Architecture’s content dilemma: when you build and they don’t come

Oct 29, 2020
  • Article by Tili Bensley-Nettheim

Architecture’s reticence to change cannot afford to extend to website content. It is time for the industry to innovate beyond project detail posts and director Q&As. Here are four alternatives.


As a business practice, architectural culture is fantastically slow to change. The industry puts on and takes off styles and design trends with ease, but these are merely surface changes to the architectural act and do not impact and mutate architecture as a cogent industry with a unique set of values.

As such, architecture is a depository of old methods of attracting clients: word of mouth referrals or active socialising in certain circles. The downfall of these methods is that they reveal next to nothing about what makes the studio unique.

With the few, though highly publicised exceptions of ‘starchitects’, most medium and small architecture studios sell themselves short when it comes to their content.

This disconnecton, between architecture and marketing, could be traced back to the architectural culture in general, and in particular to a set of disputed questions: who we are, what we do, for whom do we do it, and what is our relationship to them?

The cumulative effect of this lack of clarity is a disinclination of architecture to embrace the content marketing practice, still perceived as either an afterthought or entirely counterintuitive.

A sound content marketing strategy should be a projection of the firm that enables potential clients to grasp the core essence and values of that firm and that gives them insight into its design aesthetic and social stance. In architecture, where the sales process can be months or years, content as a marketing tool is incredibly powerful because its effect burns slowly, working its magic during the periods between freshly photographed builds.

Here are four starter ideas to reinvigorate your website content:

Thought leadership
It’s important not to just write and talk about the issues that find inter-industry importance. Think about what’s important to your current and prospective high-value clients.

How does your firm command authority within your sectors? And how can you convey this? Even if you produce a white paper or report, the idea is to shape the perception of yourself as an expert in the right areas.

Collaborations
If having a point of view isn’t your thing, play the part of connector and extend your practice’s brand beyond the confines of your firm. Content doesn’t have to be entirely created by your practice to be effective.

Consider partnering on content with clients, suppliers or publishers. Identify interesting people who are value-aligned and invite them into your content sphere. Anywhere where there are overlapping but non-competing objectives lies potential. Ask: can this party bring (a) skills or a profile to create great content, or (b) a distribution list we can leverage to get the content distributed?

Behind the scenes
Lived experience has authenticity Just telling other people how great a final build is does not. Consider your average house build or renovation; every single project has moments of high drama.

That’s why Grand Designs is such gripping television, precisely because it brings the emotional peaks and troughs of architecture into view and gives access to an often-concealed process.

Your content should bring the humanness of the architectural endeavour into view. Have the project’s lead architect annotate their early sketches in a video or have a young associate interview their mentor or an impactful professor.

Testimonial
There’s one voice that’s rarely heard in architecture website content: the client. The driver of the content marketing plan is a clarified sense of a target audience.

Yet marketing work devised by architects seems to be self-referential and addressed to other architects, a subconscious attitude carried over from architecture pedagogy where peers and professors are the only audience available.

Too often, architectural content is technical to an extent that guarantees great reception from peers, but prevents the practice from being intelligible to prospective clients.

A well-pitched and comprehensive customer testimonial builds trust and confidence in your business. It’s better if the voice speaking is not you, telling the world about your interesting experiments in ‘parametric’ form, but a person who has lived inside it for a year – and loves it.

Architecture, by its very nature, skews toward the visual, often to the detriment of words and their power in a competitive marketplace. Your website should not be a space that’s only updated with your most recently photographed project.

Your website is not designed for you, it is designed for existing and potential customers and there are many ways to extend beyond the usual content tropes. The marketing mix is different for every business, but is incredibly important to get right and optimise regularly.

To discuss your content challenges, reach out to Jillian Hood at jillian.hood@niche.com.au and explore the Content Brains offering.

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