Marketing for architects

Last week I read this tweet by our friend @fedenegro from CASE:

Why do architects always base their marketing strategies based on their peers instead of potential clients? I blame it on studio

I couldn´t agree more with it.

What do you think?

Cite: Basulto, David. "Marketing for architects" 15 Mar 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 Aug 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=52959>

33 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I most certainly agree. If you’re talking about the studio at a university, we’re talking about competition at every level between your peers, the only ‘focus group’ being your studio-mates. This is certainly becoming an important aspect of upper level studio courses, and criticized/worked on just the same as the drawings for the project in some cases. Also, in this age, graphics/diagrams are publicized as much as renderings and photographs in presenting a project(BIG/OMA/etc..)The information age is at hand, and the architecture of graphics themselves is now crucial in rationalizing/conveying architectural strategies, unfortunately mostly to each other it seems!

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The reason is because most architects don’t feel like they want to position themselves purely as a service-provider, and I feel like that’s a position that’s not undesirable. Architecture encompasses the design of buildings in multiple contexts. There are those who are concerned with the art of building and constructing buildings. Others are concerned with engaging in the creation of beautiful objects. Others are concerned socially or environmentally. And some are concerned with only engaging a philosophical dialog through which architecture is the mediating material.

    But concerning marketing more specifically, it’s tough because we don’t deliver finished products to then be marketed and sold to the public, but rather we set off on creative endeavors that incorporate client/patron input from the outset. When it comes to basic aesthetics we don’t benefit from the position of objective expertise that say a doctor or lawyer would. As a result, we have to negotiate a thin line between client involvement and desires and our own aesthetic values.

    In that respect, that’s why I don’t think we can base marketing purely on the desires of a client. I think a lot of us as designers wouldn’t evaluate our success solely on the happiness of the client.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This is so true. The time has come for architects to “get real” If architecture fails to engage people then it fails as architecture. The public are no longer intimidated by architecture as something they could not possibly understand or appreciate. Having said this, the pendulum has swung so far that unfortunately clients often don’t respect the huge work it takes to create something of value. Still, architects need to work hard to regain a healthy respect for their profession. (I’m an architect by the way..)

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    We don’t market only to peers… (well at least my company doesn’t) – we just don’t widely publicise to our peers that we don’t! haha

    Fear of being labeled as ‘selling-out’ stops this, but often peers don’t drive the money… That is the fine line we walk!

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Its hard to say why… questions like this evidence how little our profesion has changed through time. In the last decades the development of media based technologies and disciplines has redifined processes in areas specially related to creative businesses, but us… we keep doing things the same way. Architectural practice still remains under the most classic and essential designers-under-commision relation, and now more than ever it is clear how it is an absolete and self supressing model.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    This is turning into a great discussion.

    I think maybe we will begin to see a divide amongst architects who define architecture as something precious, a phenomenon that occurs only with the ‘right’ mixture of many inputs, both internal and external, and see everything else as just ‘buildings’. While on the other side we will find those that see EVERYTHING in the built environment as architecture and are more concerned with finding where the line lies between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ architecture…

    The reason i bring this up is because based on this separation, we have many many architects ignoring the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of buildings that go up every year worldwide without the involvement of an architect, or a peer-approved one, anyway. Our industry is not small, we make it so, by constantly fighting to gain inroads into a tiny elite at the top of the client pyramid…

    I guess this question is not complete without also asking where does running a financially viable design office, ranks in importance to a designer. Marketing, in its many forms, is not self reflection, but instead a projection that should allow non-architects (potential clients?) insight into your thought process, your persona, your design aesthetic, your social stance, etc… I believe that those who are interested in running offices that are both good working environments for designers (i.e. well paid, life outside of work isn’t frowned upon, etc…) and are producing good work, are already taking a serious look beyond their peers.

