473: 6 No Bull$h!# Marketing Strategies for Architectural Firms
There are many common marketing mistakes made that can be easily fixed. In this episode, Dave Mastovich analyzes architectural firms around the country as an example, but his six marketing strategies can apply to any company. He explains the importance of knowing your company’s big idea, telling stories by segment, referral source marketing, B2E marketing, leveraging your visual advantage and No BS thought leadership to promote your key talent.
It’s the No Bullshit Marketing Show. I’m Dave Mastovich, CEO and founder of MASSolutions, the world’s only no bullshit marketing consultancy. Today, I want to talk to you about six no bullshit marketing strategies for architectural firms. We’ve had the chance over the course of the lifetime of MASSolutions to work with many architectural firms, and it’s exciting. They’re fun clients to work with because of what they do, how they design, and the outcome of what their work does is beautiful buildings that impact cities and streets and communities and people. What strikes me is how similar the architectural firms market each other. And some of it’s good and some of it’s not so good.
What I did today to prepare for this podcast was in addition to the years of experience of working with architectural firms and having gone through the projects and the work and had some big time successes, some moderate successes, and many, many learning lessons, that’s over here to the left, but what I did today was a fun exercise. I asked one of our team members to just give me a bunch of architectural firm websites from small, medium, to large size, from here in Pittsburgh, to our LA office, to anywhere else in the country. And then I began to go through those websites so I could combine that with my experience and expertise and instincts, I would now systematically gather some insights of randomly selected architectural firms. And what I found was, as I mentioned, amazingly similar in how they tend to approach things.
There were three or four things that jumped out at me that were common threads. Maybe a third did this, another third did that. And the first thing is there’s a lot of messaging that’s just too wordy, too long. Opening statement, their big idea, their slogan, 14-15 words, two sentences. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not succinct, digging into where they’re posting about their employees, or their blog posts or their videos. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just too much trying to get too much into each instance when they’re telling a story. So that’s one thing. The second thing was, I found that there was too much confusing language and too many confusing visuals, it wasn’t readily apparent as soon as you saw an image. What was that trying to tell me? So I guess they designed this, but what is it? Why is that special? Why is that on the homepage? So there was some confusion with the imagery. There was also some confusion with what story were they trying to tell? I’d go through the whole site, and I would see some catchy, pithy phrases that may be sort of tied to what they were trying to accomplish, but didn’t tie together clearly and also didn’t seem to differentiate that particular firm from another one. They also seem to overcomplicate things. You’re seeing splits in the screen, and when you move this way, something happens, then move that way, and things coming up and going to the left, and this type of image and overlays and just complexity that I didn’t think was needed. And then sometimes, they just were too cute. Too cute. I can’t put my finger on exactly what I mean by that, it’s just like they were trying too hard to look eclectic. So when I think of all that stuff, there’s some common tenets of successful marketing and storytelling. And they tied to things like keeping it simple, and that less is more. So those are things that we talk about a lot. But what I’ve done here is taken the insights that I systematically gathered by randomly selecting a sample of dozens of architectural firms to look at their stories, look at their videos, look at their websites. I combine that with our experience, expertise and instincts of doing this for decades with many architectural firms. I’ve come up with the six no bullshit marketing strategies for architectural firms.
First, it comes back to what’s the big idea? What’s the big idea? The big idea has to answer your two why questions, your why or reason for being and your customers why, or reason for buying. Over the past decade, more and more firms across industries have begun to focus on their why. More and more people are talking about their core values, their culture. The storytelling around it is not as strong as I think it needs to be in general, but at least it’s happening. So I think many people have begun to answer that first why question – your why or reason for being. But what surprises me about architectural firms is they haven’t answered that second why – their clients’ reason for buying. So those two why questions need to be answered clearly and succinctly. And the way to answer those is by systematically gathering insights from your clients, from your clients’ clients, from your team members, from your referral sources. Once you’ve systematically gathered insights from those key audiences, you can then answer those two why questions, and then creatively make that into one big idea that answers your why or reason for being and your customers why or reason for buying. So that’s the first step. And that’s a challenging one. It’s the first step of the six no BS marketing strategies for architectural firms. Why is it difficult? Well, architectural firms have a lot of principles, they have a lot of creative architects involved. And they end up having a lot of people coming up with stories by committee, coming up with your slogan and big idea by committee. Found that a lot over the years. So I think that if you can systematically gather insights, it takes it away from being one person’s belief, because personality doesn’t scale, systems do. And so when one person’s personality is driving, or multiple people are arguing about what this should be, you’re better served to systematically gather insights from multiple target audiences. Come back and see what trends you found, and what stories are being told when those questions are answered. And then you can take that first step and answer the two why questions and have your big idea be crystal clear. Once you’ve come up with your big idea, the rest of your storytelling plays off of that. You have supporting storytelling pillars.
