I’m not particularly fond of the term marketing strategy, and never have been. In fact, hearing it used would make me run for cover — call me paranoid, but who knew what “strategy” ultimately lay in store against me? What’s more, I generally liked our subscribers and advertisers at Design Times which I cofounded rather un-strategically in 1986. I wasn’t about to start plotting coordinates for strategic bomb runs that would somehow “target” this loyal, peaceful design community, no matter what the payoff.
So what was the alternative to adopting a marketing strategy for my target markets? Winging it might be a way to describe this option. “If you stay in the traffic long enough, you’re going to get hit,” advised my Dad at one of our tablecloth lunches devoted to business. Forget strategy, just stay in the game. Such advice coming from an old-school industrial real estate man struck me as way too vague. While the notion of strategizing felt too militaristic, standing in traffic waiting to get hit seemed downright suicidal.
The challenge for many architects today is to find new business in a human-centric, non-aggressive way without leaving themselves open to complete chance. Casual, conversational social media marketing done right is more about making likes, if not love, than making war on prospects. In which case, what social media platforms are best for architects and what are some ways of getting to know those prospects before addressing them?
- Promote Facebook Pages for Residential, LinkedIn Pages for Commercial. “If you think Facebook is just for kids, think again,” advises Ben Landers, CEO of Blue Corona, a digital marketing company in Maryland with approximately one-third of its two hundred clients in the building sector.
“If, for some reason, you screw up on a project, chances are your client’s not going to take the time to call you directly. But he may not hesitate to post his gripe to his 5,000 best friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You will need to try to make it right —and right away. Conversely, if you design, say, a nice kitchen renovation for someone, the first thing she’s going to do is post a photo of it on her Facebook page, crediting your work. Facebook has become a giant Angie’s List full of pics and pans. To not have a Facebook page is like not answering the phone.”
For architects and engineers doing commercial work, however, Landers recommends LinkedIn over Facebook, “because that’s where commercial clients congregate. You can sign on as an individual as well as have a company page, but whatever you do LinkedIn’s a great platform for addressing influencers and decision-makers.
“Let’s imagine you were to create and share an update on how you are using a new BIM technology to fine-tune library lighting. That update may go to only five people, a small percentage of your organic followers: friends, relatives, employees, vendors. But if you promote that update properly, the investment can pay off handsomely.”
For example, he says, “You can promote your ‘Your update “Five Essential Library Lighting Hacks,’ to all 71,086 members of LinkedIn’s University of Michigan alumni group if the Midwest happens to be your geographic base. Also, you can add all 6,990 members of LinkedIn’s Education Group, plus all 34,791 LinkedIn members who have “School Administrator” in their titles, plus all 47,437 official ‘Design Influencers’ — you get the idea.”
Landers cautions that while sponsoring LinkedIn updates are a good way to go, it’s important to remember the difference between promoting as in sharing information in a casual, conversational way and abject, car-salesy self-promotion. “It’s important to remember,” he says, “what prospects are saying these days, ‘I don’t want to do what you want me to do, I want to do what I want to do!’”
Blue Corona client Wentworth Studio in Washington, D.C., has an active, resource-filled Facebook Page that informs without being pushy. In addition to treating Facebook as the huge Angie’s List it has become, with its continuous real-time pics and pans, Wentworth freely offers up detailed trade secrets on an ongoing basis. Its latest post: What is the best bathroom flooring? takes the trouble to devote a paragraph to each option critical to homeowners: vinyl, wood, stone, and ceramic. Such generosity of information exemplifies the Golden Rule of social media ‘netiquette: you give, you get. And yet how many times do we hear the sneer around the water cooler, “All they want is free advice!”
Software such as Sprout Social and Hootsuite will tell you when your name or brand is mentioned, and the software does it across a wide range of social media platforms. When you do get a mention, says Landers, “it’s really important to let the person know how much you appreciated her comments about your work.” In other words, if you find yourself in the whizzing traffic of our culture, it helps to get your signals right.
- You’ve chosen the best platform. Now, what’s the best picture? It’s perplexing and vexing having to sift through the options, thousands of drop-dead architectural images, trying to divine which will most resonate with prospects — should one feature a photo with stone, vinyl, wood, or ceramic, a vignette or an entire space, trees outside or blue sky?”
You could try getting an answer by a close examination of chicken livers, or by phoning up a thousand innocents with a survey as they are about to sit down to dinner—or better bet, just go Cuckoo. Cuckoo from Adhark is a breakthrough software program that will advise you what materials, colors, and backgrounds your prospects favor, as well as all kinds of interesting details about their habits, their friends, and their affiliations by analyzing social media data. For Cuckoo, social media comprises infinite constellations of focus groups in which to test your marketing before going all out.
Here’s how it works: Start with a single topic on Twitter marked with a hashtag: #kitchendesign, for example.
Run the fans and followers of #kitchendesign through Cuckoo, asking questions like you would of any focus group in real life and find out what you need to know. Go deep. As Cuckoo’s founder Jehan Hamedi pointed out on NECN News/Boston the other day, you have to go deep, because sheer numbers can be deceptive.
While Donald Trump, for example, can boast of more than ll.6 million highly engaged Twitter followers, Hamedi armed with his Cuckoo program found that many of those followers were actually Trump hecklers connected to anti-Trump sites. He also found that while there are merely 8.8 million hashtag Hillary Clinton followers, those followers are far more connected to other people and organizations, as well as many celebrities (whatever that means).
This thorough social media analysis can potentially drive a person cuckoo with anxiety. Will the NSA, Russian hackers, and snoopy neighbors soon learn I have a weakness for purple stripes, one can’t help but wonder? On the other hand, finding out as much as you can about an architectural client’s likes and dislikes has always been essential. I’ve interviewed architects who have moved into their clients’ homes except to sleep, double-checked their sock drawers for favorite patterns, taken them on world tours of major buildings “just to get some feedback.” Only then do these architects make that proverbial back-of-the-envelope sketch.
How, then, can you know your prospects and clients intimately, like in the old days, which occasionally involved weeks and months of interviews, preceding that first back-of-the-envelope sketch? Without going to all that trouble escorting clients on world tours, Hamedi can now inform you, among other things, what is the preferred color for followers of #kitchendesign. (Just for fun I checked the kitchen floor shown on the site of Cuckoo client Studio Studio 3877architects in Washington, D.C. Hint: it’s not a marble one.)
Now let’s say hypothetically that Cuckoo also comes up with another morsel regarding #kitchendesign followers: they happen to be crazy about organic meats. If so, why not explore reaching out to organic-meat-eaters in your town to see if they’d be interested in your latest kitchen remodels?
“The beauty of an architectural design is always open to interpretation. It may look cool, but there is a lot of room for error and waste,” says Hamedi. “With Cuckoo we are now entering a data-driven creative age. It’s enough to give you goosebumps.”
I’m not sure my Dad would have had goosebumps if he were still around. After all, he did very well just staying in the traffic until he got hit with a few big clients. As for the rest of us today, the notion that social media marketing can relieve us from chicken-liver-deciphering is both exciting and comforting. We now know where to start looking for great design clients online. Not only that, once we find them, we can now understand where they’re coming from before making too many wrong assumptions based on the patterns in their sock drawers.
Ben Landers and Blue Corona: http://www.bluecorona.com/
Wentworth Studio: http://www.wentworthstudio.com/
Jehan Hamedi and Cuckoo: https://cuckoo.io/
Studio 3877: http://www.3877.design/