    It is true that we do not evaluate our success purely on the happiness of the client, but the approval of our peers should not get in the way of the service we provide. Barring a few select lucky ones, the majority of architects, whether they like it or not, are subject to the business model of a service provider, and NOT that of an artist. We, for one, have professional liability.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I don’t know that our marketing strategies are based on our peers, but I do believe that we tend to judge the value of our architecture in comparison to the work of our peers. Architectural education is set up that way, so we come to believe that “regular” people simply don’t understand good architecture, and to accurately access the value of our work it must be compared to the work of other architects who “get it.” In some cases, it’s true that clients don’t understand all the jargon we use and what matters to us in design, but that’s why they hire us. In that sense, it can be seen how we do provide some type of service, and that is the knowledge we have about designing buildings, our personal aesthetic, and what makes notable architecture. The misconception though is that our worth is not based on client (or people’s) approval of the final product but by approval from other architects. In the end, buildings are made for people to inhabit, use, and enjoy… So there needs to be some kind of balance between the two realms.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    I think when more architects wake up, realize, and accept that they’re not going to be the next big STARchitect, their marketing strategy will change. Once you make that leap, which many of us are just not willing to do, why would you market yourself to your peers? Why be concerned with getting published and getting awards? Why keep trying to impress OTHER architects? Why not focus on clients who for the most part don’t care about the foo-foo discussions we have amongst ourselves? Why not try to help clients create buildings that work for them, and at the same time allow you to practice your craft?

    Ah, but what if? Right? What if I design the next Building of the year? What if I get published in this magazine or that? What if I get asked to be a guest professor? What if I win the Pritzker?

    You market yourself, and your firm, based on what you see yourself or your firm AS. And since more architects see themselves as potential heavyweights, that’s why see the marketing you do.

    At the end of the day this is about vanity and ego. Too many architects are chock full of both. Those who have moved on from this low level of thinking are the lucky ones in my mind.

    Lastly, I’m not advocating settling with self-mediocrity. I’m advocating being honest with yourself, your talent, and your capacity. Be real to yourself and who you are. Your practice will flourish!! I promise.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    From The AIA Website:

    “Whether you’re dreaming of a new home or planning a complex commercial development, the key to ensuring that your vision becomes reality is the same: Involve an architect early.”

    This is how our professional organization markets us… (and in turn their own viability) as those that can “ensure that the client’s vision becomes a reality.” Not the architect’s vision, not the project’s vision, but the CLIENT’S VISION. Architect’s are being marketed as facilitators. And Danny, whether intentional or not, agreed with this position when he said “Why not try to help clients create buildings that work for them” as if the client is driving the boat and we are either rowing or swabbing the deck. Of course we give them a building that works for them, the use of the term “helping” is where your legitimacy begins to tank. If we are to think of ourselves as a ‘service industry’ then indeed a facilitator is an appropriate title, but the polemic to this does not need to be a ‘served industry’. (For those of you posing as altruistic.)

    So here it is, Peer criticism and review is an opportunity for improving the quality of architecture as it is continually being challenged by over-zealous clients who think they know something about design because they watch TLC on the weekend. Yes it is also a dogfight for awards. And I will win.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      I think this is a very good point and I think I see where you are coming from. I don’t want to misunderstand you though, so my question to you is: are you saying we are NOT a service industry? If not, then what are we? We certainly are not artists in the sense that we are not up in an attic creating wonderful works for those who wish to enjoy them.

      Without clients, we have no work…no real work that is. Sure, we can write papers, build models and create pretty drawings. But that doesn’t make you an architect does it? Architects at some point should actually contribute to building something right? And how are we to do that without a client?

      I think your tone smacks of the “client is beneath us” attitude that I see all too often in architecture. I see this all the time, “we need to EDUCATE the uneducated client.” I don’t agree with that attitude.

      I start from the premise of, the client knows something I don’t, and I know something he or she doesn’t. TOGETHER, we create something out of nothing. I don’t feel threatened by the fact that at the end of the day, I am an employee providing a service to my client, because deep down inside we all know we’re more than that. Once again, be confident in who you are and what you are not.

