A/e/c Industry and Social Media Marketing

Branding Strategy Translation Into Social Media Within Architectural Services
By Kelly Steckel

In the branding process, there is a phase within strategy development called discovery. During this process, questions are asked to gain perspective of the brand from those within the organization itself, the customers outside it, and the market as a whole. The research that takes place before, during, and even after implementation has occurred, is critical in determining where the company is currently, where it’s going, and how it plans on getting there.

When an architectural firm has identified a prospective client, a similar process takes place. Research is preformed on the client’s business that includes not only understanding who they are and what business they are in, but what their mission and vision is for the future, how they intend to grow, and the culture of the organization itself. Questions are asked about their current markets, and locations; their competition, organizational structure, and the financial health of the organization overall, etc. Of course this isn’t everything, but the point I’m trying to make is that in the development of strategy in general, research is conducted that raises the most simple of questions, which are usually the most difficult to answer: “Who are we?” ”Where are we going?” and “How are we going to get there?”

In the development of a social media marketing strategy, the same applies – research must be carried out, questions asked, and strategy designed. Just within the realm of social media there exists an over abundance of marketing applications to select from, ranging from blogs and microblogs such as Twitter, to social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, etc., all of which can be utilized to advertise, create PR buzz, engage and develop relationships and brand your firm. What can be daunting for any marketer is perhaps even more so for those in architectural firms, because let’s face it, marketing still remains an underdeveloped aspect of the overall business strategy for many architectural firms.  This concept is even that much more ironic given the following statement by Peter Drucker (a.k.a. the father of modern management) – “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” And aren’t architectural firms comprised of some of the greatest innovators of modern design? So why not market that talent; that vision? I suppose that would depend on if you define yourself as a business or not? If so, then when selecting various platforms for your social media strategy, it is necessary to be able to answer not only the above-mentioned questions, but also “who” you are trying to reach so that you are marketing to the right audience.

Different market sectors require different approaches due to the fact that they speak to different audiences. For example, “demand” markets such as institutional building, comprised of healthcare and education, and “opportunity” markets, such as hospitality and retail, have very different audiences. For a large firm like HOK, one the first and perhaps the most active users of social media, who services both demand and opportunity markets, the positioning and placement of their brand using social media is (and should be) far different from a firm that primarily services residential.

As in so many areas of the web, there is a growing network of architectural communities – sites created for architects and designers to showcase their work for purposes of advertising, for project hire, collaboration, recruitment, etc. (www.architizer.com is the perfect example of this type of open community). There is great potential to build an architectural firm’s brand and grow the business using social media – utilizing sites such as Architizer, blogging, “tweeting” on Twitter, creating fan pages on Facebook, group and profile pages on Linkedin, etc.  There is also a very real danger of diluting it if (1) there is no strategy involved in the selection of applications or platforms, (2) there are no set metrics in place to determine it’s effectiveness, or (3) they are poorly managed. My favorite management guru, Peter Drucker, once wrote, If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

A successful strategy for a service organization, particularly architectural services, requires thinking about how customers perceive your actions and how they interact with you as a company and as a brand, no matter the size, to maintain brand integrity. In order to get here, strategy must first begin with examining who you are as a company, who your clients are, what messages you want to convey, where and how, and then making sure that all marketing communications are fully integrated.