How Architects Can Market Themselves More Effectively


Recently, I had the need to research information on architecture firm websites and, after randomly visiting about three dozen sites, I began to notice something in common between them.

(The websites that I visited belong to firms that are on Architectural Record’s Top 300 list. These firms are located across the country, focus on various areas of design and engineering, and generate between $7 million and $1 billion in revenue.)

First, none of these firms, none, use video as part of their digital or, more specifically, website marketing strategy. Instead, most every firm had some sort of slide show predominately placed on their home page, which consisted of a rotation of static project images. Second, most of these websites had nothing to offer me, or a prospective client for that matter, in the way of news, articles, downloads, thought pieces, etc. (i.e., unique content). The only content that was presented, either on the home page or secondary pages, was information about the firm’s history, leadership/staff, projects, press mentions, news, awards and design philosophy (all somewhat standard information).

As I made these observations, I began to ask myself, how do these firms plan to differentiate themselves versus the competition, specifically as it relates to being on the Internet? How do these firms plan to generate business development leads or interest, in general, if there is no content being offered? And, how do these firms plan to make their intangible services (i.e., design and construction management services) that much more tangible without offering any kind of interactive experience?

In the architectural field it seems as though the de facto standard for website design is to show static images of finished projects in some sort of slide show. While a finished project image might be beautiful to look at and admire, it does little, if anything, to fully illustrate and or explain how the firm was able to design and build a new structure, or restore, preserve or reuse a structure that was already built. With video, however, an architectural firm can tell an entire story about a particular or high-profile project, and walk the viewer through the design process, methodology, philosophy, etc. from start to finish. In addition, the firm can speak to and highlight any particular obstacles and or unusual challenges that were experienced during the project, and further illustrate to a prospective client how proficient they are in solving problems. Sure, static images can convey a story or message, but not in as much detail and with as much control, as with a video.

Another great advantage video offers over static images is that in a video the architect’s personality can be seen, heard and felt by the prospective client. In a service industry like architecture, the chemistry between client and firm is key, and if personalities don’t jive from the onset chances are a prospect won’t turn into a client anytime soon. So, why not introduce personality (the brand’s and or an individual’s) into the marketing and business development process sooner than later? Doing so, will save both parties time and effort in the long run.

In regard to content (non-project specific), most firms offered nothing on their home page for me to read, click on and or download. Forget, for a moment, that the lack of content from one firm’s website to another offers no real differentiation, but, more importantly, how does a firm plan to teach and or inform a potential client about itself and the perspective it takes on design and the built environment? If there is no content of value, worth and relevance to a prospective client, does the firm really believe it will be successful in generating new business development opportunities through its website? To go even further, the question can then be asked, why bother building and maintaining a website if it’s not positioned to generate traffic and business development leads? What other purpose does it serve?

By offering fresh, relevant and unique content, a firm is able to distinguish itself from the competition and provide a way to actively engage, interact and stay top of mind with a prospective client. Content also lends itself to being shared among others (i.e., word of mouth). In an industry where so much business is done through referrals, content can help to foster the sharing of experiences or insight, and make these very referrals happen.

If an architectural firm is able to make use of video and provide content above and beyond that which is purely project related (e.g., thought pieces, studies, expert opinions, news article commentary, new hires and promotions, etc.) they will put themselves in a much better position to establish new leads and differentiate themselves from the competition. While all of this certainly takes time, effort and resources, it is no different than the marketing work which is needed for most any other product or service in the marketplace. Additionally, a firm’s presence and strategy on the Internet should be seen as only one aspect of a more comprehensive marketing plan.

2 thoughts on “How Architects Can Market Themselves More Effectively

  1. An architect can invest a lot in a website. But, one of the problems I have observed is that very few people seek out architects online! In the private/light commercial/residential sector, almost all architects are hired by word of mouth referral. In the public sector, there is a qualifications based interview process, where only the “players” (those with expertise in certain building types, can compete. Real estate developers rarely do online searches for architects as they know who to go to for their needs.

    Instead of asking “how good can I make my website?”, the profession needs to ask, “How can we point people to architect websites?” In the custom residential sector (which I am most familiar) many are going to builders first! They simply do not know they can hire an architect directly, nor do they see the benefit of doing so. The AIA would do well to conduct in depth marketing survey’s among those who have built houses inquiring if they hired an architect directly, and, if so, what their experience was?

    I think architects and architect marketing endeavors think people search for architects with the same sophistication an architect would use. Yet, it is rarely the case as the general public is poorly informed as to how architects work!

    • Edward, thank you for your comments. I agree, most private and public sector architects are not hired based on their online presence but, in today’s world, a company’s website acts as a marketing anchor where many different marketing, sales and business development campaigns and activities tie back to, or should. Yes, I agree, firms need to figure out how to push/pull prospective clients to their website, and this can come from co-branding, public relations, speaking engagements, trade association membership, social media, etc., and if all or part of this is to be successful then the website needs to be as complete, value-add, relevant, different and as engaging as possible, hence the thoughts/comments about video and content. With all things equal, am I going to want to work with an architect whose website is dated and staid, or am I going to want to work with a firm that is modern, thought provoking, different and can relate their personality, work ethic, design approach and ability to problem solve?

      Yes, websites come with an expense, and I’m not saying that firms need to invest heavily in them, but they can invest in trying to make them different and less traditional and standardized. This is the way financial services firms used to operate, now look at the major banks and it’s almost difficult to see them as a bank anymore. Why, because they are looking beyond the traditional, and their competitors, and trying to make themselves different.

      If I may comment on your website…you show projects and talk about yourself, but you don’t tell me how you are different and what makes your process or design approach any better, any more cost-effective, etc.

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