How to find clients by building a brand
Architects don’t know enough about marketing and branding.
It’s not taught in design schools and only a lucky few get marketing expertise from a mentor.
When Bryon McCartney of Archmark evaluated over 450 architecture firm websites, he found that the vast majority weren’t utilizing digital marketing at all.
That means architects who do spend time building their brand will have an immediate advantage.
Bryon told us the important things that every architect should know when building their brand. Here, we’ll break it down for you step by step.
A brand is a consistent message
What is your brand? It’s one of those things that can be hard to define.
You can’t tangibly own it, but you can create it with the actions you take.
“There's two prevailing ideas,” Bryon said. “One is that branding is really about how you're differentiating yourself, how you're making yourself look unique and different from everybody else. The other is that branding is really the perception that is created about you or your firm.”
Advertising, marketing, and public relations are all different tools you can use for building your brand. What’s important is that they all broadcast a consistent message.
“We want to make sure that the messages that we're giving out, the communications that we're creating, the conversations that we're having with not only the clients, but our partners and other influencers, that all of those are aligned to the brand perception that we want to create,” he said.
Define your three principles of branding
Bryon said the first thing any firm needs to do is answer these three questions:
1. Why do you do what you do?
This first principle of branding is your purpose. It’s your ‘why.’
“Is it a legacy they're trying to leave?” Bryon said. “Do you want to create amazing buildings that bring people together? Do you want to serve underprivileged people with affordable housing? What is your purpose? Why are you doing this?”
This purpose will be something that guides your business and your content.
2. What experience do you want to create for clients?
This principle is your promise. The experience you create could also be for your employees as well as your clients.
3. What do you want to be known for?
This principle is your position. It’s your expertise. What gives you an unfair advantage? What is something your firm does that others can’t easily replicate?
Create a client journey
Once you’ve established your three principles, you’ll want to start communicating those ideas to your clients and potential clients.
To do that, you’ll need to create a story or client journey that solves the issues of your ideal client.
“One of the ways we do that is through a process that we call the ‘clear story workshop.' And clear story workshop is all about understanding who your ideal client is and then constructing what we call a client journey,” he said.
The foundation of the client journey is figuring out clients' unique pain points.
“We're trying to understand the motivations of the client and why they're going to choose one firm over another,” Bryon said. “What are some of the issues that we can alleviate for them?”
When you define those pain points and then communicate how you’ll take them away, potential clients will see you as trustworthy.
Start building relationships with marketing
A client of Bryon’s wanted to start working with animal rescue nonprofits.
After working through the clear story process, they determined how to revamp their website. They also identified which platforms they needed to use to target their ideal client.
After just a short while of communicating their three principles and networking on LinkedIn, they landed a $6 million client.
That was a quick result, but you can start laying the foundation for those types of clients, too.
“Most architects, to be honest in our experience, aren't specifically communicating what they do, the value of what they do, and who they do it for,” Bryon said.
When you create content on your website or your social media channels that communicate those things, you’re already going beyond what most architects do. But know that it will take time.
“Marketing is not something that happens overnight,” Bryon said. “You're trying to create relationships.”
Since project timelines can range from immediate to a few years, it’s important that you start building those relationships early.
The more you do that, the more opportunities you’re going to have.
The best way to find your dream projects is to be very specific about who your ideal client is and target your messages directly to them.
This is true even if your work is mainly residential.
For example, Bryon has a client that does high-end designer homes in the Bay Area. They worked together to clearly define who their target client is: venture capitalists, founders, CEOs, and professionals like doctors and lawyers.
They created personas for those audiences with details down to what kind of car they would drive.
Having that level of information about who your client is lets you both find them more easily on social media and create the right content to attract them.
“You can use that information to then go on LinkedIn and say, okay, VCs technology, and then sort out who are the leaders in the space,” Bryon said. “Who are the founders, who are the CEOs, who are the people that we want to talk to? And it's very doable, even in residential.”
LinkedIn vs. Instagram
Bryon often recommends architects use LinkedIn for finding new clients, but it’s not the only platform that is beneficial.
There are three areas he focuses on with his clients when creating social media content:
- Increasing visibility and building awareness
- Increasing your influence and authority
- Finding and attracting your ideal audience
“The reason that LinkedIn works, especially for commercial or institution, governmental, that kind of stuff, it works better for those audiences because people on LinkedIn are expecting to get contacted for business purposes,” Bryon said.
Linked in can be especially useful for precise, targeted messaging and starting conversations with potential clients.
Instagram, on the other hand, is great for building that awareness and authority that will grow your audience and client list over time.
Stick to your purposeAs you build your brand and business, make sure to regularly stop and ask, “does this align with our purpose?”
Every time there’s a business decision to be made or a potential new client, circle back to that question.
“When clients come to us, especially older clients, what we find is that there's been a history of making choices that don't align with the purpose,” Bryon said. “It leads to kind of a commoditization, because you end up competing for jobs that maybe aren't ideal for you, that don't fit your purpose.”
You end up wasting your time and energy on clients that aren’t your ideal client - and you water down your brand.
“This spreads out your expertise and your knowledge base in a way that is counterproductive, and it forces you to make compromises,” said Bryon.
When you keep your focus on your purpose, you can more efficiently build the business and the brand that you want to be known for.
A niche won’t limit youDon’t worry that a niche will limit the opportunities you have. Narrowing your focus will actually open more doors.
“People always say to me, well if I focus on a niche, that means that I'm going to not get these other opportunities,” Bryon said. “That is not the case at all. We get other opportunities all the time because of the expertise that we have with architects.”
Because Bryon and his wife are specialized in providing marketing services for architects, they’ve built a solid reputation. That has led to more opportunities both inside and outside their niche.
The same can be true for architects.
“People say, well, you do that for architects. I bet you could do that for me,” he said. “Difference is, we have the benefit of being able to say, Hmm, no, that's not a good fit for us, if it's truly not a good fit. But if it's something exciting and it's something that we really want to do, yeah. We're going to go after that. And I think architects have the same opportunities.”
Target your messaging, find your ideal clients, build a solid reputation, and then you’ll attract exciting clients.
Building a successful brand with a niche puts you in the enviable position of being able to pick what projects you want to take instead of competing for those you need to take.
When it comes to marketing, even taking baby steps on the path the branding will set you above the competition. And when a firm has a clear vision and messaging in place, the result can be unstoppable.
Join us on Thursday, September 3rd for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
For our second Best Practice webinar, we’re chatting with Bryon McCartney, Managing Partner and Chief Idea Guy at Archmark, a company specialized in Architect Branding and Marketing, and based in Estero, Florida. With over 30 years of experience in branding and marketing, Bryon has led online strategic initiatives for major clients including Clavin Klein, General Motors, Lipton Foods, and many others. His lifelong love of architecture and design brought him to Archmark, where the focus is on clients in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries.
Bryon is a featured author, podcast guest, and speaker for AIA, ASLA, EntreArchitect, Inside the Firm, and SMPS.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Bryon about the branding, messaging, and lead generation strategies and tactics architects can use to strengthen their positioning in the long-term.
- What are some of the big messaging mistakes that people make?
- Where are the best places for architects to find and attract prospective clients online?
- Bryon's thoughts on website design and using Linkedin to network and develop your business
- Much more!
The Archmark team has set a goal to bring value to 100,000 architects by 2030 by helping firms improve how they use branding, marketing, website design and lead generation to build productive and profitable relationships with prospects, partners, and promoters.