So, the second no bullshit marketing strategy for architectural firms is you have stories by segment and stories by differentiators. They’re often similar. These supporting storytelling pillars that you’ll build that play off of the big idea should look at stories for current clients, stories for and about potential clients, stories built by, for and about employees, stories for referral sources or centers of influence. And then all of those work together for your brand story. Because your brand story could be for any of those four target audiences, but also for the general public, someone who’s not one of those four segments yet. They’re not a current client or past client, they’re not a referral source or center of influence and not an employee. But they could be any of those four at some point. So that’s your brand storytelling. So you want to have stories by segment and stories by differentiator that come together to be your supporting storytelling pillars. The roll up under your big idea. Here’s what many architectural firms do. They have 15 stories that they think are all unique, and are tied together, and are for this segment, that segment, when in reality, when you take the cold hard look at this, and you’ve really done the real drill down, and systematically gathered insights about those target audiences, looked at your 80-20 – 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients, look at what those clients have as commonalities and then talk to them and gather insights. When you’re able to look at who you’ve referred to in the past who should have referred to you. This gets you insights that help you to build those supporting storytelling pillars. But the key is that if you have 15-20 anecdotes or analogies, those will be rolled up under maybe three, four at the most, five pillars. What I mean by that is there’ll be common themes. From a different anecdote, four or five different anecdotes all will have a common theme. And they’re under this pillar and these two or three anecdotes or analogies under a second pillar. And these five or six anecdotes, analogies, and stories are under this third pillar. And so you have to do the hard work, or have someone help you with that so that your supporting storytelling pillars are by segment and by what differentiates you. So that’s the second of the six no bullshit marketing strategies for architectural firms.
The third I already touched on is referral source marketing. You need to have a systematic referral source marketing plan. Time and again, we’ll be working with architectural firms and their leadership team will say, tell me about your referrals. Oh, we have some great referrals. Let’s talk about your referral sources. Can you give me your top five or six? And there’s a little bit of quietness, uncomfortableness. And what comes down to the crux of the matter is that they often haven’t tracked the referral sources, they haven’t tracked who should be referring, who could be referring and who is referring. They don’t have a systematic way to say, here’s who we’re talking to, to ask for more referrals, and here’s what we do when someone gives us a referral. Because our market research shows that most people fumble the thank you when a referral comes in. And even more people fumble the update when it didn’t turn into a client. Let’s say someone refers somebody to you, you talk to that referral, and it doesn’t work out. You need to reach out to the person who referred you and give them this news and say, hey, I talked to Suzanne, who you told me to connect with. She seems really professional and strong. We talked and it didn’t seem to be a fit. We had a meeting and some follow up emails and it didn’t lead to too much. My sense is that they’re looking for X and well, we do X pretty well, but we focus more on Y or Z, the letter Y. People fumble that. So now the person that referred to you has not heard back about what happened. So the fumbling of the thank you and the fumbling of whenever it didn’t pan out, initially, because it might pan out later, you need to be giving those updates. This all falls under referral source marketing and having a systematic referral source marketing plan so that you outline who you’re going to ask for referrals from, when and how. It could be current clients, past clients, centers of influence, employees. You have to ask to get the referral. How often are you asking? Because when we’re asked something once, we don’t act on it very often. When we’re asked something twice, we don’t act on it very often. If anybody has kids, or if they’ve coached a youth sports team, or if they’ve been involved with a group of people, when you ask them to do something once, you’re getting a small result. When you ask somebody to do something twice, sadly, you’re still getting limited results. Three times four, maybe, five, six. You have to have a systematic way that you’re going to be professional and not overbearing. But you’re going to ask for referrals from current clients, past clients, centers of influence, people that have referred you, or could, and your employees.
