The architect is probably the most important member of the design team, distilling the requirements and advice of the other members. Often though they are time poor and consequently hard to get hold of. So how do you introduce your products?
You need to find a way of getting the architect’s attention and then reassuring him that your product ticks all of the right boxes. Online methods are increasingly accepted, but companies need to ensure they present the appropriate information in an easy to access format and keep in touch with new developments. At the same time do not neglect the traditional media such as magazines and literature, they still have an important role to play.
Our recent research, Construction Media Index, identifies key hardcopy and electronic media used by Architects, as well as the trade titles actually read.
In this Blog post we interview Su Butcher, a leading communicator in the architect community, on the topic of Communicating with Architects and the best channels of communication to use. Su runs a consultancy Just Practising, and is experienced at helping people learn how to sell to architects effectively.
Q: What would you say are the most helpful tools for architects seeking product information both online and off?
In theory the Internet should be a helpful tool, as unlike a CD or hardcopy brochure it is likely to be up to date, or can be regularly updated. Architects’ practices tend not to keep a large generic product library, as maintenance is expensive and complicated. So even if they have a hard copy brochure, they are going to try your website to get the latest information.
Unfortunately, many Product websites are difficult to use and are not optimised for search, either internally or via google. Architects want to find information quickly, they need to identify if the Product Manufacturer has the solution they need. So ideally Product Specification websites should be really useful tools for architects, but in practice many are not.
So to whom does a specifying architect turn for product information? Offline it would be their ‘Network’, their friends and colleagues, people they know and trust.
Architects now have a number of online tools they can use to help them talk with their ‘Network’ more easily. LinkedIn is useful for asking your network for advice (and not necessarily in public view) whilst Twitter (which is a very open, visible form of communication) is proving a useful tool for seeking answers from not just current contacts but also new unknown contacts.
For me LinkedIn and Twitter combined with Google are the most helpful tools. Specification Salesmen need to make their websites more searchable via Google and more accessible to specifiers to tap into this activity.
Q: Our research shows a marked increase in the percentage of architects using Twitter for work, how would you suggest a specification salesman can leverage this?
It is interesting that Twitter is becoming more advocated amongst architects, it has featured much more heavily in the architectural press in 2011, including in BD and the Architects Journal.
Twitter is a tool for conversations – people use it to talk to each other. My advice is to use Twitter as a tool for engagement and a place to be helpful. This does not have to be time consuming, it can make your activities more effective.
If you’re used to trying to get introductions to specifiers, you’ll be used to the frustration of trying to connect with someone who is busy, or more likely a ‘gatekeeper’. Twitter can help architects find you when they are looking for advice, and if you do it well you can become the ‘go-to person’ for your target audience.
- You need to Listen – find out which of your customers and contaacts use Twitter and how they use it. Engage in conversation with them about your expertise, like you would in real life.
- You need to Be Useful – provide information that people will want to keep or share. For example, much of your expertise that is only currently available via personal contact can be adapted into ‘social objects’ that people will want to keep and share for you.
- You need to Be Found – be there and be present – Twitter is an easy way for architects who need advice about your products to contact you, if you are engaging and useful.
I am often asked how long I spend on Twitter; my constant presence on Twitter is an illusion caused by technology. In fact I spend very little time actually using Twitter, but tools I use make me appear to be ‘always available’, and therefore more approachable. If you learn how to use Twitter properly it will save you time and make your sales activities more efficient.
Q: Our research says the number of Architects regularly reading blogs has also increased, in your opinion how does this information differ from eNews and website information?
A Blog is a form of online publishing which is easily updated, very searchable, and to which readers can subscribe, share on and add comments. Email is not searchable online and both e-news and websites are more static, without simple public interaction. The information in an email is commonly only readable by the recipients.
The interactive, public nature of a blog has many advantages:
- Whatever is written is accessible via search, so blogging dramatically improves your performance on search engines.
- If you write useful Blog posts and share them carefully, they will generate interaction and comments, increasing the sharing opportunities and building a footprint of your expertise.
- The amount of fresh content you can easily share on a blog makes them particularly attractive to search engines, and demonstrates that you are present and accessible.
- Publishing on a blog rather than in an email newsletter allows people to contact you when they are ready, rather than you contacting them when they are busy.
Architects are wary of giving out their email addresses as they are used to being spammed by product manufacturers, but if you write a good blog, they can find you easily when they need you, opt in and out easily without surrendering their email, and teach you more about their work when they post comments and questions.
Q: With almost a third of architectural respondents already using BIM (according to our research) how do you see this influencing working methods and in particular product specification?
BIM is an approach to co-ordinating the information for a building. It has implications for the entire procurement process, and is the subject of much discussion about legal issues and intellectual property, as well as working methods: who does what and when? And who is responsible for what?
BIM is an extremely powerful tool. If it takes off wholesale, and I still think it is an ‘if’, it will change the way that Architects work, as they will have to change their internal working practices.
Traditionally Architects would separate out early design work from later decisions on material. In the last 5 years more material decisions are being made earlier, due to legislation on robustness, airtightness, sustainability. Early decisions on material can be a good idea, but this does mean more work for Architects.
Product manufacturers may be able to offer architects part of a solution by understanding more about the process and helping provide product-related solutions to make this early introduction less painful. However it is yet early days for many in the industry, and companies should be wary of throwing money at the issue. My feeling is that now is the time to learn what BIM is and to start thinking about how to deal with it, when (or if) it comes along.
More about Su Butcher:
Su Butcher trained in Architecture at the University of Liverpool and after a spell in academia where she taught architecture students, started managing practices of architects in 1997. She writes about architects on her website, JustPractising.com and offers a range of consultancy services to architects, construction companies and product manufacturers who want to learn how to interact better with architects, including how to integrate Social Media tools into conventional marketing and PR strategies.
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