Inbound Marketing for Architecture Firms
For businesses in the architectural industry, inbound marketing can help you gain traction in digital channels and connect with the right clients.
By John Becker
Even though the nature of their work is unique, architecture firms are businesses and, like all businesses, they seek to grow and reach new audiences.
Yet these firms are often hesitant to invest in marketing. In fact, many architects share the same outlook: We don’t need to do any marketing because our work speaks for itself.
It is for this reason that most architecture firms’ websites feature the same thing: Stunning renderings of new and future projects, press releases about recent awards, and some “about us” type copy that is philosophical and abstract in nature. And that’s it.
While each firm’s buildings and designs are unique, to the untrained eye of their customer, each site probably looks like every other architecture site they’ve ever seen.
This is where digital marketing comes in.
The right marketing approach can be your differentiator. Your firm can connect with people, grow its audience, fill its sales pipeline, and bring on more clients — all without compromising your authenticity or cheapening your artistry.
The approach is inbound marketing; the strategy is what we’ll cover below.
If you’re an architect, interior designer, or landscape design firm, we’ll show you how you can attract ideal clients without spending money on paid advertising or other traditional marketing methods. Inbound marketing is customer-focused and supremely effective, especially when it’s approached with a sound strategy and framework.
This article will present the basic approach we utilize with our clients. You’ll be able to see exactly how inbound marketing can apply to your unique needs.
Below, we’ll cover:
- An overview of inbound marketing.
- How inbound marketing strategies apply to architects and design pros.
- The content that will bring your customers to your site.
If you’re looking for a digital marketing solution for your architectural firm, this is the page to bookmark. Let’s get started.
Inbound marketing: An overview
At the most basic level, inbound marketing is really straightforward. It starts off with two simple ideas:
- The internet has changed the way people buy.
- Educated prospects become better customers.
Let’s break those down.
The internet has changed the way people buy
Today, when a customer is getting ready to make any purchase — whether it’s a new car or a new countertop — they start by doing research online. They type questions into search engines and explore their results. They might start out being “problem aware,” not knowing what their options are. But soon, they start to move closer to a decision. As they move forward, they look at reviews, comparisons, or any other information that will help them make a choice.
When customers have gathered the information they need, they reach out to a company or a sales rep. At this point they’re educated and ready to talk.
All of this is possible because of the internet. A generation ago, much of this buyer education was handled by the sales team. Today, it’s online marketing materials (a website, videos, articles, case studies, etc.) that help the buyer move forward.
Educated prospects become better customers
Now, when those prospects enter the inbound sales process, they have a better idea of what they want. They understand their options, the cost, and the features.
This leads to a smoother sales process and a better end result. The buyers will be happier with their choice because they were able to move toward it at their own pace.
When prospects can access educational material before they enter the sales process, some will naturally opt out, seeing that your option is not right for them. Sales reps have to waste less time with bad-fit prospects who would have become disappointed customers.
Inbound marketing is the practice of creating content that educates your buyers. This content shows up in search results by prospects who are looking to buy what you offer.
To do this, your company must produce content that answers the questions buyers are typing into a Google search bar. When your content shows up in search results, you get website traffic. That traffic becomes leads and customers.
When a company offers transparent, helpful content, potential customers are drawn to it. Inbound marketing differs from traditional marketing because it avoids salesy, self-promotional content. The goal is always buyer education.
When site visitors find unbiased, valuable content, they begin to build a relationship with the company that published it. If they read a few articles on the same website, that company becomes a brand they recognize and trust.
This content could take many forms, including blog articles, ebooks, FAQ pages, videos, infographics, and podcasts. But the goal is the same: Educating prospects so they are able to become customers.
Inbound marketing for architects
While all of this might make sense in the abstract, the application is unique when it comes to architecture because your customers are unlike customers in other industries. For one thing, prospective clients are often not the end user of your services. If a developer hires your firm to design an office building, the businesses who rent those spaces are unlikely to even know who designed their workspace.
Therefore, your target audience is plural. On one hand, you have the businesses, organizations, and institutions who hire you: developers, municipalities, universities, or other well-funded groups. On the other hand, you have end-use clients who are hiring you for residential design or remodeling. These are two totally different groups with vastly different appetites for content.
- On one side, you have large organizations funded by investors, taxpayers, or endowments. These groups might hire architects several times a year.
- On the other side, you have families, individuals, and small businesses funded with a mortgage or a savings account. They might hire an architect once or twice in their lives.
How can you get found in organic search by both? In each case, the principles are the same, but the application is different. You need content that speaks to both groups.
