funnel vs bottom-of-funnel marketing


Acquiring architecture services is a complex process for your clients and varies between individuals and AEC industry firms. When you are selling to other companies like developers (B2B sales), the process would be more straightforward and based on formal proposals.


Such clients are educated buyers and have some understanding of the industry - they are commercially oriented. But that’s another topic that has more to do with writing architecture proposals to win projects.


Your individual clients follow entirely different processes that lead to making a purchase decision. Marketing folks call it customer journey.




2.1.1 Architecture customer journey


Let’s try seeing it through the client’s lenses. They don’t wake up one night with the looming thought, “I need the services of a residential architect that will charge between $7800-8200 for my house extension”. It is rather a sequential process in which their vision achieves higher resolution as they educate themselves about potential solutions and shop around. Typically, it would go like this:


Bear in mind that they may not necessarily steadily progress through that path. They may as well stop somewhere along the way or even abandon it altogether. Your potential client can realise they can’t afford it or there is a better alternative for it.


They may realise they would prefer to renovate their apartment without professional help. Sometimes they may even give up planned kitchen refurbishment and use that money to go for a fancy intercontinental trip instead. Now, you are waiting with your precious, unobtrusive advice, ready to help them choose… When do you join them in the process? What’s the best moment to make an appearance?


2.1.2 Marketing funnel for architecture clients


Depending on how developed and mature your marketing activities are, you may decide to approach your leads at the earlier or later parts of their journey. If you walk along with your potential client since the early stages of their purchasing process, you will not only be able to influence them but also build their trust. Your approach should depend on the marketing capacity.


There are more people that consider renovating kitchens than those that actually do that. In other words, the further up into the funnel, the more leads there are, but they are less convinced. If you are able to nurture them when they are just thinking about it, without a direct reward for doing so, join them early on. It will give you an advantage over competitors, but it also requires additional work.


In some markets, there might, however be no room for steering the so-called top of funnel activities. No one will read about choosing the best plumbing systems when their sink is flooding their kitchen. They will bet on quickly finding the firm that will fix it. Also, as an architect, you may work with premium clients that don’t have time to read guides or view hundreds of design samples. They would just want to choose between two or three during a meeting with you.



Although some big players dominate some search terms, architecture is a diverse market. A residential architect from California will likely not try to become a thought leader in the field of office space in cold regions like Alaska or rainy like London. There is a lot of space to join the journey of the local journey that search for some popular arrangements in your area of expertise.


Consider where your prospective clients are and whether you want to interact with them. You won’t be able to kidnap them or force your leads to walk your own path. You wouldn’t like to exaggerate things either, as it is easy to spot and will definitely harm your reputation. Focus on educating clients in an unbiased way.


2.1.3 Provide solutions to the customer queries


Be natural and helpful. Try answering customer questions and address their concerns. It is a bit of hit and miss process at the beginning, but over time you will learn what buyers expect. You will gain valuable information along the way, and it pays off to create feedback loops and foster friendly communication.


2.2 Be present or approach: inbound vs outbound architecture marketing


You may allow people to find you online, which is inbound marketing. Or you may actively approach those that you view as your potential customers. That’s outbound marketing. In both cases, you would like to make sure that your target audience is much more likely to buy your services than an average person.

This could be done by defining the buyer persona and making sure your marketing efforts reach them. You may either focus on one homogenous group or divide your audience into a handful of different sub-audiences interested in the various services you offer.


2.2.1 Pros & cons of inbound and outbound marketing


Inbound marketing has the advantage of self-classification and low variable costs. When you are found online, it is likely because someone searched for something related to architecture, thus classifying themselves as interested in architecture or architectural services. Let’s consider the example of a walk-in property rental office.


Let’s use a case study of a property rental agency to investigate what factors influence the choice between inbound and outbound marketing. As the owner of it, having a choice between hiring a person to actively approach passers-by (outbound) and displaying your services at the office front on a screen (inbound), you would likely choose the second.