      • Thumb up Thumb down 0

        The notion that we don’t need to educate our clients is not only preposterous, it’s harmful. It is the role of every professional to educate. I wouldn’t have any use for my doctor, attorney, accountant or mechanic if they didn’t educate me. It’s why I pay them, and it should be why you’re paid. And I’ll agree that architecture is a “service industry,” but I suspect we strongly disagree on the exact nature of that service. I’d maintain that if your services don’t challenge your client to learn something about architecture, then you’re doing them – and your environment, and your profession – a very serious disservice.

        Getting back to the point of the (very interesting) post: yes, some architects certainly market to other architects, but that can be a very valid strategy. Most awards, even local ones, are awarded by other architects – and the notice of other architects often raises the public profile of one’s work (no Pritzkers required). More often, though, I don’t think it’s an intentional marketing strategy: we architects tend to market using the language we know best, and one that is therefore most easily understood by other architects. It’s not always effective or even appropriate, but it is entirely natural.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    You know, when I’m at “Per Se” in NYC and Thomas Keller prepares the most delicious dish I’ve ever had I don’t care to be educated by him as to how he created it, his philosophy, or the way that his peer’s have critiqued him. Those attributes may have caused me to stop by but in that moment I just want to enjoy the food.

    Client’s don’t pay to be educated, they pay for buildings. They don’t pay for architecture theory, but without it they would have NO buildings. They don’t pay for your awards but without them, good luck getting good clients who will pay for buildings. In the U.S. a licensed architect is a legal requirement. That’s how you HELP your client… you fulfill a required role.

    And if you think that a building is the only ‘real’ work of architecture then your building’s will reflect that. The client knows nothing except that they have a problem. A problem that they can ever only weakly define. An architect has the responsibility to tell the client what their problem is (this is the only education necessary) and then discover a solution.

    On the website for “Per Se”, Keller says “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear; to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about.” If everybody KNEW what made them happy then everybody would spend the money to eat Keller’s food for every meal. Is this is Keller’s ‘deep down inside moment” lain bare for all the un-educated to see?

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      You and I eat very differently, Jeffry. When I sit down at a restaurant, I do want to be educated: I want to know at least something about the origins of the ingredients, whether or not they were sustainably produced, how they were prepared – even whether or not the kitchen staff is being paid a living wage. I do want to know these things. I have increasingly little interest in uneducated consumerism.

      I won’t pretend, though, that I don’t ever enjoy a delicious dinner without concern for those details, because I do. Given the relatively small cost and implications of a single meal, that’s an affordable indulgence. But the same cannot be said about buildings: the costs are far too high, the resources consumed too voluminous, and the social implications too pervasive. Building is an act with civic and, increasingly, global implications. The onus is on us, then, to satisfy requirements far beyond those of the immediate client.

      If we all design buildings that fills our client’s needs, that’s great – but if that’s all we do, then we’ve fallen far short of the mark. Likewise, if our only marketable skill is to fill a legally-required role, then we’ve devolved into nothing more than interchangeable license-holding technicians, and I don’t think any of us are willing to agree to that. I know I’m not.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    For any one interested in “relationships” between client and architect watch the

    A ‘CityCenter’ for the Strip
    A Discussion with Fred Clarke, Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, A. Eugene Kohn, Daniel Libeskind, Sven Van Assche, Rafael Vinoly, and Christine Williams
    03/03/2010″

    http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/events/webcasts/

    Some of you will revel in the love-fest and hopefully there are a few who will struggle to keep yourself from closing the video.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I like the discussion, but I can’t help but notice the irony that it was started by a comment from CASE, who’s entire business model is about marketing to other architects. I love CASE, and it doesn’t make it any less valid a point.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    I actually agree with what you’re saying c-dub, but I think what we mean by educate needs to be clear. Of course you want to challenge your clients to learn more about architecture and push them to achieve greater results, and if that’s what we all meant by ‘educate’ the client, no problem.

    But more often than not what architects mean is: “oh you poor thing, let me bring you into the light and rescue you from you oblivious existence.” Its frankly a condescending attitude that I daresay we’ve all either seen voiced or acted out.