The fourth no bullshit marketing strategy for architectural firms is commit to B2E. B2E stands for business-to-employee marketing. We know what B2B is, business-to-business and B2C, business-to-consumer. B2E is business-to-employee marketing and business-to-employee storytelling. Commit to it and be intentional about it. Because most companies, specifically architectural firms, are not committed to B2E and don’t have an intentionality about business-to-employee marketing and business-to-employee storytelling. And that means to treat your current and prospective employees the way you treat your client target markets so that you drill down into your current and prospective employees to better understand them. You systematically gather insights about your current and prospective employees. You leverage experience and expertise and instincts to figure out how you’re going to develop marketing plans for current and prospective employees, and develop stories that will reach, connect and engage with current and prospective employees. That’s what B2E marketing is all about, is systematically creating a B2E marketing plan, and committing to that with intentionality, to tell your story again and again to current and prospective employees, so that you can move them, so you impact the three R’s of business-to-employee marketing. The three R’s of B2E marketing: recruiting, retention, results. Recruiting is you need to have a plan that helps your human capital, your people division, your HR, that helps them tell the story and target those potential new employees. The second R is retention by creating stories with, for and about current employees and telling them those stories, we help with retention. The third R is results. The better we tell stories, the better we communicate, the more aligned we are as employees and team members. So our productivity goes up, the results go up, the results are better. The three R’s of business-to-employee marketing and business-to-employee storytelling. That’s number four of your six no bullshit marketing strategies for architectural firms.
The fifth, number five, is to leverage your visual advantage. Here’s what I saw when I did this exercise on dozens of websites, and here’s what I’ve learned through my experience and expertise over decades of working with architectural firms: You have a visual advantage, but you’re still not leveraging it. You get that hey, we created this awesome building. Let’s take a shot with the lighting just right of that building. Or we did this building that’s right in the community and there’s streets. But the visual advantage isn’t being leveraged, it still goes back to those other things that I said. Sometimes the visual imagery is confusing, you’re not sure what the major takeaway is. Sometimes it’s overcomplicated. Sometimes it’s too cute. And rarely is it realistic, in a way to move me. It looks canned, it looks too sterile. It doesn’t look authentic. So you have to think in terms of what can I do to leverage my visual advantage with my photography and my videos to make it about them? What’s going to move those key target audiences, our current and prospective clients, our current and prospective employees, our referral sources, our centers of influence and the general public. And I think what ends up happening is sometimes the complexity comes in because you want to show this building and how it looks different so that potential clients can see oh, I see that, okay, they can do that for me. I don’t know that that’s necessarily what’s needed. I think that can help as you get farther along, but you’re really trying to pull people in to see that you are able to do this unique strength that’s based on your big idea. So don’t convolute the pictures and the videos. Don’t make them something you have to think through. Don’t make them too cute or too eclectic. It’s about making that picture or video leverage your visual advantage of what ties to your big idea. What do you build? What is your biggest result? And why are you different? Make that imagery tie to that so you can truly leverage your visual advantage. I found that that’s left on the table. It’s not leveraging your visual advantage that ties to your big idea and your supporting storytelling pillars. Not just a great picture that could be an ad for the city that it’s in, could be an ad for a beer commercial. You want to leverage your visual advantage that’s specific to your story, specific to your big idea and specific to your supporting storytelling pillars.
And the sixth no-bullshit marketing strategy for architectural firms is do real thought leadership of your principles and your key talent, architects-wise. And I say real thought leadership because if you take the time to be intentional about that and you have a systematic marketing plan around the thought leadership of your team, it’s going to be focused on their expertise and their human side. And what I think happens right now is we get too much of one or the other. We either get too much of the expertise and not enough of the human side, or we have someone trying to be artsy, and they’re talking about that person’s dog and that they like this or they like that, instead of combining the two. Let’s talk about their expertise and slip in what makes them different and what makes them human. So that is the sixth part of the No BS thought leadership, being systematic and intentional about No BS thought leadership, so you make it about them – those key target audiences that I keep emphasizing that you have to drill down those key target audiences, so you understand the trends about them and you can systematically gather insights about that real drilled down target audience, not just oh, we work in healthcare. Do the real drill down.
There you have it. Six, no bullshit marketing strategies for architectural firms. Number one, what’s the big idea, number two, stories by segment, number three, referral source marketing, number four, B2E, the three R’s – recruiting, retention, results – number five, leverage your visual advantage for real and number six, no BS thought leadership to promote your key talent, both from an experience and expertise standpoint and the human touch.
If you want to learn more about how you can leverage No BS marketing to get more referrals for your architectural firm, go to MASSolutions.biz. Thanks for listening to another episode of the No Bullshit Marketing Show recorded in our studios here in bold, beautiful, downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Remember, ask yourself, what’s the big idea? And build your story around the answer. It’s all about bold solutions. No BS.