Each of our prospects come to us with a story in the minds. It’s their understanding of who we are as architects and a definition of what we do. That story may have been placed their by friends or family or from experiences as a child. Its likely, at some level, that story was placed there by HGTV.
The story of who we are already exists. Marketing is the process of replacing that story, which is often inaccurate or just plain wrong, with your story. As small firm residential architects, the most effective and least expensive way to accomplish this process is to start online.
Here are my 21 Rules of Online Marketing for Residential Architects:
1. Define your target market. Understanding the specific market you choose to serve is the first step in successfully marketing your firm, online or off. Who are the people to whom you seek to sell? How old are they? Where do they live, work, shop and play? Do they have children, pets, in-laws, staff? Identify your avatar; an imaginary individual based on the real people that you are seeking to serve. That is the person to whom you want to attract.
2. Plan your strategy. Knowing whom you seek to serve, plan a strategy that will introduce your firm to that market. What are the best ways to place your firm in the minds of your potential clients? Develop a strategy and write it down. Don’t worry… as with all plans, we will revise as we proceed.
3. Build a website for your prospects, not your peers. Your website is the first place a prospect will land when seeking more information about you and your firm. Design your site as the starting point for an experience, not an online photo album of your favorite projects. Provide answers to the most frequently asked questions and allow your clients to easily take the next step in connecting with you.
4. Tell YOUR story. Tell your individual story. Who are you? Where do you come from? What inspires you? Why are you serving those you serve? Show images that reinforce your story. Your story, in the minds of your prospects, is your brand.
5. Be different. The author Sally Hogshead says, “Different is better than better.” In their minds, every architect designs “beautiful architecture”. They all provide “great service”. Share what makes your firm different from all the rest. What is the one thing that sets your firm apart?
6. Develop a recognizable logo. After you have determined your target market and developed your story, have a recognizable logo designed for your firm. Most of us, as architectural designers, choose to design our own logos. Consider using an independent graphic designer to design your logo. A trained designer who understands your brand may create a recognizable, memorable mark that may better differentiate you from the the crowd.
7. Blog. A blog designed to support your website will provide a platform from which to build your brand and interact with the people with whom you most want to connect. Use your blog to provide relevant content for your target market and further differentiate your firm from your competition.
8. Be found. Providing valuable content on your website and your blog will improve your rankings on Google and help you be found when your prospect is seeking your services. If you are not listed on the first page of Google Search when your prospect is searching for the keyword most associated with your firm (i.e. Westchester Architects), then you are invisible.
9. Be included. Search for online directories and blogs that offer free links back to your website and blog. In addition to valuable relevant content on your sites, Google uses high-value links back to your sites to determine their importance and placing your within their ranking system.
10. Build your list. In addition to telling your story and building your brand, your website should include an easy way for prospects to request that you stay in touch with them. Provide a valuable list of tips or a guide to your process in exchange for their email address. Building a list of people who identify themselves as your target market and are asking for you to connect with them on a regular basis may be one of the most valuable assets you will create. There are many online tools to choose from for this. I use Aweber.
11. Stay in touch. Connect with your list on a regular basis so that you will always be at the top of their mind. When considering a project or a referral to a friend, you will be the firm that first comes to their lips.
12. Provide consistent value. The information you share with your list must be high value content. It must be information they are seeking or may want to save for a future project. Sending filler content or easily obtained information will quickly cause your messages to be sent through to the spam folder, never to be seen again.
13. Go to where your prospects are. Where online does your specific target market live, work and play? Which blogs do they read? Which social media platforms do they frequent? Go there and interact with them. Don’t sell. Build relationships.
14. Start a Facebook Group. The world is on Facebook everyday, several times per day. It’s the virtual town square with networks of families, friends, co-workers and local businesses communicating and interacting on a daily basis. Facebook Groups are joined by people with likeminded interests. They actively communicate and interact around a common subject or objective. Start a Facebook Group for the the people you seek to serve and you will quickly have a way to build strong relationships.
15. Optimize your Houzz profile. For residential architects, Houzz is quickly becoming an essential element for your marketing strategy. Long before our prospects begin seeking an architect, they start to educate themselves about the process. Sites like Houzz.com allow them to organize their thoughts and collect images of building and spaces they love or loathe. Having a presence on this valuable platform and optimizing your profile for maximum exposure may lead to your next project.
16. Feed your Pinterest boards. Another image-based platform is Pinterest; a platform which allows users to create virtual tackboards and pin images from any website on the internet. Users also share and tack images found on other Pinterest boards. Developing your own profile and creating boards for terms commonly searched, such as kitchens, bathrooms, fireplaces and porches, will make it easy to share your work.
17. Encourage community. An important goal when building your online platform is to encourage a community. People like to be with other people. They tend to move in the direction of the crowd and make decisions in reflection with those which they surround themselves. When you are the one encouraging that community, you are viewed as the leader. You will have the most influence on the community’s conversation.
18. Share what you know. Using your expertise and knowledge as a design professional will demonstrate your skills and reinforce your brand in the minds of your prospects. Post informative articles on your own blog and/or website, as well as other blogs and social media platforms.
19. Offer online products and services. You’ve done all the work to get your target market to notice your blog and website. Why not provide them with products and/or services online when they arrive? Develop a course that teaches them about your process or offer documents that they can use when working with an architect. These transactions may lead to bigger commissions and will provide supplemental income on a monthly basis.
20. Be real. Whatever you do online, be real. We have all heard the saying, “People want to work with the people that they know, like and trust.” Relationships like that only happen (whether online or off) when you are being authentic and true to who you are.
21. Be nice. “Nice guys” finish first.
Question: What are your rules of online marketing?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / mtkang