    Architects should not talk down to clients. They should talk with them.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      If your point is that clients should be treated with respect, then I agree (it’s not exactly a controversial position). But Jeffry Burchard speaks the truth. I have dealt with dozens of clients with overinflated opinions of their own design ability. It’s common for people to consider themselves experts on a topic by dint of nothing more than passing exposure to it. I am often guilty of that myself, in other areas – but I hope I have the good sense to shut up and listen when someone with a lifetime of training and experience clears his or her throat.

      Frankly, I don’t consider it my job to give my clients what they want, because what they want is generally crap. Do I do it? When I can’t find an alternative, yes, I have to admit I do. But I don’t pretend to feel good about myself in the process.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      My comment appeared and then disappeared, so I’ll try again. Admittedly, my language may have been a little strong in my last attempt, so a moderator may have removed it. I’ll proceed a bit more cautiously, with my apologies.

      I agree that we should engage our clients with respect, but I think Jeffry Burchard’s point remains very valid. I have dealt with dozens of clients whose opinions of their design sensibilities were vastly overinflated, and who considered themselves experts only because they had some small, vicarious exposure to design. To be honest, I understand that, because I suffer from the same tendency to overestimate my knowledge on topics with which I have only a passing familiarity – but once I’ve decided that a professional’s opinion is valuable enough to pay for, I’ll generally defer to their more educated, experienced and considered opinion. Likewise, when I am that professional, I will offer my own more educated, experienced and considered opinion. That is my service to my client.

      And at times, I’ll offer that opinion vehemently, because I do not consider it a service to simply facilitate in getting the client what they want, especially when what clients want is so often of appallingly low quality. Do I do it anyway? I have to admit that I do, when I can’t find an alternative. But I don’t pretend that there’s anything noble in that.

      To get back on topic, this is another reason why we end up marketing to other architects: because so many of the issues that architects care about – and should care about – are simply lost on an undereducated public. As a result, we often have to turn to other architects to find any understanding. It is an unfortunate reality for a profession that has to serve up populist, lowest-common-denominator design in order to survive.

  14. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    And now both my comments show up, which makes me seem like an even bigger windbag. Sorry about that.

  15. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    back to the question: “Why do architects always base their marketing strategies based on their peers instead of potential clients?”

    nope, never happened in my company.
    our designs are rarely published, my boss avoids any “architects social events.”
    He does heavily based his marketing strategies on potential clients and as the result, during 2008-9 crisis, we are one of the very few offices that didn’t do retrenchment.

    But.. on the other hand:
    why can’t we be our own client?
    you know.. do your research; buy a plot of land, build, sell….
    of course, start small

    i already start..i do what i passioned the most: low cost housing

    i don’t care what’s in and out in the architecture world, i dont care what my peers comments, and no clients to “educate”..
    it just me and my small project, and im gonna build what i want.
    kinda fell good!

    ps: still need to keep my day job though..

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      The architect/developer model is increasingly interesting to me, for just the reasons you’ve described. Often when I’m working for a for-profit developer, I lose patience with what seemed to be overly fear-based decisions. I understand a need for conservativism in a speculative market, but there is often a real intent to dumb projects down so that no one could ever object to them, rather than to make them compelling enough to capture the interest of a few. There’s an generally-held conception that the best way to sell a project is to dilute it in order to broaden its appeal. Personally, I doubt very strongly that that is true – and I certainly don’t think it makes for good architecture.

      But, casiotimex: you still have to market. Now you’re marketing to the buyer, though, rather than the developer. Failing to market yourself properly as an architect means less (or less desirable) work, but failing to market yourself properly as a developer means a failed project and an empty, debt-laden building. The risk is far greater – as are, I think, the potential rewards. Congratulations on taking the plunge; I hope it goes very well for you.

  16. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    well, i live in a 3rd world country where the low-cost housing demand is so high, the only marketing strategy you need is to put a “for sale” sign.

    (ok, im exaggerating a bit)

    but yes, u are correct, c-dub.. with architect/developer model, i market to the buyer.

    and i like it.
    maybe because i always see myself as an indie artist: i do my art (a low-cost house with style), and people either take it or leave it..

