Marketing 101

marketing magic

What was it?

Part one of an all-day seminar we attended late last month, presented by marketing guru Winston Marsh and held at the State Library for a group of 20 – 30 architects, mostly small practitioners. Beginning with the plain-spoken promise that good marketing will help us earn lots and lots of money, the seminar provided a series of challenging ideas for connecting with new clients. We will discuss part two of the seminar, Cost Planning 101 presented by quantity surveyor Geoffrey Moyle, tomorrow.

Marsh was an entertaining as well as informative public speaker. He dangled alluring tales of explosive business success, the pots of gold tantalisingly real, then dissected the marketing strategies that underpinned them. He advocated a significant paradigm shift from the way architectural services are typically sold, his entire presentation underpinned by a single concept:

Marketing is not about you, it’s about your client.

What was discussed?

Marsh introduced the concept of the loyalty ladder, a marketing tool invented by Neil and Murray Raphel in 1995 that identifies the importance of relationships in the growth of a business. It recognises that any stranger thinking about commencing a building project has the potential to develop into a client, or even better, an evangelist who works to seek out further clients on our behalf:







The purpose of marketing is not just to attract new clients, but to assist in the advancement from any and to any rung of the ladder. Marsh distilled this process into the three devices we’ll need to create, maintain and improve relationships with our clients:

three devices

A device to generate an endless supply of prospects

Let’s say we do most of our work within a particular municipality. In the City of Yarra there are around 80,000 residents or 30,000 households[1]. Based on our empirical observations from living and working in Carlton North, we would say that 1 in 100 of these are at any given time building or renovating. This means there are 300 suspects within spitting distance of our studio who might benefit from our input.

Thus the first task of marketing is to turn suspects into qualified prospects, that is, people who want what we do, have the authority to make decisions and the money to spend on our services. As Marsh pointed out, the biggest impediment to achieving this transition is awareness: most people don’t know who we are. Having marketing material like a website, business cards, site banners, advertisements etc. is not enough, we need to target them. To unravel how we might go about doing this, we should start by asking ourselves three key questions:

Who are our ideal clients?

Why should they choose us, rather than choose our competitors, do it themselves or do nothing?

How can they find out about us?

Understanding the characteristics of our ideal client is essential. Marsh encouraged us to be specific: gender, age, family situation, car ownership, business position, personal wealth, location. The more we know about our target audience (or suspects), the better we’ll be at focussing our efforts on their specific situation. Here Marsh introduced the principles of AIDA:


If we were to analyse the way most architects structure their marketing material, we would quickly discover that they ignore at least three of these principles. Marsh furnished examples that were instead driven by them, including advertisements in local papers, websites and business cards. All demonstrated the ability to:

Grab a suspect’s attention. Marsh suggested we use a headline that speaks about our target suspects, not us, for instance, Thinking about renovating? or If you need help designing your dream home, you’ve come to the right place!

Develop the suspect’s interest. In an advertisement, this might be three or four paragraphs that amplify the headline. They should tell a story, be written like we talk and, again, be about our audience, not us.

Create desire. This could be images of our work, sexy spaces that make the suspect want one of their own. They key here is to understand that like breeds like: we shouldn’t use images of libraries to win cafe projects.

Establish a direct course of action. Here, Marsh advised that we “offer something of compelling interest and value”, for example, Call now for The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Renovating.

A device to make and maximise the sale

Once we have a suspect on the phone, they’re officially a prospect and we must now begin the delicate work of advancing them yet further up the ladder into a client. Marsh made a few phlegmatic recommendations, things like having a script to follow and a checklist of information to obtain. More instructively though, this is where understanding both our strengths and weaknesses, and being able to articulate the answer to, Why should our ideal client choose us? is critical.

Once again, Marsh encouraged client-focussed specificity. Instead of,

We’re great designers.

We’re award winning architects.

We should say things like,

We are a small design studio that listens to our clients. You will always be able to get one of the principals on the line.

We have many years experience in the Carlton North area and know everything there is to know about its town planning requirements.

We need to go a step beyond grabbing the attention of the prospect, we need to provide “meaningful propositions and specific examples.”

As important as understanding our virtues is to understand our weaknesses. Here Marsh asked us to consider negative aspects of the architectural profession’s collective reputation, perceptions like how expensive we are, or how our building projects run over time. Instead of ignoring this herd of elephants in the room, Marsh endorsed facing it head on:

Prospect: Your fee proposal is very expensive. We’ve received a much cheaper price from a draftsperson.

Architect: Is cheap [pause] important to you?

Prospect: Well… I just don’t understand how you can be so expensive.

Architect: Of course, you get what you pay for, so let me explain what our service includes.

