How Hope Trory is Drafting Modern Marketing Strategies for Architecture Firms
From DoorDash to dry cleaners, every business has to get online to succeed in an increasingly digital world. Why are architecture firms still lagging behind?
That was the question that pivoted Hope Trory away from her Cornell architecture degree and led to the launch of her online marketing firm, HopeWorksDesign.
Today, Hope gives small to mid-size architecture firms the tools and know-how to navigate online marketing and land the customers they want.
Keep architecture recession-proof
Firms that can navigate the digital landscape to attract clients, build authority, and filter their leads have the flexibility to survive economic changes.
Watching architecture firms collapse during the ‘08 recession, Hope realized that the traditional architecture industry was desperately in need of online marketing strategies.
She recalled that her education had prepared her for great design - but ignored the business end of growing a company.
“I went out of my way to learn these things. It was not within the curriculum of architecture school,” said Hope.
When she found herself desperate to pivot in the face of a recession, she knew that other architects would be just as ready to try a new approach.
Crunch the marketing numbers
Marketing is an investment with great ROI - but you need to make sure you have the numbers to work with.
Start by tracking your profits and billable hours.
“Are you profitable as a firm? And if you're not sure, that's the problem you need to solve first.
You need to make sure that the numbers are good. You need to know what's going on in your firm. You need to know how much billable versus non-billable hours that you and your team are putting in. And you need to know it precisely,” said Hope.
Without a keen eye on your books, it’s impossible to manage a sustainable marketing plan worth paying for.
Planning next year’s marketing strategy all depends on last year.
Review your previous year’s projects to decide which projects, markets, or clients you want to reach.
“Look back at the previous year and you know, how many projects did you close on, how much money was brought in? And what were you doing for marketing? What was bringing in those projects and were they the type of projects that you really want to do? Or was it just something you accepted because you need the cashflow? You have to get straight on all of that, but once you know what your return was on whatever you did the prior year, you can make some decisions on what you want to do going ahead,” said Hope.
Your yearly review is not only about cash in and cash out. You also want to decide which projects were most enjoyable and successful - and then plan how to get more of the same.
Dig deeper into your website
When it comes to marketing, a good website is typically first on most firms’ lists.
But when you move beyond portfolio, information, and contact forms - are you making the most of that expensive online presence?
As you set up your website, you’ll need to dig deeper to plan how you’re getting visitors to your site and what you’re doing to make sure you’re in the front of a very busy line.
“The majority of the questions is off the website - it's getting people to that website. And what do you do with them? Once you've attracted these people, they're not quite ready to engage you yet. But you want to, you want to make sure that you stay top of mind. So when they are ready to engage, they will choose you over another for it,” said Hope.
1. Define your messaging
Take a step back from that sleek-looking website.
Do you know what your brand stands for? Can you communicate that message clearly to your market?
Before spending time and money on online marketing, put in the prep work to clearly define your identity and brand mission.
“We need to understand the mission behind your firm, and it needs to be clear. It can't just be some vague notion that you feel is right. You need to be able to clearly and succinctly communicate that to someone else that has no idea anything about your brand or your business, and make that clear to them,” Hope said.
But stay away from the generic and trivial. Your company does have a unique message - it’s just up to you to uncover and reframe it.
“Messaging can take a while to get the hang of, so it's not something you can just think about for five minutes and write a paragraph when you're done. You really need to talk about that,” cautioned Hope.
If tweaking your brand messaging seems like a waste of time, you may be forgetting a crucial part of your job: the human element.
As you clarify your mission and message, you’ll begin to attract clients that share your vision.
And that means clients that give your firm the business you enjoy.
“Just because someone might have a project that’s several million dollars and it's in the right location and it's the type of project that you love, if you hate the client, it's going to be horrible work. So you need to attract people that you want to be with. Business is really about people,” said Hope.
The more you share your mission throughout your marketing materials, the more likely the customers who come calling are already on your side. No miscommunications need apply.
2. Use your customers’ language
To really connect with your customers, you need to speak their language - sometimes literally.
As you develop a rough idea of who your target audience is, explore ways to listen in. Attend events, read forums, and put yourself anywhere you can hear your customer personas interact.
“You can join some of the groups that they're probably a part of and just see what they're talking about and you can take some of that as data to put in this persona document. So when you are creating marketing messages to target these people or people like this persona person that you've created, you can use their own language,” said Hope.
The more you learn your customers’ personalities, passion, and language, the easier you can create a message that hits home.
3. Filter out the best leads
There’s nothing more frustrating than a thwarted sales call. Especially if you wrap up your spiel to find out that the customer doesn’t have the budget or timeline for your firm.
Avoid wasting your time - and dashing customer hopes - by setting up a vetting process for leads before you get on the phone.
“Qualifying your leads is paramount because you don't have time to waste. No one has time to waste. And that burden is on you, because the people contacting you might not know any better,” warned Hope.
The better your vetting process is, the less likely you are to spend your morning on the phone with a client intent on building his dream house for no more than $50,000 (true story).
In the digital era, filtering leads is simpler than ever.
Customize your website’s contact form to include more than the standard information.
The longer the form - the less likely window-shoppers will get in touch.
“You have some type of form that has all of the questions that you would be asking if you were talking to them on the phone, trying to see if it's a good fit. But it's in this form, so you don't have to do the asking,” explained Hope.
You can also ask about budget or timeline preferences in your form. With drop-down responses, you can easily showcase your typical budget ranges or project start dates to gently push away unqualified leads.
Build an online reputation
Digital marketing isn’t only about the sale.
Creating content online, especially informative articles, can set you up as an authority worth trusting.
Hope breaks this process down into three steps towards long-term strategy:
As users turn to Google to ask their questions, your freely-given expertise starts a positive relationship.
“By providing that value and answering all of these questions that pop up that don’t seem directly connected - none of these articles would be saying, ‘hire us now!’ You're just giving information that they need,” said Hope.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’re really exchanging your free content for a font-and-center seat in a customer’s mind when they do need to make a choice between firms.
Looking to get serious about marketing by hiring an outside firm?
To pick your marketing firm, look at their clients first.
Do they have long-term clients? Do they operate successfully nationwide, or do they have local expertise?
No matter who you choose to work with, there’s one thing to keep in mind: the more you put into your online marketing, the higher your chances to make it big.
Join us on Thursday, October 22nd 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.
We’re chatting with Hope Livonne Trory. Hope studied architecture at Cornell University and practiced architecture in Detroit, MI, before pivoting into the marketing world and moving to NYC. Your firm’s mission is to help make this world a better place; Hope’s mission is to help you profitably do so. She founded HOPEWORKSDESIGN to help firms execute a consistent and effective marketing strategy to stay profitable regardless of the current state of the economy.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Hope about online marketing strategy for AEC firms.
- How can firms design a smart and effective online marketing strategy?
- What does a lead-generating website look like?
- How to get started with a marketing blueprint?
- and More!
HOPEWORKSDESIGN works with small and medium AEC firms to create and employ a marketing strategy to welcome consistent quality leads. Every practice is different and digital marketing for AEC firms varies from company to company. With effective online marketing, a firm will be able to successfully balance marketing activities with project work, dedicating enough time to either aspects of the business.