    (i.e. ppl don’t ask an indie band like weezer to change the part of their songs here and there… )

    some sees it as arrogance.. but hey, it’s my art..

    but of course its different: the capital required, the loan, the time consumed, the construction works etc.
    thats why i do research to make sure theres a market for my product.
    and yeah: that’s why i still keep my day job.. where i market to developer and listen and do any comments they make (sigh.. but not for long i hope)


    but here is my point;
    for those who choose architecture because we want to create something from our heart, but end up do whatever those for-profit developers says:

    guys, we have other options! just be a developer urself :)

  17. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I have done bachelors degree in Interior Architecture. And I now wish to do master degree in marketing. I dont how much they will work together and if i can make someting out of it? Please help. Need some sugesstion.

  18. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I’m late to the punch on this one…but what a great discussion. As someone that has a BArch and an MBA, it really hits home. To respond to the original post – I think many architects market to or market similar to their peers because it’s all they know. They are generally architects, not business people at heart and therefore market based on what they’re exposed to/read/study – generally other architects.

    To follow up on the discussion though, there are some fantastic points here. As a marketing consultant for the AEC industry dealing with the various points of view on a daily basis – here are some of my opinions.
    1. The second you hire people or form a legal business entity – you have to mix the business of architecture with the art of it. If not, you’re doing yourself and employees a disservice.
    2. Marketing or selling is not the same as selling out. Proactive marketing is about positioning your expertise to the desired target audience. If you want to be an elitist, fine. Just learn how to position yourself to attract clients that want to work with an elitist. There are plenty out there.
    3. Becoming an architect/developer means you have to market more, not less. Selling or leasing your property is just as daunting a task and you still have to design for clients, you just don’t get to hear their opinions until after you’re done. (as c-dub says)
    4. Architects that get paid are professional service providers. (the chef analogy is a bit to B2C and pedestrian for my tastes) As a service provider of any type, you have to expect to educate your clients, and you have to expect some to think they know more than others. Doctors do it, accountants do it, lawyers do it. If you want the type of clients that value your service and you don’t want to have to educate as much, do a BETTER job marketing. Your communications can eliminate some of your up front education without you having to say a word.

  19. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This discussion is incredibly interesting to me.

    Having been for many years the head of marketing for a reputable architecture/design firm and as I am still consulting architects today on these very issues, I actually love every comment. They are very interesting and have given me some great insights into a recent proposal.

    If I may comment and add my 2 cents form a marketing perspective..

    Asking the question of what is the right marketing approach for an architecture firms is a bit like asking what is the right material for a building, and at the same time it is assuming that architecture is different to any other profession.

    This may seem strange at first and I will ask everyone to bear with me for a moment… Architecture is actually closer to a law-firm than many would think. Even better it is actually quite close to an advertising agency, ironically perhaps considering the question.

    First, anyone, in any professional, will have to ask themselves what is the actual client base they are serving… A good way to look up on what you need to do in marketing term is to look up what marketers would classify the profession architecture into…

    Broadly speaking:
    - when you’re dealing with institutional buyers you are a B2B service based firm. B2B because its business-to-business. Service based, because you’re not producing anything apart form ideas or solutions.
    or
    - when you are dealing with end-users who pay for their own building (i.e. that would happen a lot in the private home category I would think), that’s B2C services based.

    At this point I need to quickly say a few words on Branding – again please bear with me… Any marketing activity ultimately contributes to Branding, because any action, even non-action, contributes to the images that people have of you. I’m using “images” in plural because there is no such thing as an individual “image”, everyone you interact with or don’t interact with, directly or indirectly, will have several images of you and they’re all different … important to note..

    B2B Branding is mostly concerned with the technical aspects of your delivery. That’s because in most cases institutional buyers are concerned with mitigating risk (very broadly speaking everything can be broken down in a risk) and ROI (there are exceptions – to which I will get to in a minute).

    B2C Branding is a much more emotional led process where feelings and imagery is more important or at least just as important than function and technicalities.

    That then defines how MOST architects should communicate.

