How Marketing Delivers Loyalty

In a recent marketing presentation on metrics, I opened with a slide titled “We Don’t Deliver Pizza, But We Do Deliver Loyalty.” Coupled with a few bullet points and a screengrab of a popular pizza delivery app, the slide drew some chuckles and it began an important dialogue. The purpose of the slide was to say, that while A/E marketers can’t offer coupons and BOGO specials, we have much more in common with consumer marketers than many people think. This may be hard to imagine, but let me explain.

It is incredibly common in our industry to assume that repeat business and referrals have nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with great service, top-notch design…pretty much anything on the billable side. I like to call it the Word of Mouth Myth. This myth basically says that word of mouth is not related to marketing and therefore cannot be influenced by marketing efforts. Either people will refer you or they won’t, and it’s solely based on performance. I’d like to use the pizza delivery industry as an example to show why this is wrong.

My family likes pizza. We have ordered it more than once of course, and when we do there are a number of options for us to choose from. Now, if I apply the thinking that many people in the A/E industry use regarding marketing, I would only order based on my prior experience and the advice of my friends. No amount of marketing from a new pizza company would change my mind. Additionally, and more importantly, no amount of marketing from my current, favorite pizza company would make a bit of difference either.

However, we know this isn’t true. Brand awareness, repetition and ongoing marketing campaigns are all incredibly powerful drivers for our decisions. Email marketing, branded boxes, mailings, commercials, car signs and more are not just ways for us to learn about other pizza places, they are ways to keep us thinking about our favorite one, over and over and over again. Every ad or flyer aren’t intended to get me to order right away, but they are intended to for me to make the right choice when I’m ready to order!

There are a few reasons why it is difficult to see marketing in the A/E industry in this same light. One of them is time. The buying cycle is far, far longer for an architecture client than it is for a hungry family. Therefore, it’s easy to dismiss marketing efforts as ineffective in driving action when in actuality what’s really happening is that firms are not keeping up the campaigns long enough. What may seem to be a failure was actually just ended too soon.

Another reason is a lack of comprehensive metrics. Consumer marketers kind of “have it easy” in that way. If they run a BOGO deal, they can tell quickly if people start buying. In the A/E world, we have to develop more ways to track success throughout the sales funnel because we don’t have many opportunities for a direct response and purchase to occur simultaneously. Simple calls to action to download, read more or join our list need to not only be measured individually, but also tied together so that the overall interaction with a particular client is captured over years instead of one email or event at a time. It is great that John Q. Client opened our last email, but effective marketing metrics should let me know that John opened three of our last six emails, showed up to both of our events and downloaded our whitepaper on IPD. Is this realistic to keep up with for every client? No, but that’s why strategic direction comes into play when it is time to prioritize our efforts!

When we start viewing A/E marketing from this perspective, one where our efforts aren’t just designed to drive new contracts but to engage all audiences and build loyalty, we start to see just how important marketing is. Marketing then becomes a complementary activity to project work, because the entire firm becomes responsible (and gets credit) for repeat business and referral generation.

What If Our Work Isn’t Sexy?

The architecture world is full of photos that make people drool. It’s an aesthetically-charged profession, with awesome resources like ArchDaily and Architizer making a high percentage of the profession feel inadequate.

The dirty little secret is that every project isn’t making the cut for the next issue of (insert coffee table design magazine of choice here). In fact, MOST projects don’t make the cut and most firms don’t have a Hadid, Pei, Wright, etc. at the helm. And guess what, that’s ok!

To be enjoyable, fulfilling, marketable and highly successful, your work doesn’t have to be sexy. Well, at least it doesn’t have to be considered sexy by EVERYONE. It has to be considered sexy by your potential clients and more importantly by you. That means that you’re not trying to compete with the museum design firm down the street to win the next warehouse job, even if they’re going after it against you. You just have to share your value, your skills and your experience in language that the client understands and needs to hear. You have to solve the challenges they have, not wow them with a bunch of stuff they didn’t ask for.

Mechanical and Electrical Engineering firms often get caught up in this as well, assuming that there isn’t much of a story to tell in their work beyond a few bullet points with square footage and technical info. That’s just not the case.

