A/e/c Industry and Social Media Marketing

How the marketing of an architectural firm differs from other professional services and the role of social media.
By Kelly Steckel

In 1972, restrictions were lifted on an architectural firm’s ability to market their services. To this day there still exists a limited amount of literature on the topic despite it being an essential need of an organization to generate business. One possible reason for this is that an architectural firm isn’t just providing a service like engineering or construction management, but a form of art – one that has the ability to transform our world and shape or re-shape the way we live. Walter Gropius once said, “Architecture begins where engineering ends”. I believe what he meant by that statement is similar to what David Koren was referring to in his book entitled “Architect’s Essentials of Marketing,” which he wrote in 2005 for the AIA. In it, he commented that though engineering and construction management are very closely related, that in marketing architecture “there is an opportunity to inspire and engage clients on a far deeper level than in engineering or construction or accounting or law” due to an architect’s artistic ability to compliment a client’s personal vision and inspire. Isn’t that now possible through social media?

Today we are swimming in the sea of Web 2.0 technologies, namely social media, which is comprised of wikis, widgets, blogs, micro blogs, chat, video sharing, and social networking, to name a few. McKinsey Quarterly has been conducting a study over the past four years to determine “How businesses are using Web 2.0: A McKinsey Global Survey” http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/How_businesses_are_using_Web_20_A_McKinsey_Global_Survey_1913. Amongst a response group of approximately 1,700 executives of various industries, regions and functional areas, companies reported a steady increase in their adoption of Web 2.0 based applications to interact with their customers: 45% (2007), 49% (2008), 52% (2009) and 63% (2010).

The studies also revealed that blogs and social networks were responsible for a strengthened link between the companies and their customers, having doubled in usage. These technologies were found to provide not only an economical method of connecting to customers due to the fact that most are more or less free, but also enable a company to target and tailor their searches to specific customer groups, customizing their messages to that audience. The result of those said initiatives allow companies to strengthen the relationship they have with their customers and therefore develop a deeper understanding of the needs and wants of their target market.

Robert A.M. Stern was once quoted saying that “the dialogue between client and architect is about as intimate as any conversation you can have, because when you’re talking about building a house, you’re talking about dreams”. The correlation here is that whilst an architect can be categorized as an artist or a visionary, an architectural firm is a business which has historically acquired projects/clients based on the personal relationships that they have established with their clients, the dialogue that has been generated and the trust that has been built along the way. Social media technologies such as blogs and social networks have been revealed as being responsible for strengthening these very types of relationships due to the two-way dialog they allow for. If the point is for an architectural firm to engage clients at a deeper level, and social media can allow for this dialog to potentially form into a relationship, then it can be argued that architectural firms could certainly benefit from the use of social media marketing.

It goes without saying that the social media marketing strategy for an architectural firm should differ from B2C, B2B, and other professional services including engineering and construction management companies. It should allow for that vision and artist value to be communicated. By no means am I suggesting that this is an easy task. But in today’s marketing evolution, which is filled with a multitude of platforms available to engage your clients, both present and future, one cannot afford to be passive or silent. Architectural services may be different, but like all other businesses, can benefit from social media. What will determine success is how they do it, how it’s integrated into their overall marketing strategy and how its effectiveness is measured. This, and the value of each platform will commence in following blogs.