It's that time of year for me to put my head on the chopping block and start making predictions about where the marketing of small architecture firms will progress in 2020.
Video, Vlogging and Stories are here to stay.
As far as small-scale, independent creatives go: architects keep a very low-profile.
Which is weird, because I can't think of a more interesting day job than being a practising architect.
It's creative, risky, detailed, ambitious, visionary, entrepreneurial, varied and social.
Still, you're reluctant to translate the day-to-day experiences of running your architecture practice into long-form video that people can engage with.
Why is that? My guess is that you don't want people to see how hard it is for you to make it through the week.
The long hours. The abusive client. The costly mistakes. The compromises. The fact that you spend most of your day in routine meetings or dealing with a barrage of emails and texts from the construction team.
Project photos are glamorous success stories. We love sharing those.
But the actual work leading up to them is gruelling, unflattering and chaotic.
We're like image-conscious millennials who gram their new sneakers, the party, the beach, the avo on toast: but hide the break-up, the boredom, the loneliness, the anxiety.
King of the marketers Gary Vee begs his audience of content creators to take their egos out of the equation, document "your truth" and let the market decide whether it wants to watch.
Perfectionism is a proxy for insecurity.
By showing the hard work, tough choices and dedication behind the image - we can build a lot of goodwill and understanding.
Video, to me, is the obvious choice for moving past the superficial images that currently represent our profession.
The public agrees. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.
YouTube has 15'000'000 monthly active users in Australia. That's as many as Facebook, and nearly twice as many as Instagram.
More video is watched on Youtube than Netflix and Facebook combined.
By my estimation, at least 70% of architects are active on Instagram, flooding it with iconic images every day. Approximately 0% of them have ever uploaded a video to YouTube.
Solid opportunity for someone with a fascinating life like yours, and a powerful video camera in your pocket.
We haven't seen video used to its full potential in the industry yet, but it's something that I hope to see more in 2020.
Whether that's vlogs, project walk-throughs, or answering common questions that people have about architecture over your webcam.
Diminishing returns on Instagram require a new approach
YouTube is the long-term project, but in the meantime, let's get you started on Instagram.
Now, Instagram has reached a point of diminishing returns for most firms.
They continue to add more projects, more posts, but it isn't making a significant contribution to their brand or project leads.
Users are losing interest in the Instagram feed as their attention shifts to more engaging parts of the app. The most important of all is Instagram Stories.
The feed is only prominent in the interface of the Instagram app today because Facebook hasn't figured out a lucrative way to monetise Stories.... yet.
In reports to shareholders, they promise they're close to a solution and that video Stories are the future of their platforms.
"Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday laid out his vision for the future of Facebook by highlighting three priorities: video, messaging and Stories." - CNBC
Take a hint from the Zuck: video, messaging and stories!
Do you have a content strategy for the future Zuck is describing?
The feed is on borrowed time, recently leaked screenshots of a future version of the app don't even include the feed! It's all tapping to move forward in a stories-like format, combining both sources of content into one, essentially eradicating the feed.
But, it's not all bad news for firms who have invested in building an audience on Instagram.
Stories are a gateway drug to a more intimate, authentic viewpoint into your architecture firm.
What does that look like? Simple, give a daily recap.
The wins, the losses, the stresses, the delights.
Just document what happened. Nothing fancier than that.
For the majority of Instagram users, Stories are their preferred way to engage with the platform.
Stories create unfiltered, real-time insight into what the firm is doing behind the scenes on a day to day basis.
Instagram Stories open up a world of opportunity for architects to start believing that it's okay to talk to your audience the way you'd talk to your friends... honestly.
That's a huge part of building a trustworthy brand in 2020.
I hope that architects will start to see the advantage in video, and they'll expand their strategy out to longer-form video and ask the big question:
"If long-form video is clearly the way people like to engage with media in 2020, why aren't we doing it?"
We all live with the uncomfortable feeling that architecture, a formerly complex and serious field of knowledge, has been somewhat reduced to a pissing contest between firms to see who can get the most likes.
