For the construction product manufacturer marketing to architects is a key business strategy; creating awareness of products so that they’ll be included in designs, thereby creating ‘demand pull’ through the supply chain, and eventually sales.

The architect is one of the most important members of the design team, distilling the requirements and advice of other members of the Decision Making Unit (DMU). He or she starts with the client’s needs in terms of how the building is to be used and how the client wishes to be perceived. These needs must be developed around the requirements of the Building Regulations and, increasingly, sustainability. Finally, he or she must take into account the views and advice of quantity surveyors, the main contractor and specialist sub-contractors as they will often be well positioned to suggest ways of saving time, money and reducing environmental impact. For the architect this is a challenging role. It often requires compromise. To make the right decisions he or she will need high quality information and advice.

Providing the right information in the right way

Knowing the communication channels used by architects is critical in developing your specification strategy. The internet is often a starting point for architects seeking construction product information. Search engines, product directories and manufacturer websites all provide useful data. Increasingly, new forms of communication are being turned to, such as blogs, and social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. To be an effective marketer you in turn must use appropriate channels to provide the right information in a clear and easily accessible format.

With so much product choice – and often conflicting information – it’s no wonder that architects often stay with the products they know. Which is great news if they favour your product, but a challenge if it’s not.

So how to introduce your offering? You need to find a way of getting the architect’s attention, and then reassuring them that your product ticks all of the boxes: functionality, reliability, sustainability, availability, aesthetics and value will be just some of their requirements.

Case studies published in trade and technical magazines are a good means of creating awareness and interest. A more proactive approach is to deliver CPD seminars to introduce your company and demonstrate your technical expertise. This potentially also has the benefit of enabling you to meet several architects at the same time, which can itself often lead to a discussion about specific projects. To be effective the seminar must have the correct content, and be well presented.

Understanding the different forms of specification

Having finally persuaded the architect to use your product, it needs to be specified. Here he or she has the choice of ‘performance’, ‘description’, ‘nominated’, or the widely used ‘equal or approved’ specification.

There are a variety of reasons for selecting these different forms. ‘Performance’ is often used for technical products such as fire resisting constructions, where it’s important they perform correctly. A performance specification passes the responsibility for choosing the correct product onto the sub-contractor. ‘Nominated’ is often selected for aesthetic products where it’s important to ensure that exactly the right product is used. There is a concern though, that ‘Nominated’ also undermines the contractor’s ability to negotiate price. ‘Equal or approved’ tends to be used because it nominates a product without making it a firm choice. However many contractors will tell you that they interpret it as meaning ‘use what you like’. With the increased importance of sustainability the meaning of ‘equal’ is changing. It no longer means simply ‘made of a similar material, to a similar shape, and able to do the job’. Now factors such as responsible sourcing and factory location can mean that two similar products are very different. The whole process of specification writing is changing.

BIM

In the early 1990’s the last recession changed the process of specification selling, expanding it to include the contractor. Today, new technology and changing building requirements are having a knock-on effect on the specification process again.

One of the biggest changes to the industry is the introduction of Building Information Modelling. This may seem like a design issue, but it also has its place in marketing as a feature which delivers a number of benefits. For a manufacturer the need to provide BIM objects will become as necessary as the provision of standard specification clauses or CAD details. The suggested benefits include a quicker understanding by the architect about how the product works, certainty of compatibility, and off-the-shelf selection of existing product design. All of this enables time saving and, because architects are often pressed for time, they can often opt for the quick fix, when two objects are similar.

And we can expect to see further changes as optimism growths with a strengthening construction market.

Conclusion

The decision to specify a product is based on many factors, some of them conflicting. The overriding concern is that it is fit for purpose, performing its role effectively and throughout the design life of the building. Products are selected because of more than their performance or price. Government drives product selection with initiatives, building regulations and planning. Sustainability is a key factor in product selection, BIM is also bringing about changes in the DMU, changing the the dynamics of influence on product specification.

Architects are often ‘small businesses’ so are time poor and consequently hard to get hold of. Think carefully about how to communicate with the Architect, choosing your channels of communication carefully and presenting the appropriate product information in an easy to access format.

Incorporating BIM into your specification sales strategy is important, providing BIM objects for the design team means the design team has a greater understanding of the product and how it works in the design overall. All of this makes the architects life easier, as well as saving time.

Reviewing your specification strategy on a regular basis is essential, to ensure you provide the right information at the right time and continue to get your product specified. And in the new year we are delivering a number of resources to help you do this. I hope you can join us.

Further Reading

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