What was it?
Part one of an all-day seminar we attended late last month, presented by marketing guru Winston Marsh and held at the State Library for a group of 20 – 30 architects, mostly small practitioners. Beginning with the plain-spoken promise that good marketing will help us earn lots and lots of money, the seminar provided a series of challenging ideas for connecting with new clients. We will discuss part two of the seminar, Cost Planning 101 presented by quantity surveyor Geoffrey Moyle, tomorrow.
Marsh was an entertaining as well as informative public speaker. He dangled alluring tales of explosive business success, the pots of gold tantalisingly real, then dissected the marketing strategies that underpinned them. He advocated a significant paradigm shift from the way architectural services are typically sold, his entire presentation underpinned by a single concept:
Marketing is not about you, it’s about your client.
What was discussed?
Marsh introduced the concept of the loyalty ladder, a marketing tool invented by Neil and Murray Raphel in 1995 that identifies the importance of relationships in the growth of a business. It recognises that any stranger thinking about commencing a building project has the potential to develop into a client, or even better, an evangelist who works to seek out further clients on our behalf:
The purpose of marketing is not just to attract new clients, but to assist in the advancement from any and to any rung of the ladder. Marsh distilled this process into the three devices we’ll need to create, maintain and improve relationships with our clients:
A device to generate an endless supply of prospects
Let’s say we do most of our work within a particular municipality. In the City of Yarra there are around 80,000 residents or 30,000 households. Based on our empirical observations from living and working in Carlton North, we would say that 1 in 100 of these are at any given time building or renovating. This means there are 300 suspects within spitting distance of our studio who might benefit from our input.
Thus the first task of marketing is to turn suspects into qualified prospects, that is, people who want what we do, have the authority to make decisions and the money to spend on our services. As Marsh pointed out, the biggest impediment to achieving this transition is awareness: most people don’t know who we are. Having marketing material like a website, business cards, site banners, advertisements etc. is not enough, we need to target them. To unravel how we might go about doing this, we should start by asking ourselves three key questions:
Who are our ideal clients?
Why should they choose us, rather than choose our competitors, do it themselves or do nothing?
How can they find out about us?
Understanding the characteristics of our ideal client is essential. Marsh encouraged us to be specific: gender, age, family situation, car ownership, business position, personal wealth, location. The more we know about our target audience (or suspects), the better we’ll be at focussing our efforts on their specific situation. Here Marsh introduced the principles of AIDA:
If we were to analyse the way most architects structure their marketing material, we would quickly discover that they ignore at least three of these principles. Marsh furnished examples that were instead driven by them, including advertisements in local papers, websites and business cards. All demonstrated the ability to:
Grab a suspect’s attention. Marsh suggested we use a headline that speaks about our target suspects, not us, for instance, Thinking about renovating? or If you need help designing your dream home, you’ve come to the right place!
Develop the suspect’s interest. In an advertisement, this might be three or four paragraphs that amplify the headline. They should tell a story, be written like we talk and, again, be about our audience, not us.
Create desire. This could be images of our work, sexy spaces that make the suspect want one of their own. They key here is to understand that like breeds like: we shouldn’t use images of libraries to win cafe projects.
Establish a direct course of action. Here, Marsh advised that we “offer something of compelling interest and value”, for example, Call now for The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Renovating.
A device to make and maximise the sale
Once we have a suspect on the phone, they’re officially a prospect and we must now begin the delicate work of advancing them yet further up the ladder into a client. Marsh made a few phlegmatic recommendations, things like having a script to follow and a checklist of information to obtain. More instructively though, this is where understanding both our strengths and weaknesses, and being able to articulate the answer to, Why should our ideal client choose us? is critical.
Once again, Marsh encouraged client-focussed specificity. Instead of,
We’re great designers.
We’re award winning architects.
We should say things like,
We are a small design studio that listens to our clients. You will always be able to get one of the principals on the line.
We have many years experience in the Carlton North area and know everything there is to know about its town planning requirements.
We need to go a step beyond grabbing the attention of the prospect, we need to provide “meaningful propositions and specific examples.”
As important as understanding our virtues is to understand our weaknesses. Here Marsh asked us to consider negative aspects of the architectural profession’s collective reputation, perceptions like how expensive we are, or how our building projects run over time. Instead of ignoring this herd of elephants in the room, Marsh endorsed facing it head on:
Prospect: Your fee proposal is very expensive. We’ve received a much cheaper price from a draftsperson.
Architect: Is cheap [pause] important to you?
Prospect: Well… I just don’t understand how you can be so expensive.
Architect: Of course, you get what you pay for, so let me explain what our service includes.
The message here was clear: there are many options for a prospect to consider as an alternative to engaging our services. We are competing against builders, building designers and draftspeople. We are also competing against the prospect taking the project on herself or, most commonly, deciding that it’s all too difficult and not doing anything at all.
Luckily, when someone wants something, she becomes “a ferret for facts and conscious of detail.” It’s our job therefore to educate, inform, explain and lead: in effect, craft our message so in the eyes of the prospect, we are not just a service provider, but an expert in our field. We need to communicate the benefits of using an architect, the value a client receives by deciding to engage us, the expert. We can do this via offers of compelling interest and value, addressing the elephant in the room and the use of testimonials.
A device to maintain and build the lifetime relationship
The final step of Marsh’s marketing strategy relates to how we engage with our clients once their projects are underway and / or complete. We’re not sure where he obtained the figure, but Marsh noted that 92% of any professional’s clients come via word of mouth, making it important we push those we have up the final one or two rungs of the loyalty ladder, into advocate or evangelist territory.
Essentially, this means maintaining a database and staying contact. A newsletter that shows past and potential clients what we’re up to, updates on new content added to our website, and Christmas cards are all good examples of nurturing the lifetime relationship. Marsh discussed a few ways that generating referrals can be achieved:
Ask a client for a referral
Offer a reward e.g. a discount on future services
Make the client say, Wow!
Marsh suggested getting in contact every couple of months, a piece of advice echoed by Moyle, who maintains that the more often someone receives an invitation or piece of information, the more likely they are to act on it.
What did we learn?
In short, a great deal. We took pages of notes during Marsh’s presentation, and have only been able to capture a fraction of it here. Marsh made a number of challenging suggestions, many of which will require considerable effort to execute. His appeal to the attendees was that we undertake at least one of them, make at least one change. Reflecting on his list of suggested actions, we hope to achieve at least a few, including new site banners, business cards, a newsletter and a database.
It’s important to acknowledge that the examples of Marsh’s recommendations were not pretty. They might have been suitable for a local plumber in the days of the Yellow Pages, but for design-literate architects in the information age, they were cheesy and unappealing. According to Marsh however, they were extremely effective. He noted that slick and stripped-back websites are fine if what we’re after is a bit of professional masturbation, but if what we want is to win clients and earn money, we need to change gear. His marketing strategies talk to, not at, the people who might be thinking about paying us to work for them. For residential clients in particular, who have typically never worked with an architect before, this conversation must be framed in language with which they can identify. By definition, it will be language far removed from the sort we use with one another.
Thus we arrived at the following epiphany:
How we think about our work and how we sell our work are two separate issues.
We encourage you to attend the next instalment of Marketing 101 yourself, particularly if you’re interested in learning about the reams of additional advice not covered here. Moyle and Marsh are planning new seminars for 2014. They will repeat those discussed here, plus add Marketing 102 to continue the discussion and address topics not already covered. Once confirmed, details can be found on Moyle‘s website.
- The magic of marketing, Winston Marsh’s Ideas Emporium. Author unknown
- Three devices for good marketing. Author’s own image