It is a more cost-efficient way of promotion. You may also easily update your offer monthly, and it generally works as a self-service promotion requiring no extra effort, unlike distributing flyers. They are quite costly in comparison. In practice, however, it is rarely a binary choice.

What if you already printed leaflets and 2 of your 3 employees are unoccupied? What if there has just been a registration day at a nearby university and hundreds of students moving into the town will pass next to your store? Or maybe the cost of finding a new client this way is higher than others, but still reasonable, and you will profit from it? Or, on the contrary, what if your business is one of ten almost identical shops in a tourist area?


Case in point - Indian cuisine restaurants at Brick Lane in London. There are about 10 of them on the 50-meter part of the street. They have similar price ranges, and to many tourists, they seem very similar. Often who will dine where is defined by which restaurant’s promoter will approach a tourist first. That’s a great example of the situation where it pays off to stand out or distinguish your company from the competition by reaching out to the customers.

2.2.2 Try both before focusing on one


However, it is not always easy to tell whether active or passive techniques are better suited for the case. Most of the time, it would be a mixture of both. Even when one of them may not be promising in commercial terms (i.e. ROI, the marginal cost of acquiring new clients), it may give you an invaluable opportunity to learn who your customers are and what they think about your practice. You can discover how they react to your outreach attempts and learn how to be more convincing and natural when establishing relationships with potential clients.


2.3 Pay with effort or money: organic vs paid marketing


One of the common excuses of those that do not market their services is the myth of competitors that have multimillion budgets and will completely overshadow any efforts.


Well, there are likely firms bigger than yours, but that doesn’t mean that they will always overpower you. Yes, it is hard to break through and establish marketing routines, and yes, money helps with that.

It is, however, nothing like throwing money to the online platforms and magically receiving customers.


After all, your clients do not care about how your marketing infrastructure works, but what can you actually deliver for them as an architect.

You won’t reach enough of them without an effort put into marketing, but if they visit your website and it doesn’t seem credible - you are burning money on ads. Even as a small business, you can still find your optimal place online and even become number one locally, in your very own niche.


2.3.1 Quick boost vs sustainable investment in marketing


Generally, ads are great to expand your reach. Whether you are promoting your services on Instagram or optimising your website for SEO, your audience reach figures move relatively slowly from day to day. Unless you are lucky, you can’t count on your post going viral. It will likely reach just a fraction of your followers, sometimes even less than 10%.


Or it will be found by just a small percentage of searches in Google. You can boost that by paying for the top position or broader reach. The efficiency of that will often depend on the quality of your content, advertising or services. Most likely, it will be a temporary boost while expanding organic reach (by definition) will benefit you for longer.


2.3.2 Limits of opportunity


I remember advertising a classroom course on Facebook many years ago. It was a preparation for specific graduation exams taken by the students who were around 19 years old. My friend asked me why we couldn’t just dump as much money as possible and hire a bigger venue to accommodate all the clients? That’s simple - because of the increasing marginal cost of customer acquisition.


Don’t be scared of the economic jargon. That simply means that it usually costs more and more to acquire the next client. In that case, we first targeted those potentially interested in that course - gone to classes specialised in particular subjects, already liked profiles of their desired departments in specific universities or followed authors of similar courses. They were a well-targeted audience with high rates of interest.

Similarly, you can promote your architecture & design services in Google, but there will only be so many people potentially interested. For every type of paid advertising, you will find a threshold beyond which it is not worth it.

In other words, broadening your advertising audience means increasing the average cost of client acquisition. At some point, it may cost you more to find a new client that they are willing to pay you. Targeting too broad an audience also makes your ads less relevant or even annoying to most viewers.


2.4 Quick or cheap, choose one: long term vs short-term horizon


As we established, there is a trade-off between getting to your clients fast or gradually growing engagement. There will likely be a significant demand for architectural design services in the future, and this profession is not going to be automated away or overtaken by AI any time soon. That makes marketing worthy of your consideration.