The story is there, and it’s what your clients and partners need to hear to select you for the next project. It’s explaining your project scope and effort as a series of challenges that are similar to the ones they are likely examining in the next project RIGHT NOW. It’s being bold enough to use targeted, client-specific language that may alienate others but will set you apart as an expert in their project. It’s realizing that a photo and description of a huge data center or server room may put some people to sleep, but will impress the clients that have been trying to solve their uptime challenges for months now.

Some people like glasses, some like brunettes, some like surfers, some like librarians. Whether your portfolio represents the sports car or the smart car – your clients will think it’s sexy if you position it right, and you’re talking to the right clients.

3 Cool Competitions During #AIA2012

The 2012 AIA National Convention is just days away here in DC. While I can’t say enough about how fun the tours and Host Chapter Party are sure to be, there are also some really unique competitions worth highlighting. The competitions range from honoring High School students to recognizing architects from some of the largest firms in the country – quite a diverse group of designers!

30x30x30 – Student Design Competition: Architect’s Workstation of the Future

This competition “takes me back” to architecture school. It poses a fantastic challenge for students from six area universities to create an architect’s workstation of the future with some very specific design criteria.

  • 30 Sq. Ft: The installation must fit within a foot print no larger than 30 square feet, with a maximum dimension of 5’- 0” in the smaller direction – a challenge in the judicious use of space.
  • 30 Dollars: The mock-up submission must cost $30 or less to create – a challenge in the re-use and re-purposing of materials.
  • 30 Miles: All materials used in the installation must be sourced within 30 miles of your school campus – a challenge to be local.

The entries will be judged on the Convention floor.

Could Be: The AIA|DC Awards for Unbuilt Architecture

This year is the fourth year of the AIA|DC Unbuilt Competition. The winners of this year’s competition were announced last month and are now on display in the exhibition Could Be: The AIA|DC Awards for Unbuilt Architecture at the District Architecture Center’s SIGAL Gallery. The awards recognize and celebrate projects that have been prevented or delayed from realization, as well as concepts that are entirely theoretical.

The exhibition includes winners from the previous three years of the program as well, and is organized by the National Building Museum and presented in partnership with The American Institute of Architects, AIA Legacy, ARCHITECT Magazine, Hanley Wood, the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC), and the Washington Architectural Foundation. Award winning projects will be displayed at the District Architecture Center’s SIGAL Gallery until June 30th, so make your way off of the convention floor to go take a peek!

2012 Constance Whitaker Maffin Memorial Competition

The Washington Architectural Foundation and the Constance Whitaker Maffin Foundation will present the 2012 Constance Whitaker Maffin Memorial Competition Award to a student from Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (Phelps ACE) High School during the convention. Students from the DC high school, their families and faculty will attend the award ceremony, and competition entries will be on display prior to the awards ceremony.

This competition required students to design an outdoor performance space on the Southwest Washington waterfront. The overall goal of the competition is to raise awareness among students about the built environment and public space. The competition also provides students experience in planning and design, motivates them to use analytical skills and creativity in problem solving and inspires community action.

The 2012 Constance Whitaker Maffin Memorial Competition Awards will be presented at 3 PM on May 18 at the AIA|DC Salon, Booth 2627.

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

My son has recently become a huge fan of Star Wars, which means I have recently become a huge fan of Star Wars. I guess there are plenty of worse things, right?

The other night we were watching Episode IV (what our generation knows as the actual first Star Wars) and I caught a scene that had me laughing until I cried. A stormtrooper walks through a doorway and clocks his head on the door. Here it is, for your enjoyment.


I still can’t watch it without a chuckle.

Anyways, the reason I’m sharing it (besides spreading the joy) is to pose a question. Star Wars had a resurgence in popularity to a whole new generation which allowed them the chance to edit this scene upon re-release. But Lucas’ team didn’t. Why?

My vote, in marketing terms, they knew their target audience. They knew this scene probably makes the movie BETTER to many people, instead of worse.

When it comes to branding, and understanding your target audience – a great brand goes way beyond the normal “our people”, “responsiveness” and “good design.” It has to do with the small details of your firm that you may not even necessarily control, but your clients can’t do without.