Producing engaging content will build your online presence and make you the go-to expert for a whole range of ideal clients.
To get started, focus on what we call The Big 5 — the five topics that should form the centerpiece of your inbound marketing strategy — and do so for all constituencies in your customer base.
‘The Big 5’: Blog topics proven to drive traffic, leads, and sales
The first thing you need to know is that your blog is not just a brochure. Most firms are used to publicizing the awards they win and the projects they complete. And while you don’t need to stop doing that, you need to begin to see your blog in a new way. From now on, the primary purpose of your blog should be customer education.
Visitors are coming to your site. Are they able to find the information they need to become customers? Are you openly addressing the big questions they have? Can they tell that you really understand the customer experience?
You should consider questions that are adjacent to your unique services. If you are a landscape architect, you can write a comparison of privacy hedges, even if you don’t sell them yourself. If you're an architect, you can write about the top 10 custom window manufacturers. You get the idea.
If each blog post can educate and resonate with your target audience, you’re on the right track.
As you write each blog post, use a search engine optimization (SEO) checklist to make sure your content can get found. Then, keep expanding your content library with more and more answers to buyer questions — just like the ones below. Be sure to organize and interlink that content so your site visitors can navigate through and find what they need.
Start by creating content focused on these five subject areas that buyers want to know about.
1. Buyers want to know about cost and financing
On top of everyone’s mind is cost, whether they’re a family planning an addition or a major developer building an apartment complex. Sure, it’s tough to say exactly what your services will cost, but customers just want a ballpark.
But when it comes to architecture, it’s not just your firm’s costs that buyers are interested in. It could be anything relating to cost, capital, financing, or taxes. Some questions they’re asking could be:
- What does a wetlands variance cost?
- How do I apply for state funding for a low-income housing development?
- Will nonprofits help fund a historical preservation project?
For individuals and small businesses:
- What do architects charge per project?
- What makes the price go up or down?
- What do building fees cost?
- What happens to the cost if my remodeling project includes lead abatement?
Answering these types of questions openly and honestly will build trust with your audience. First off, you show you have nothing to hide when you address your own costs and fees. Second, you demonstrate your knowledge by explaining adjacent costs.
When you’re answering these types of questions, you’re sending a clear message to your audience:
- We’re ready to help you get your project done, including the external details that we don’t control.
- You’re partnering with experts who can help walk you through the process and make it easier.
This helps your clients feel like they can trust you.
2. Buyers want to be able to compare their options
Customers want to put things side by side to know how they stack up, and your content should help them do that. Providing head-to-head comparisons can help demonstrate your expertise and make your potential customers feel informed to make the best choice possible.
This is an excellent opportunity to address topics adjacent to your core offerings. You could compare different varieties of wood for cabinetry, carpet types, office layouts, outdoor hardscape materials, or any of the other hundreds of choices customers might make during the design process. These could range from short blog posts full of quick tips to in-depth, extended comparisons.
If your content speaks to the questions your potential clients have, they will see your business as a trusted partner — even before they ever pick up the phone or fill out a form on your website.
3. Buyers want to know about problems and drawbacks
For individuals, working with an architect is an unfamiliar experience, which brings with it anxiety and uncertainty. To prepare themselves for the worst possible experience, buyers seek out information about problems and drawbacks of the service they’re about to contract.
Though no business is eager to address its own shortcomings, this is a great time to be frank with your audience. After all, you’re likely to address the challenges of working with any architecture firm, not just yours — so your audience will not associate the information with your firm specifically. On the contrary, they will appreciate your candor.
For organizations, hiring an architecture firm for a new development can also be a stressful situation that has them juggling input from donors or board members who likely know very little about architecture.
In these cases, covering the downsides and drawbacks helps everyone feel more comfortable.
Topics could include:
- 5 common problems with hiring a general contractor (and how to avoid them)
- Office design regrets: How to get it right the first time
- 3 challenges you’ll face when hiring an out-of-state design team
- Common funding problems for historic renovations
- 10 unexpected drawbacks of an open concept home design
And so on. You can address any topic that makes your buyer feel more well-informed to avoid common pitfalls.
4. Buyers want ‘best of’ lists
You can bet that many potential customers are starting their journey with a search engine and a question like this:
- What are the best home addition ideas?
- What is the best office space design?
- What is the best eco-friendly landscape design?
And so on. Again, even if these topics are adjacent to your core offerings, you can provide answers and start a conversation. As a design professional, you have the expertise to answer these questions and put your content at the top of search results.
