The Architecture Marketing Checklist
In 1935, the US Air Force commissioned an urgently needed Boeing airplane. It crashed during its first flight, killing two of the five crew.
The cause? Human error.
The new Model 299 was more complex than any previous airplane, and the pilots had forgotten to release a rudder locking mechanism.
Basically, they forgot to press a button.
What do you do with a situation like that? Put the pilots through more training?
Major Hill, an experienced pilot, knew that it wouldn't make a difference. There was just too many steps for the pilot to remember and deal with in the new plane.
They had trained every little step from take-off to landing, but the complexity was too much for even an experienced pilot to implement from memory alone when it was combined.
To solve the problem, the Air Force had to create the first pilot checklist. An index card with steps.
- Close the door.
- Lift the parking break.
- Turn on the left engine.
Very simple stuff.
You can imagine the pilots scoffing at the index card, the same way you'd laugh off a checklist to start you car. All of the steps are obvious.
Even so, the results were astonishing.
"The pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a “total of 1.8 million miles” without a single accident and as a result the army ordered over 13,000 of them."
In the Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande argues that a lot more of our professional, knowledge-based jobs belong on a checklist, even if we aren't flying warplanes.
"Substantial parts of what software designers, financial managers, firefighters, police officers, lawyers, and most certainly clinicians do are now too complex for them to carry out reliably from memory alone."
Gawande says even the smartest experts (like surgeons, lawyers and architects) fail so often when faced with processes that bring together a number of simple tasks because...
"the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably."
I also think that marketing your architecture firm consistently is too complex to carry out reliably from memory alone.
The evidence of this is clear, just pick any typical architecture firm and look at their marketing efforts.
- Haven’t posted to Instagram in a month.
- Haven’t sent an update to their email list in a year.
- Haven’t added a post to their blog since 2015.
- Haven’t got any news on their news page.
Architects are smart people, and the tasks that we have to do to properly market our firms are easy: so why do we fail to follow through?
While the tasks are simple, the combination and timing of so many tiny steps become impossible to remember, let alone execute consistently every week, month and quarter.
Instead of consistent effort, we end up doing what feels easier - we FOMO market. We try everything once. We setup profiles on every social media channel and never update them. We try any and every trick we hear about, at least once, then give up.
We end up feeling guilty and overwhelmed.
We say we don’t do marketing, but we actually do. It’s just wasted across a lot of seemingly ‘low-hanging fruit’ - things we try once in the hope that it will move the needle.
But we soon find that low-hanging fruit is neither low-hanging, or ripe.
In Jason Fried’s book It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work, there is a great chapter on chasing low-hanging marketing fruit.
“Results rarely come without effort"
“Sometimes you get lucky and things are as easy as you imagined, but that’s rarely the case. Most marketing work is a grind - a lot of effort for little movement. You pile those little movements into a big one eventually.”
I see this all the time in my consulting practice. Clients who reliably stick to a plan, and make small improvements each week, win big over the space of a year or two.
So how do you pile up a lot of little movements in your marketing?
You need a checklist.
You start by figuring out the few important things that belong in the pile, break down the tasks and decide how often to do them. You’re left with a checklist of things that are easy to do, and impossible to overlook.
I just finished creating a marketing checklist with one of my clients, a well-known interior design firm in Melbourne who has decided to focus on Instagram, media, a blog and an email list.
I'll share it here to illustrate how simple and obvious it can be.
- Add daily activity to Instagram stories.
- Pin relevant project-related stories to featured stories on profile.
- Engage with other firm's feed posts.
- Write a short design critique blog post.
- Send post to Mailchimp list.
- Upload preview of post to Instagram feed (Gallery of images from the article).
- Update bio link to latest post.
- Follow up with Journalist requests/messages on Bowerbird.
- Review analytics and checklist.
- Add new content to Bowerbird drafts.
- Organise project photography & video.
- Add new project photos to Instagram feed (Gallery post)
- Upload new project to website (extract copy from media kit).
This is the outline. We have discussed each component together, and where necessary, will create a separate checklist for the individual items if there are any gaps in the procedure.
All in all, it's pretty simple and won't take up much time. The client knows how to do everything on this list. Most of it is stuff they've done in the past - I didn't teach them anything new, just little tweaks here and there.
Once a month, I'll meet with this client, study their analytics and gather their feedback - then edit the procedure, adding or deleting where I feel they could be more effective with their time, then training them on any new tasks.
If something isn't working, we'll figure out why, then adjust the procedure. If something is working really well, we'll double-down on it.
The process of reflection and adjustment is at the core of the checklist process. Gawande asserts that checklists...
"ensure the stupid but critical stuff is not overlooked” while giving you room for "judgment, but judgment aided—and even enhanced—by procedure."
What does your firm's marketing checklist look like? If you don't know, then you've found your starting point.
Further reading: Your Marketing Can Work Harder Than You Can
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