Marketing, social media, communications and strategy for Architects

Architects can provide value to clients in many ways. But how do clients perceive the value of these services?

My research suggests that there's a difference between what clients value from their Architects, and what Architects believe clients value, and that disconnect creates problems on both sides of the relationship. For Architects, it's hard to build the mutually beneficial relationship that leads to a successful built outcome if clients don't understand the value of the services they're getting. And it can be frustrating for clients if it seems that their Architect, or the Architect they are considering approaching, isn't meeting their expectations or addressing their priorities.

While my results show that expectations around the Architect's service aren't always aligned, this gap can be bridged by understanding where the differences are and where the value lies in client/Architect relationships.

Defining the value of an Architect.

My study examined homeowners perspectives on the value of working with an Architect and how that compared with what Architects thought clients value about working with them. In my survey, 106 homeowners between the ages of 30 and 60 ranked a set of common attributes in order of importance. I also surveyed Architects about these attributes; 65 responded, ranking the attributes in the order they thought clients found most valuable.

List of attributes.

  1. Helps me achieve my goals for my home.
  2. Has the relevant skills and knowledge.
  3. Communicates and explains design concepts well.
  4. Helps me maximise the future value of my home.
  5. Has a good reputation and positive reviews.
  6. Is knowledgeable of the cost consequences of design choices.
  7. Understands me and my unique needs.
  8. Keeps my interests in focus with unbiased advice.
  9. Has a clear fee structure so I know what I'm paying for.
  10. Is approachable and easy to talk to.
  11. Is easy to get a hold of.
  12. Presents themselves in a professional manner.
  13. Uses up-to-date technology.
  14. Helps the construction process to run smoothly.
  15. Shares my views on sustainability.

Here are the results.

What Clients Value Attributes What Architects Think Clients Value
1 Has a clear fee structure so I know what I'm paying for. 5
2 Has the relevant skills and knowledge. 4
3 Has a good reputation and positive reviews. 9
4 Communicates and explains design concepts well. 6
5 Is knowledgeable of the cost consequences of design choices. 3
6 Helps me achieve my goals for my home. 2
7 Helps the construction process to run smoothly. 11
8 Understands me and my unique needs. 1
9 Presents themselves in a professional manner. 13
10 Is approachable and easy to talk to. 7
11 Is easy to get a hold of. 12
12 Helps me maximise the future value of my home. 10
13 Keeps my interests in focus with unbiased advice. 8
14 Uses up-to-date technology. 15
15 Shares my views on sustainability. 14

To get a better sense of the relative difference between the different values, here is a slope diagram that uses the average ranking for each option, rather than the absolute ranking position.

Disconnect 1: Clients don't value feeling understood, and listened to.

Architects in this survey ranked "Understands me and my unique needs" as the most important trait clients value in an Architect. This understanding mirrors my own observations of Architect's websites, where firms stress the importance of (and their talent for) listening to, and understanding their clients, as a means to provide the greatest value.

Surprisingly, homeowners and Architects surveyed do not see eye to eye on this particular value. Clients ranked this value 8th most important on their list, beneath competency factors such as "skills and knowledge" and "helping the construction process run smoothly".

Architects also ranked similar client-centric values higher than clients did. "Helps me achieve my goals" was ranked 2nd for Architects, and 6th for clients, and "Keeps my interests in focus with unbiased advice" was 8th for Architects, but close to the bottom for clients at 13th.

The results don't suggest that Architects should drop all mention of "listening", "understanding" or putting client's "interests first" from their website or design process. Architects are experts in their field, and have a better sense of the factors that produce better results and positive experiences for clients, than their clients do. This could, however, be a topic which requires better education or communication to help lift client's perceptions of the tangible value of having their voice and needs heard in the design of their home.

Disconnect 2: A good reputation and positive reviews are an important decision factor for clients.

Homeowners ranked "Has a good reputation and positive reviews" 3rd on their list of the most important traits they value in an Architect. On the other hand, Architects ranked this value 9th.

This suggests that it's difficult for homeowners to make their own assessment of the skills and trustworthiness of an Architect simply be looking at their portfolio, and rely more on the crowd, friends and past-clients, to inform their decision.

While it's common for Architects to seek to improve their firm's reputation through the media, social media and awards - it's less common to see firms actively seek out reviews and testimonials from former and current clients, then present those on their website and communication channels to help re-assure prospects.

Disconnect 3: Clients value a clear fee structure for Architectural services.

In this survey, the most important trait clients value in an Architect is a "clear fee structure so I know what I'm paying for". Architects ranked this value 5th.

This suggests that it would be wise for Architects to make a better effort to be more transparent about how they charge for their services, in addition to devising ways to make their fee structures easier to understand for prospective clients.

What does this mean for Architects?

So, should you strip your website and replace it with talk of fee structures, skills and positive reviews because they were popular survey responses? No!

One lesson from this research is that Architects shouldn't assume what is important to prospective clients. While these rankings represent averages across those surveyed, your clients are not average. The individual responses tell a very different story.

For example, in this survey, a value such as "Shares my views on sustainability." ranked as the least important value for homeowners overall. Even so, 4% of those surveyed ranked it as their top priority, and a quarter of respondents ranked it in their top five.

Similarly, a "clear fee structure" was the most popular value for homeowners overall, yet only 9% picked it as their top factor.

Although it is valuable to see average results for both Architects and clients in this research in order to challenge some of the common assumptions in our industry, it's important that you conduct a similar survey (either formally, or conversationally) among your own clients before adjusting your brand position or communication strategy.