After all, if a potential client is asking any of these questions, wouldn’t you want them to get the answer from you?
5. Buyers want to read reviews from previous customers
Every project your firm completes is a testament to your acumen and skill, but it’s also a testimonial for the client experience. The building or design is the culmination, but a customer review can describe the process. You should feature these “client journey” reviews on your website.
At the same time, you should publish reviews of products and services that are adjacent to the work that you do.
You might write about office furniture, kitchen hardware, outdoor fireplaces, flooring options, pool designs, or anything else that factors into the final project you complete for your clients.
After all, you are an industry expert, and your opinion could be incredibly important to a potential client considering your firm, whether they’re building an office park or a new kitchen.
Once again, your message to clients is that you can help them with every step of an unfamiliar process. If they have no idea about flooring options or HVAC systems, you will be able to guide them.
Thinking beyond The Big 5
Though The Big 5 are a wise place to start, the architecture and design industry comes with its own unique questions that potential clients everywhere want to know. These include hundreds of “What is…” and “Do I…” type questions. As you plan your content strategy, pull some team members together and brainstorm some questions your clients might type into search engines, such as:
- What does a wetlands appeals process look like in my state?
- How do I apply for historical preservation tax credits?
- What state funding is available to finance commercial development?
- Do architectural firms provide help choosing furniture and fixtures?
And so on and so forth. Just remember one thing as you strategize any inbound marketing techniques: Is the content I’m writing going to help educate a prospect?
If so, you’re heading in the right direction. Sure, your marketing strategy will need more detail than that, but this question should be your guiding light.
Once you’ve built up a library of valuable content, you can focus on creating high-value content that can help with lead generation.
Perhaps it’s a guidebook to everything you need to know about financing a home addition. Site visitors could give you their contact information to download this kind of free ebook. This way, you grow your audience and your mailing list.
Inbound marketing strategy: Email marketing
As you build your database, engage with your audience through email marketing. When you do so, focus on being helpful, not salesy. Remember to think like a customer. What kind of emails would you want in your inbox?
If your emails offer helpful, educational content, you will continue to build trust and establish relationships with your audience.
Any email campaigns you initiate should invite your customers into a conversation by providing relevant content. Help them feel well-informed and that they’re being treated fairly.
You can use marketing automation software to send the right emails to the right prospects at the right time.
The perfect website for inbound marketing
You do not need a new website to get started with inbound marketing. You can almost certainly get started with the site you have — the one with all the beautiful images.
Beware, there are many website design agencies out there that will gladly take your money and sell you a full site redesign that you don’t really need, telling you that it’s critical to your inbound marketing program.
Your current website should have all of the necessary functionality for inbound success:
- Can you publish a blog?
- Can you interlink between blog articles or use a tag system to organize content?
- Can you use call-to-action buttons (CTAs) and landing pages to capture leads?
If your website can do these three things, you’re probably good to get started.
Just remember, your website is for your customers, not for you. Focus on their problems and challenges. Speak their language. Pictures of completed projects are a great display of your accomplishments, but your site visitors need to see and understand the steps that can get them from where they are today to a finished project.
The way you do that is with quality content that answers their questions and speaks to their needs.
A customer-centered digital marketing strategy
Architecture firms have resisted traditional marketing for good reason. Nothing clashes more sharply with a design aesthetic than a billboard or radio spot.
But there are marketing strategies that can help build brand awareness and remove the impediments that are holding back business.
Inbound marketing offers a better way forward that can help you grow your audience, drive traffic, generate leads, and increase revenue for your company — all while demonstrating the ROI of your marketing efforts.
It all starts with great website content.
Exactly what that content looks like can vary based on your needs and skills. It should center around written blog content like we’ve discussed above, but it could also include social media platforms, videos, podcasts, webinars, or anything else that increases brand awareness, develops your online presence, and drives more traffic to your site.
When you invest in content creation, you put the customer at the center of your marketing, but not in a pushy way that feels like a sales pitch. Focus on helping your website visitors learn what they need to know. This way, you can fill your sales funnel with better qualified leads who will become better clients for your business.
Pay attention to the questions your team hears from existing customers and new clients. These are the questions that prospective customers are typing into search engines right now. If you can be the business to answer all of their questions, you can be their choice when they’re ready to hire an architect for their project.
And remember, you’re not bound by the limits of your unique service. Your content should help your audience make sense of all the adjacent concerns they’ll have when doing business with your firm (think: interior design, furnishings, lighting, landscaping, etc.). The more ways you can help them, the easier their buying process will be.
Wondering where to begin?