Dave Sharp advises architecture firms on social media, communication and marketing strategy. More.
"What's driving you to improve your architecture firm's marketing?"
It just dawned on me that I never really ask that question to first-time clients. I ask them what I can help them with, and they say things like:
"We would like more clients."
Then I move onto to other matters. Big mistake.
There's an old marketing saying "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole".
Seth Godin took it a little further. They don't want a hole, they want a shelf. Further, they want to tidy their space. Further, they want to impress their wife.
I'm annoyed at myself that I have taken "more clients" at face value most of the time and haven't taken a few minutes to push harder and dig a little deeper to figure out what architects who say that really want.
Lesson learned, part of getting better at my craft.
But you, the architect reading this, why do you want more clients?
Or to be specific, why do you want more clients than you're currently getting from doing nothing about your marketing?
Whatever you've done in the past, it must have worked, because you're still in business.
I too suffer from sporadic cases of "I've survived this far" amnesia. From time to time I'll get that pang of worry that all business owners get... "what if another client doesn't come."
We momentarily forget the fact that, for whatever reason, they always have.
If my only role was to help you get fresh clients to replace your current ones, there would be absolutely no value in what I do... because you've been doing that on your own. You've got a PhD in "more clients".
So what's the real problem? How can I help you?
It's your current clients, right? You want better ones, and hope that through marketing, you'll be able to slowly replace your current clients with more sophisticated ones.
When a client tells me they want better clients, it's usually followed by "with bigger budgets".
We're getting closer, but I want to go deeper.
I'm guessing that you feel the insufficient budgets presented by your current clients are limiting you from doing your best work.
The conventional wisdom is that people who spend more place more value on what they buy, so it follows that a wealthier client will have more respect for your craft, the time involved and your ideas.
But does the theory hold true for architecture clients, or is it just Grass Is Greener thinking?
Most buildings are the biggest, most expensive purchase any client will make in their lifetime, whatever their level of affluence. It will feel just as expensive to them, whether they have $500k or $5Mil to spend.
Besides, it's not clear to me, from working with firms who deal in large budgets, that their clients value them or their advice and ideas any more than small firms designing bedroom additions.
Those clients also want better clients, and bigger budgets.
Of course, more fees means more billable hours - but I've never heard an architect say their favourite part of their job is "managing people".
So what do we really want?
I went to architecture school and worked in architecture firms so I'll take a guess, then do the research with my clients to figure it out over time, but here's my hunch:
- We want patient clients who will appreciate that good design takes time.
- We want clients who have their own tastes, needs and ideas: but will ultimately respect that architects are experts who have their own vision for the project.
- We want clients who share our enthusiasm to do something new, to seize an opportunity and improve on the idea of what architecture can be.
- We want clients who are passionate about architecture. Who read, study the history and soak up as much as they can.
- We want clients to tell their friends: to advocate for architecture and spread the word about our firm to the right people.
- We want clients who understand the value of what they're getting; not in a quantity survey of bricks and taps, but in enjoyment spread over a lifetime. Seen through that lens, your premium fees are a bargain, especially when you can give them $3mil of happiness in exchange for a $1mil house.
Marketing isn't about promoting your firm to "everybody".
It's impossible to believe that "everybody" could feel any of those things about your firm.
Even the most popular books in the world have countless 1 Star Amazon reviews.
If you're doing anything important, some people will absolutely hate your work. It's not for them.
So who is it for? "People who need an architect" is too broad, because it doesn't tell you anything about what those people believe - your firm isn't for most of them either.
There's a small number of people, maybe just a few hundred, who have the potential to feel the way you would like them to about your firm.
It's your job to pick them out in a crowd, earn their attention and explain what you can do to help.