In Session 002, we developed our business and personal life plan. We dreamed big, defined our vision and identified our mission. Today we’re going to put all that information to work. Today we are going to tell some stories, or in the jargon of the business world, we are going to do some marketing.
Marketing, at its most basic definition, is simply telling our story… to our market.
Every one of us is telling a story, whether we intend to or not. Our story is being told through our work, through our websites, social media, brochures and advertising. We tell our story through every point of contact our firms have with the world, both online and off. We are telling our story at networking events, at project interviews, by the way we answer our telephone, respond to email and interact with people on social media.
Every potential client starts their search for an architect with a very specific list of expectations and assumptions. They have created their own story for what they’re looking for and for whom they are searching. Our job is to replace that story with our story.
Our story, once experienced and in the minds of others, becomes our brand. If we are too busy designing or “building the business” to develop our story and refine our brand, our potential clients will be happy to do the work for us. They will tell our story for us and its not likely the story we want told.
If we are working toward success and living the life we are truly meant to live, then our brand is extremely important.
Sylvia Montgomery, Senior Partner at Hinge Marketing, says that our firms’ brand is arguably our most valuable asset. “Your brand is the totality of how your audience sees, talks about, and experiences your firm. The strength of your brand is measured by Reputation x Visibility = Brand Strength. The better and more focused the reputation and the greater the visibility within the target client group, the more valuable the brand.”
Define Your Target Market
Before we can tell our story, we need to know to whom we are speaking. We need to define our target market and we’ll start this process by reviewing our business plan from Session 002. Our mission will help us define who we are and what we are actually selling.
My firm, Fivecat Studio, doesn’t sell buildings or architectural services. We sell healthier, happier lives to young families. In order to make this happen, we design new homes, or modify existing ones. The spaces we create literally change people’s lives. (I love being a residential architect.)
Our target market is coming into focus. It starts with young families in Westchester County, New York.
Westchester County is a relatively high-end market located immediately north of New York City. There are dozens of architecture firms offering similar services to Fivecat Studio. Several years ago we studied our competition and discovered that the majority of these firms were either small firms providing services for small projects or larger firms providing services for very high-end new homes. Between the two was a market seeking to be served. In fact, it was a market we were already successfully serving.
We were a young firm and like many young architects we wanted the top projects; high-end custom homes. So, we focused our efforts on this market. We had completed a few beautifully detailed projects of which we were very proud. We featured these projects prominently on our website and in the portfolio we shared with potential clients. For years we focused on this custom high-end market and became gradually more frustrated with our lack of success. When we finally stopped to study our situation, we discovered that the firms with which we were competing had been around far longer than we, and had dozens of projects to share with prospects. Their maturity and experience were in stark contrast to our fresh faces and limited portfolio.
On the other end of the market, sole proprietors and very small firms served the market for small projects with very low fees and limited services. There too, our full service business model and fees associated with such services, met with limited success.
Our target market was being defined for us.
We were serving the market in the middle by default and had developed systems and strategies to become very successful at serving that market. When we shifted our focus and defined our target market as, “young families living in Westchester County who are considering residential projects with budgets ranging between $300,000 and $750,000”, everything changed. Knowing our true target allowed us to focus our efforts on the market already seeking our services.
That was many years ago. An interesting thing happened as our reputation grew. Our portfolio grew with it and more of the top projects came our way.
What are you selling? To whom? Be very specific. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Who is your client and what are they seeking? What types of projects? How much do they want to spend? Who is your competition? Is the market very crowded with competition? Is there an alternative market seeking to be served?
Tell Your Story
Once we have defined our target market, we can begin to tell our story.
There are several tools to help us tell our story and develop our brand. There are obvious things that need to be done, like well designed letterhead, business cards and a logo. These things should be consistent with the story being told, but are only the beginning.
The best tool, I think, for telling our story is our website. Annmarie and I launched Fivecat Studio with no clients, no funds and built our initial portfolio of projects by using our website. Most often, when our potential clients begin the process of seeking services, the first place they go is the internet. They search for architects using Google and find Fivecat Studio. Search the term, “Westchester Architects” and see what happens.
Our original website was built from scratch, in-house by me. It was clean and simple and spoke to our market with the information they were seeking. I optimized it myself to be friendly to search engines and worked hard to develop a network of in-bound links from other high-value websites and directories. For more than a decade that same site, updated with our growing portfolio and subtle refinement of design, served us well and helped us build our brand.
Last year, to better serve our current target market, we launched an all-new fivecat.com with support from our friends at liveBooks, Inc. (AL). LiveBooks makes it simple to build an incredible looking website very quickly. With roots in serving professional photographers, their templates and custom built sites are great for architects seeking to feature images of their best work.
We maintain our site through an online dashboard and have full control of our search engine optimization using built-in SEO tools. LiveBooks even include separate, automatically generated, non-flash sites for prospects searching for us using their iPad or mobile device, so we may be found however they may be searching.
Our website is our online hub. It includes a full portfolio of our work, a summary of who we are and easily accessible contact information. It tells our story through images and is our platform on which we build all our online marketing efforts.
Knowing our target market allows us to better understand where our potential clients will begin there search and allow us to focus our efforts appropriately. We need to be everywhere our clients may seek to find us. Clients will find Fivecat Studio on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, Houzz and many more online locations. All these sources lead back to our website, where they find our email address and telephone number.
Another important link to our story telling is our blog, Living Well in Westchester. With content written specifically for and to our target market, a blog can be our most powerful tool for communicating our story. Very often, I will visit a potential client’s home for an interview and I’m greeted with the warm friendly welcome usually reserved for close friends. The connections we seek to make with clients begin before we even meet by establishing relationships through the blog. It is often said that people buy products and services from people they know, like and trust. The interaction experienced through a blog will start that process before you even walk through their door.
Often, when people hear the word marketing, they think “advertising”. We have considered the investment in advertising with the regional lifestyle magazines to which our target market subscribes, but we have chosen to wait. For advertising to be successful, we would need to commit to several months of ads. The benefit of advertising comes from a potential client seeing our ad over and over again, waiting for the time when they finally decide they require our services. That’s a very big investment in time and money. Both of which is very limited these days.
Our story is not only told through our words and pictures. It is, in fact, best told by others. It is important though that they are telling our story, not theirs. A reputation is built when others tell our story for us. If we’ve done our job well, our story will be easily told through word-of-mouth and referrals. Give them the words to say. Give them the images to share. If we make it easy for people to share our story, they will.
Every point of contact is part of our brand. Everything we do and everything we share will either strengthen or weaken our brand. Every communication. Every deliverable. Every action. Our story will be told. Will it be our story… or theirs?
Schedule some time to prepare a marketing plan.
Define your target market. Develop your story and determine the best ways to tell it. Set some specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound goals for how you will tell your story. Then get to work telling it.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. How you are best telling your story? I’d love to know.