What is so different about selling design services??
“Your marketing strategy starts, lives and dies with your customer.
To develop your marketing strategy, it is imperative that you forget about
Forget about everything but your CUSTOMER!”
-Describes Michael Gerber in his book E-Myth: Revisited.
Marketing is not about you. It is about your customer.
And what your customer wants is probably very different than what you want or what you think s/he wants. This is especially true when it comes to architectural or design services. How many of us have sacrificed a beautiful, creative idea for the sake of a thoughtless demand of the client? This is exactly where marketing of design services differs from the marketing of a product. You can touch, feel, smell and at times mass produce a product. On the other hand, each design is unique to its customer.
In the case of architectural projects, they are usually more complex, requiring a higher level of personal involvement and expertise. Whereas, in product marketing the people who make the product are generally isolated from the marketing process, but architects must be deeply involved in their own marketing. Having said that, I would also say that you do not need to be a qualified ‘marketer’/ Marchitect (a word created by Stephen Emmit in his book Architectural Management in Practice)’. Instead, what you need to know is the mechanics of marketing. Few of the common dilemmas of marketing for start-up design firms are:
Lack of resources (time, money and experience)
Not getting new project continuously
Competition with more experienced firms
Choosing the method of advertising and justifying its benefits
All of these may sound very familiar if you are thinking of starting your firm or have already done so. Most of my friends tell me that the biggest barrier to marketing their architectural services is ‘Money’! But I would like to turn your attention back to the products like Pepsi or Nokia. Have you thought about how much time do they spend to create their brands appear just right? And how easy it is for their customer to miss their ads and marketing campaigns? Do you realize what it costs them? Sure, in a small business, you don’t have the money to spend the way they do. But what you surely can spend is your time, the thought, the attention, on the same questions and issues they address to.
We are in the business of creativity. Our marketing ideas, not only have to be creative, but also systematic. Marketing is a process, an investment and a commitment. But it is also the most ignored, untaught and unidentified aspect of architectural/design firms. As there is no one solution to all the world’s problems, there is no one solution to all the problems of a start-up design firm. But a conscious step needs to be taken!
Here is a 7-step roadmap that I suggest to my students and friends who want to market their small design firms:
Identify and Understand your customer’s needs. Be specific. Don’t generalize.
Carry out market research and market gap analysis. Where are your customers located? Why will they care about your services? What are the new opportunities?
Study your competitors. What can you learn from them and what mistakes can be avoided? Identify, why a customers may prefer you over your competitor.
Create a marketing budget. Identify the personnel responsible for marketing and allocate sufficient time. Carefully calculate the cost of executing your marketing ideas and allocate the budget.
Create a systematic marketing plan and strictly follow it.
Positioning. Be visible and approachable to your potential customers. Be present where your customer is present.
Review. Review your marketing process at every step and continuously improve!