The message here was clear: there are many options for a prospect to consider as an alternative to engaging our services. We are competing against builders, building designers and draftspeople. We are also competing against the prospect taking the project on herself or, most commonly, deciding that it’s all too difficult and not doing anything at all.

Luckily, when someone wants something, she becomes “a ferret for facts and conscious of detail.” It’s our job therefore to educate, inform, explain and lead: in effect, craft our message so in the eyes of the prospect, we are not just a service provider, but an expert in our field. We need to communicate the benefits of using an architect, the value a client receives by deciding to engage us, the expert. We can do this via offers of compelling interest and value, addressing the elephant in the room and the use of testimonials.

A device to maintain and build the lifetime relationship

The final step of Marsh’s marketing strategy relates to how we engage with our clients once their projects are underway and / or complete. We’re not sure where he obtained the figure, but Marsh noted that 92% of any professional’s clients come via word of mouth, making it important we push those we have up the final one or two rungs of the loyalty ladder, into advocate or evangelist territory.

Essentially, this means maintaining a database and staying contact. A newsletter that shows past and potential clients what we’re up to, updates on new content added to our website, and Christmas cards are all good examples of nurturing the lifetime relationship. Marsh discussed a few ways that generating referrals can be achieved:

Ask a client for a referral

Offer a reward e.g. a discount on future services

Make the client say, Wow!

Marsh suggested getting in contact every couple of months, a piece of advice echoed by Moyle, who maintains that the more often someone receives an invitation or piece of information, the more likely they are to act on it.

What did we learn?

In short, a great deal. We took pages of notes during Marsh’s presentation, and have only been able to capture a fraction of it here. Marsh made a number of challenging suggestions, many of which will require considerable effort to execute. His appeal to the attendees was that we undertake at least one of them, make at least one change. Reflecting on his list of suggested actions, we hope to achieve at least a few, including new site banners, business cards, a newsletter and a database.

It’s important to acknowledge that the examples of Marsh’s recommendations were not pretty. They might have been suitable for a local plumber in the days of the Yellow Pages, but for design-literate architects in the information age, they were cheesy and unappealing. According to Marsh however, they were extremely effective. He noted that slick and stripped-back websites are fine if what we’re after is a bit of professional masturbation, but if what we want is to win clients and earn money, we need to change gear. His marketing strategies talk to, not at, the people who might be thinking about paying us to work for them. For residential clients in particular, who have typically never worked with an architect before, this conversation must be framed in language with which they can identify. By definition, it will be language far removed from the sort we use with one another.

Thus we arrived at the following epiphany:

How we think about our work and how we sell our work are two separate issues.

We encourage you to attend the next instalment of Marketing 101 yourself, particularly if you’re interested in learning about the reams of additional advice not covered here. Moyle and Marsh are planning new seminars for 2014. They will repeat those discussed here, plus add Marketing 102 to continue the discussion and address topics not already covered. Once confirmed, details can be found on Moyle‘s website.


[1] Based on research we recently completed for an unsolicited urban design project we’re undertaking, Streets Without Cars, which found the average household size in Carlton North to be 2.8 people.

Image sources:

  1. The magic of marketing, Winston Marsh’s Ideas Emporium. Author unknown
  2. Three devices for good marketing. Author’s own image

Spam comments

What are they?

3,540 unrequested, irrelevant and nonsensical comments that have arrived at Panfilocastaldi in the 22 months of its existence. We received the following example earlier today and could not bear to delete it without sharing its utter absurdity with the world. The words are (mostly) English, yet strung together they barely even conform to the basic grammatical rules of the language:

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Say Yes Australia

What is it?

A new ad campaign, viewable here, that accompanies the endorsement of the Labour Government’s proposed carbon tax by a group of 140 prominent Australians. Despite the Opposition’s vehement denouncement of the tax, former Liberals leader John Hewson is one of the 140.

However, it is Cate Blanchett, Australian actress and active supporter of a greener future, who has come under heaviest media fire for appearing in the ads. She has been condemned, somewhat hypocritically, by various conservative voices for being too rich to be in touch with the needs of normal Australians.

The voices, none more vocal than Opposition leader Tony Abbott, are the same as those who oppose the tax for the burdens it will place on the average Australian family (this despite the Government’s pledge to direct 50% of the revenue raised by the tax towards assisting those self same families). Their argument is that Blanchett, an individual of considerable means, should not stick her nose in a debate that’s really about the big bad Government slamming yet another tax on the little Aussie battler.

Is it just us, or are the ironies so thick in all this we could make soup out of them?

So what do we think?