But, that doesn't mean your firm has to act that way.
Be a detailed, theoretical, complex architect - just do it for the world to see and figure out a format that best communicates that message.
I've been called out for not putting enough emphasis on "research" and "evidence-based" data in the field of architecture. That's great, research and studies are very useful stories - but they still have to be disseminated in relevant and interesting ways.
Based on user behaviour trends, I've nominated video as the most wide-reaching and engaging way to do that: but podcasts and to a lesser extent blogs, are also superior alternatives to the feed in 2020.
There is a group of people out there who feel the same way that you do about the recent state of architecture. Nobody is addressing their issues and providing an alternative.
That could be your firm. You could fill that gap.
Improving your firm's approachability
Your marketing goal should be to have more opportunity than you can possibly supply, so that you can wait patiently for the right project to come along.
There's a rising chorus of architects looking for someone to blame for the sorry state of the architecture profession: other industries, low fees, regulation, councils, BIM, even capitalism itself!
In my opinion, if you take on a bad client, or a bad brief, with a bad budget, or unscrupulous parties, that's on you.
You made that choice to say "Yes".
I mentioned earlier that I was putting my head on the chopping block, right?
Improving your lead-gen strategy is about, hopefully, creating a situation for yourself over the long term where you don't have to take on projects that you have misgivings about, out of urgency.
You don't want to have to choose between letting people go, or working on something questionable with a client that you hate, just to make payroll.
The only control you have as a creative entrepreneur is to say no to bad projects. To be in a position of control, you have to generate quality leads from somewhere.
Social media is a good place to start looking.
If your firm has an audience, you have fans, but they aren't frequently approaching your firm to do business with you, you have:
- An authenticity/content problem (see section 1&2)
- Your firm isn't approachable enough.
We need to turn passive online relationships into real world personal relationships.
What I predict for 2020, is that we're going to see firms experimenting with live video, webinars, and in-person workshops.
Q&A's, AMA's, Meetups.
You can start with a live event online.
Live events are like a professor's office hours; a set period of time each week or month where everyone knows that you're available to help.
You go live, notify your followers that you'll be available to answer any questions that they have, and then teach them whatever they want to know.
Once you get comfortable, move to the real world.
In addition to the educational content, also think about broader event ideas like site visits, open houses, and architecture tours.
This has been working well for many of my clients.
They host an event to turn passive online relationships into concrete personal relationships by inviting the public into their studio or projects.
Use these as opportunities to meet people, answer questions, inspire and motivate, and give away as much value as you can.
These all make for great content to share online.
I call the practice of meeting your fans in the real world and showing them great buildings 'concrete diplomacy'. I stole that from hunter and New York Times writer Steven Rinella, who describes 'venison diplomacy' as the act of preparing a meal of delicious game meat for non-hunters as the most effective way to open their minds to hunting.
My version doesn't have the same ring to it, but the concept is universal.
The best way to introduce outsiders to the work you do is to invite them into great works of architecture, tell them about it and share your passion so that they can see why it matters and develop their appreciation for great buildings.
You don't need to wait for an invitation from Open House to make something like this happen.
Use your social media audience, that's what it's there for.
When I worked for Tezuka Architects in Tokyo, every project wrapped up with an epic Open House.
We would put up posters all over town, send an email blast - we'd even invite the Mayor of the city! Hundreds of visitors would stream through the building in soft Uniqlo slippers and white gloves.
The entire team would be stationed throughout the project, ready to approach our guests to explain the project and figure out what they liked and didn't like about it.
Beyond being a good thing to do for architecture, it's another step towards proactively generating leads for your practice.
We can't just start off the New Year with an Instagram caption saying "If you're looking to start an architectural project in 2020, send us an email.".
I'm predicting that in 2020, architectural marketing will trend towards:
- Wider adoption of 21st century strategies like long-form video, live video and stories.
- More transparency into the day to day workings of your firm.
- Personal brands taking the place of corporate brands, allowing charismatic directors with loads of ideas to flourish.
- Improved approachability through live events, both digital and physical.