When done right, marketing is the most effective way to generate new business, attract strategic partners and staff, and obtain public support for new projects. The problem is, many architects and builders don’t know how to build an effective marketing program.
How often have you said, “All I need is word of mouth” when questioned about your marketing program? If this is your standard answer, you may not be doing enough to market your company. Sure, word of mouth is a useful strategy when times are good. However, marketing isn’t just about the business you have today or tomorrow; it’s also about preparing your company for future success. You can’t instantly begin marketing when things get tight and then expect to be successful.
Even firms with marketing coordinators or formal marketing programs sometimes have trouble because they often have tunnel vision, concentrating on single marketing approaches without looking at the big picture. For instance, many architectural firms focus exclusively on responding to RFPs and creating project fact sheets. As part of a comprehensive program, either of these approaches can be valuable. However, they only comprise one part of what should be a much larger effort.
The good news is that the secret to marketing is not elusive. In fact, developing an effective marketing program is relatively simple. The key is to make sure that your marketing program is strategic. This may seem like common sense, but most architects and builders approach marketing haphazardly. They see an opportunity and pursue it, rather than creating their own opportunities.
Set your goals
So how does one develop a successful strategic marketing plan? There are three keys to any program. One of the most common mistakes organizations make is not establishing goals up front. They pursue public relations, direct mail, or other marketing tactics without having a clear sense of what they are hoping to accomplish. Sure, it’s nice to place an article about your firm in the local paper, but what good does that article do if it doesn’t catch the attention of the right people?
While each company is different, some goals are more common than others. For instance, architectural firms often want to get new clients and keep existing ones, attract strategic partners and recruit talented professionals. Builders, on the other hand, may be more interested in generating support for their projects and strengthening relationships with local and state officials. Regardless of what your individual goals are, you can’t develop an effective marketing program without first identifying them.
The next step is to identify the various audiences that can help you reach your goals, and create messages that will appeal to them. For many architects and builders, this is the scariest aspect of marketing planning. They envision having to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on market research. This might be the case for huge companies like Coca-Cola, but not for an architectural firm or residential builder. Unlike Coca-Cola, you aren’t selling to a large unknown customer base. Chances are you already know your targets. You just need to take the time to formally identify each one.
Similarly, it shouldn’t be difficult to determine what your marketing messages need to be. Often this is an intuitive process. If you know your audience, you know enough to craft effective messages. For instance, if you are an architect, you may want to convince local builders that you would be the perfect designer for local residential development projects. In such a case, your messages could revolve around the cost-effectiveness of your approach, the creativity you demonstrate in your work, or your ability to work with the community to garner support for your projects.
While builders’ messages will be different, the same approach applies to developing messages. For instance, if your target is potential home buyers, your messages will be geared toward them. Messages could revolve around the quality of your construction, the speed with which you can complete a home, or other issues that will convince buyers to turn to you if they are looking for a new home.
Pick your tactics
The final stage of developing a marketing program is selecting the tactics that will have the greatest impact. A number of tactics can be utilized. The key is to find the combination that will provide the best results at the most reasonable cost.
Networking. The most common, and effective, marketing tactic is networking. Every time you interact with someone who has influence over your business, you are networking. One of the advantages of networking, in addition to its effectiveness, is its inexpensive nature. The only monetary cost may be the price of lunch at a local chamber of commerce event, or the cost of attending an industry symposium. However, it can be time-consuming, so allocate networking time wisely.
Advertising. When asked for a definition of marketing, advertising often is the first thing people think of. In fact, advertising can be an effective marketing tactic because it provides an opportunity to present a company to many people at once.
The downside is how expensive it can be. A small ad in a local newspaper or industry trade publication can cost thousands of dollars. If you decide to pursue advertising, it’s important to target the right audience, and that the messages are clear and effective. The worst thing to do is spend thousands of dollars on an ad that’s going to be ignored — or missed — by the people it’s intended to reach. Since it’s generally not advisable to create your own ads if you don’t have advertising expertise, consider the additional expense of hiring an ad agency.
Public relations. PR is the most effective — and cost-effective — way to reach many people at once. Through public relations, it’s possible to arrange stories about your company, products or services, and staff in media outlets that reach your most important targets. Media targets can include local business press and electronic media; national trade press writing for your industry; and national business and general media, such as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and CNN.
PR is effective on a number of levels, foremost to reach many people through a single story. Also, because information is presented in an article rather than a paid ad, it carries more credibility than an advertisement. As a result, people will pay more attention. Also, published articles can be turned into effective handouts or direct mail pieces, so their lives extend beyond the shelf-life of the magazine or newspaper in which it appears.
PR also is cost-effective because no one pays for placement. If there is something interesting or important to say, the media will want to run an article by you, or include your people as sources in their stories. And knowing the target media and the types of stories they want can translate into conducting a public relations program in-house on your own. But even if you don’t feel comfortable working with the media, a public relations professional can implement a program that won’t cost too much.
Public speaking. Industry conferences and local business meetings (such as chamber of commerce events) can provide valuable promotional opportunities. By speaking in front of audiences comprised of potential clients and strategic partners, you can position yourself, or members of the company, as experts and industry leaders.
Website design. Chances are your company already has a website. The question is, does the site work as a marketing tool? By providing links to articles about your firm or its services, or information about upcoming speaking engagements or new project wins, you can keep prospective customers and partners informed and demonstrate your business success.
Direct mail. Direct mail is another effective marketing tactic that can be expensive. In addition to buying or developing target lists, you also have to develop the direct mail pieces and pay for their distribution. Because of the expense, it is important to make sure that every mailing supports your overall business goals. You should have a specific objective (i.e., generate a certain amount or percentage of leads) and always follow up directly with everyone to whom the piece is sent. Haphazard direct mail efforts are no more effective than flushing marketing dollars down the drain.
Of course there are additional marketing approaches that can be effective. However, for most architects and builders these tactics can serve as the foundation of an effective marketing program, providing valuable results at manageable costs. Whichever tactics ultimately are used, the most important factor in determining the success or failure of a marketing program is strategy. Take a strategic approach to marketing and realize greater results than ever thought possible.