We suggest that the voices are attempting to muddy the discussion on the carbon tax by misdirecting our attention towards the totally unrelated issue of whether successful Australians have the right to get involved with politics. This is absurd: be it Pamela Anderson and PETA, Bono and Live 8 or Hugh Jackman and the Global Poverty Project, celebrities the world over have always promoted causes close to their hearts (indeed, there is even this website dedicated to tracking the philanthropic activities of the stars). Does Blanchett not have the right to voice an opinion, to use her fame to influence the opinions of others in a direction she feels is both positive and important? In a country dedicated to the freedom of speech, that others are attempting to censor Blanchett is simply preposterous.

The controversy over Blanchett’s involvement with the ad campaign has unfortunately obscured a far more important dimension, its message: that by putting a price on the carbon released when fossil fuels are burned, the price of those fuels will explicitly take into account the environmental damage caused by their use. This is not the GST, a tax whose primary purpose was to increase government revenue. This is a tax with a larger social agenda in its sights, the first big step towards our country participating in a global economy that values the longterm health of the natural environment.

Read this article for general discussion on the proposed carbon tax, and initiatives currently underway in other countries.

Traffic light health warnings

What are they?

Discussed this morning on talkback radio, the Obesity Policy Coalition is lobbying government to introduce regulations that would require traffic light labels on the front of food packaging and fast food menus. A red traffic light label would mean high levels of sugars, fats or salt, an orange label would mean medium levels and a green label low levels. This is in response to a study performed by the group into the effect packaging has on parents’ buying habits. According to the study, parents are twice as likely to buy a product that has healthy-sounding words on its package like “nutrients” or “fibre” and two a half times as likely if the product is also endorsed by a sports star.

What do we think?

This is yet another example of the Australian Nanny State trying to regulate positive lifestyle decisions into its populace. Rather than trusting parents to be capable of ignoring marketing hyperbole, the very idea of the traffic light labels reveals the implicit expectation that parents are too stupid to look after the best interests of their own children.

So what if an unhealthy food is backed by a sports star or a cereal box has the word “fibre” splashed across its front? We live in the information age, one where parents must learn to do what their children have been doing from the moment they learned to pick up a computer mouse: to filter information. Food packaging already lists its contents’ key nutrient indicators; do we really need them to also be festooned with garish traffic lights that render in lowest-common-denominator graphic format what anyone with half a brain can already learn just by reading the back of the box?

Direct advertising

What is it?

A form of advertising pioneered by the likes of Google and Facebook that tailors adverts to users. Rather than broadcasting an advert to millions of mostly disinterested users, direct advertising limits the broadcast to the advertised product’s demographic, reaching fewer but potentially more interested users.

Google is a blunt tool for such tailoring, utilising users’ recent search patterns to make a rough guess at where they live and what they do. Spend a bit of time searching for used cars online and you’ll probably find that Google starts offering up various car sales sites in its Ads column. Facebook in contrast is like a surgeon’s scalpel, garnering its user information from the people who know best: the users themselves. Facebook offers you an advert for a wedding dress store in Armadale because you told it you live in Melbourne and you just updated your status to engaged.

What do we think?

We are intrigued by the concept of direct advertising, but remain torn between strong scepticism and grudging acceptance.

We’re sceptical because Facebook and its ilk sell (and profit from) direct advertising space by utilising information entered into what many people think of as the “public realm” of the internet. It just goes to show how misguided we all are – Facebook is not the digital equivalent of a town square but a shopping mall, where every square centimetre is owned and where the security guards can kick us out if they think we’re loitering without intention to buy – the infrastructure of the internet may be modelled on a free and open city, but its buildings are private property. Facebook argue that they gather only crowd statistics rather than specific information on individuals, but all this nevertheless reeks strongly of a slippery slope heading straight for a direct invasion of privacy: we accept crowd statistics today and we’ll find our most intimate information being sold to the highest bidder tomorrow.

Our further concern is the recent evolution of direct advertising into user-endorsed advertising i.e. the broadcasting of advertised products “liked” by a user to all of his / her friends. According to Mark Zuckerberg in Time‘s recent, extensive and excellent article on him as the 2010 Time Person of the Year, this is a positive development. After all, we are intensely social creatures and thus place a far higher value on what 3 of our friends think about a product than 1,000,000 strangers. But we’re not sure we really want to become unpaid advertising whores for the world’s products.

On the other hand, like it or not, the world is chockerblock full of products with which we engage on a daily basis. Our vocabulary is full of trademarked, copyrighted and registered terms: energy drinks after exercise have been replaced by Gatorade™; our phones have been upgraded to iPhones™; and surfing the internet is a thing of the past, now we Google™ it. Without even realising it, we are already advertising whores every time we open our mouths. Even here at Panfilocastaldi we can’t escape this reality – check out our Sublimely Utilitarian articles here and here.

So we may be fundamentally queasy about direct and user-endorsed advertising, but we can’t deny its inevitability. Perhaps telling our friends on Facebook that we like Coon Tasty™ is really no different from telling our friends at a dinner party that we like cheese.