It pays off to invest time and money in both paid and organic reach efforts. Organic marketing tends to be cheaper over time when you look at metrics such as how much, on average, it costs you to acquire a new client. Paid ads are fantastic for seasonally boosting your sales.


It would be best if you also used them when you have budgets and capacities. They may be very cost-effective to run up to a certain level of spending. What’s more, they let you monitor purchasing trends. You will also likely improve the return on the investment in ads over time with methods such as A/B testing.


3. Location, location… Social media vs search vs placement


You have to choose the appropriate channels to connect with your clients. It’s quite easy when you know who your ideal client is and compare that persona to the channels' demographics.

Then, think of other aspects of those platforms. Architecture is a very visual discipline and thus works well with the media that centre around visual content. We discuss it in detail in the social media section.


Also, consider when your potential clients hang out on those media. For instance, LinkedIn is a work-related medium - it facilitates business to business sales and job hunting. You can even directly contact your prospective clients there with InMails.


Expect them to be available during working hours, sometimes evenings, but rarely on bank holidays. On the contrary, Facebook is the channel to keep up with family and friends and join communities related to hobbies or local marketplaces. Be prepared for less formal communication there.


On top of that, do your best to be natural and to reasonably accommodate your audience. Choosing the wrong medium would be just like approaching someone relaxing at the swimming and pool, sipping a fancy cocktail and telling them about the efficiency of your spreadsheet automation services.


4. Promote your architecture office in the right context


When advertising on social media, you should expect it will involve establishing relationships. Just like inviting your prospective customers for a relaxed chat once in a while or signing to a discussion group.


When you are targeting specific search queries in Google, you become an advisor. You answer their questions, educate, present your service scope if that’s what they are looking for.


When advertising on other websites or being promoted by influencers, or running email mailbox ads, make sure to make it relevant and efficient. Avoid associating your company with shady websites or influencers. Some systems already embed such controls, not allowing for adding ads to controversial content, but some extra vetting effort wouldn’t hurt.


When advertising on social media, you should expect it will involve establishing relationships. Just like inviting your prospective customers for a relaxed chat once in a while or signing to a discussion group.


When you are targeting specific search queries in Google, you become an advisor. You answer their questions, educate, present your service scope if that’s what they are looking for.


When advertising on other websites or being promoted by influencers, or running email mailbox ads, make sure to make it relevant and efficient. Avoid associating your company with shady websites or influencers. Some systems already embed such controls, not allowing for adding ads to controversial content, but some extra vetting effort wouldn’t hurt.


5. Ps of Architecture Marketing Mix


It is the most popular framework for approaching marketing strategy. It lists the product, price, place and promotion as the main categories of focus. In essence, it means a holistic approach to defining how you will market your architecture services.

  • Product, in this case, means the scope of the services you offer, how you combine them and what results they bring.

  • Price contains all the valuable information related to your services. How much do your services cost to your clients, what is the cost of work of your colleagues and other expenses. Also, how they relate to each other - what is your profit margin, whether you grant discounts and how customers react to it.

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  • Place defines the channels to reach customers - both digital and related to the physical location of your office or the area coverage of your services.

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  • Promotion iterates the activities to get to your client. All the actions of advertising and communicating with clients you undertake—even those indirect, such as PR and educating or nurturing potential customers.

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The 4Ps are not the only marketing framework to use. We highly suggest approaching it with a level of flexibility. It matters much more to come with actionable ideas for marketing than to conform to a certain framework perfectly. Also, the 4Ps of the marketing mix are often extended to match the changing marketing landscape better.


The 7Ps, for instance, would also list people, process & physical evidence or people, packaging and positioning. Stay open-minded and always relate the methodologies to the real world, where on the other side of your marketing efforts is always a real person.





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