    If you deal with institutions, and I assume most of you are, consider yourself like a management consultant – a trusted advisor. Your communications is contents based because you need to prove that you are the right man or woman for the job, you have the expertise and the reputation and frankly nothing could stop you from finishing the job on time and in the right quality. Firms that use that approach are Gensler for example. But also Gehry uses a similar approach. He is also addressing the mitigating risk point by pointing to his highly sophisticated software. So there’re very different ways in addressing clients – and it all comes down to knowing the values of your clients.

    This now leads to the above mentioned exceptions in B2B
    - despot governments or governments that want to put their otherwise unimportant city/state on the map
    - corporations that use architecture as an extension for branding

    These leaders, or these decisions, have at least one thing in common – the building is used as an extension of an idea – either Branding or Propaganda or something to that extend. In that case you are actually providing Branding services, of sorts. It SEEMS to be closer to “not selling out” but actually when you look at the motivations driving these projects you could question that.

    There can be some architects that specialize in exactly these areas, even so a Gehry will invest in the mitigating risk issue. And as you all probably already know – there are not a lot of jobs in these areas – and they are mostly reserved to, for example, Pritzker prize winners. I read an interesting blog recently (link below), and they jokingly point out that in order to be a Pritzker price winner, statistically speaking, you need to be either an American, Japanese or European Male in his 60ies… That’s a bit polemic, but it does again re-enforce that if you’re going down that path, chances are you will not succeed. At least not in a long time.

    Also – below is an interesting article by Marshall Goldsmith in Bloomberg Businesweek on influencing decision-makers. This is about firms internally – but there’s a very interesting point about who is responsible to sell or buy an idea. It is always the role of the specialist to sell the idea and not to expect the client (or boss) to buy it:

    All this, of course, is simplified and I have, in some cases, over-simplified things just to communicate clearer.

    But I hope I was of some help..
    And I’d love to hear your opinion as well.. as, of course, I am taking a very marketing biased position here.

    Are there any oversights that you can point me to?
    Or any questions?

    Also happy to continue this conversation offline if anyone is interested… my contact details are on the website of my agency… (listed above and below)

    Best,
    Frederic

    http://www.snailsguns.com

    http://famousarchitect.blogspot.com/2011/03/75-predicting-pritzker.html

    http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jun2009/ca20090619_923770.htm

  20. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    For those of you who would like to learn effective strategies for marketing your firm using the latest internet technologies, I invite you to visit my new website Internet Marketing for Architects – http://www.internetmarketingforarchitects.com.

    As a brief introduction, I was an ArchiCAD reseller for over 20 years, and have been working with internet tools since I set up my own website 15 years ago. In the past 5 years, I have been learning and testing strategies for marketing through the internet: at first, an add-on for ArchiCAD called MasterTemplate, then later, a training course for the software called The Best Practices Course.

    I am now turning my attention to helping architects, regardless of their design software, take advantage of the tremendous opportunities to promote their design firm using their website, local search pages and directories, as well as social media. The past few years have been brutal, and now that it seems that things are starting to grow again, it is an ideal time to make sure that you are visible to potential clients as they start to search for a design professional for their remodel or new building.

    It’s not rocket science, but there is a lot to learn about optimizing your internet presence so that you are more easily found by these potential clients, and also to improve the likelihood that they will contact you (or allow you to contact them) once they visit your website.

    I will be launching a new online training course on Internet Marketing for Architects later this spring. If you are interested in this topic, I invite you to visit my website and opt-in for my email newsletter. You’ll get immediate access to a 24 minute video presentation that I recently created that gives an overview of internet marketing strategies that are particularly relevant and effective for architects and design professionals.

    Eric Bobrow
    Principal, Bobrow Consulting Group
    Creator of Internet Marketing for Architects – an online resource for architects and design professionals
    http://www.internetmarketingforarchitects.com

  21. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The idea that we don’t want educated (therefore meddlesome) clients is the standard way of thinking for professionals.

    It is dry, boring and dead. I prefer to show showing people how design works and how it can improve their lives. (sometimes kids for free) I design systems and tutorials to help me do this which is very challenging design work. That is the future- Let’s get on with it.

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