Marketing for Architects – Part 9 - Positioning: How To Compete And Beat Bigger More Established Competition

April 25, 2019 by Declan Connolly

In the last MARKETING FOR ARCHITECTS blog post we introduced the stair step marketing concept that we will cover in more detail later in this series of blog posts.

Now we are going to look at how to differentiate your business from your competitors.

After you go through this blog post you'll know how to stand out from the crowd and get a potential clients attention before your competition does.

In addition, if you find watching video better than reading an article simply scroll on down to the bottom as there is a video version of this blog post down there.

Positioning – What It Is, And What It Isn’t:

Positioning is the strategy we use to differentiate your business from your competitors.

However positioning is a game that you play in the mind, it’s not a game you play in reality.

Positioning in a nutshell is how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect in comparison to your competition.

However you don't "Position" your architectural services by comparing it to your competitors.

You Position your services by creating a new MENTAL CATEGORY inside the mind of your prospective clients that it can be first in.

And if we do it well which is what we’re going to discuss here, then you will be the only option and therefore beyond being compared to anyone else.

I know this is a bit confusing but that’s why Positioning is such a misunderstood concept.

Let me explain.

Human Minds Use Categories As "Shortcut Decision Makers"

Our brains compartmentalise stored information into categories.

The reason for this is because we live in an over communicated society.

Did you know that a 1 week day edition of the New York Times contains more info than someone would come across in their entire lifetime in the 17th century?

The typical person gets bombarded with 10,000 messages a day be it online, on public transport, TV, radio, etc

As volume increases it doesn’t go into our brains, we would go insane if it did.

So to protect our minds, we block most of it out.

And we over simplify what we do let into our minds because of the large volume of info coming at us every day.

And we do this by putting information into various categories.

Our minds can only hold 6 or 7 items in a category.

For example, you have a stored category in your brain for fruit.

You have one for vegetables.

Try naming more than 7 types of fruit without thinking about it.

Gets tough doesn’t it?

That’s because of the way your brain stores information.

The Simplification Of Choice

In addition, the world is complex and prospects have plenty of choice of different architects.

However most of these options are not perceived to be significantly different from each other.

Most architects try and get everyone and anyone as clients.

They pretty much all say the same thing on their websites and have the same portfolios.

This means the only thing they can compete on is price and that’s a game of how low can you go.

We don’t want to be anywhere near that.

When two options are roughly the same, we consider them to be the roughly the "same" option and we "throw one away" to conserve mental space.

It's no use competing - if you do, you've already lost.

Competing is a rough game in marketing, and it's one that is usually LOST when competing with an established competitor.

The reason is that the competitor has already gotten into the mind of your prospect.

They got there first before you came around.

And they will get selected because they were there first.

We can’t beat them by competing with them head on.

So with all this in mind, how do we play this game?

We create a new category.

It’s much better to create a new category that you can be first in and let others compete.

Look at it this way.

Who was the first man on the moon?

Who was the second?

Who ran the first 4 minute mile?

Who ran the second?

You get the idea.

Unfortunately, we are in a savagely competitive industry so you won’t be able to be first if you just promote yourself as a stereotypical architect.

We need to be cleverer that that as we have a positioning problem because we won’t be first in the category of ‘architect’.

So we simply create a new category that we can be first in and control.

A great example of this Nokia and mobile phones.

Apple knew they couldn’t compete with Nokia in the category of mobile phone as Nokia were first in their category.

Instead they came up with the smart-phone and the rest is history.

They created their own category and were first, and now they are worth billions and Nokia are nearly bankrupt.

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How To Create A Mental Category

Start with an aspect of your client's need/problem/result they want that's critically important to them.

Think of things like uniqueness of project, type of project, speed, convenience, specific results, functionality, a guarantee - whatever is the key element to your client.

Base your new mental category on a key need that is currently unmet - that your service meets. 

How To "Niche" Your Category

Design is an abstract concept.

If you asked 100 people what ‘design’ means you would get back 100 different answers.

This isn’t great when we need people to be crystal clear what our practise means to them.

So you must touch base with reality and what’s already in the prospects mind.

Now we have spoken at length about offering specific solutions to specific problems.

So for example, someone who wants to build a house extension requires a different result than someone who wants to refurbish a shop for example.

They have different emotional needs too, different pain points and desires.

So specificity of project is essential if you are to position yourself correctly in the market place.

But the solution must be stated in specific, tangible real world concrete terms.

So what in reality does your solution look like for your prospective clients?

This is how people think.

Emotional Triggers & Hot Buttons

We make decisions based on emotion but we think in terms of things in the real world that trigger those emotions.

That’s why they are called emotional triggers or hot buttons.

Our marketing needs to be full of emotional triggers and not talking about the emotions themselves as that’s a bit weird.

Think of a funny movie you say recently.

One of my favourite films of all time is Trading Places with Dan Ackroyd & Eddie Murphy.

Now imagine Eddie Murphy looks at the screen and says ‘laugh’.

Of course, that would be weird.

Instead they act out these ridiculous and funny scenarios that we then find funny.

In other words, they do things in reality that trigger our laughter.

This is where we want to be with our marketing.

We think in terms of things we can see, touch, smell and hear.

You must talk about the results you get for people in these terms.

Abstract concepts like design mean nothing.

So think about your ideal client for a specific type of project.

Drill down into a need, to find the "high emotion value" 20% that is going unmet.

Discover the words, phrases, and specific "emotional hot buttons" that clients use to describe it.

Research to find out the "niche within the niche" that you can own in the mind.

Then translate that into the real world.

What things out here in reality means that those emotional needs are met?

For example, a mother might be frightened that her kids will get burned in her cramped kitchen when they are running around her feet whilst she is cooking dinner.

Here the big emotion here is FEAR and the emotional hot button is the fantasy she has of her kids getting burned.

So a nice big open plan kitchen where the natural pathways of the space do not intersect with the cooking space are the physical manifestation of solving her fear.

Maybe the father feels ashamed that he can’t invite his overbearing mother in-law around for dinner because the dining area is too small.

The emotion here is SHAME and probably quite a bit of FEELING INSIGNIFICANT.

And the emotional hot button is a fantasy he has of his mother in-law looking at him with scorn because he can’t provide a proper home for her daughter.

The real world solution to this is having a nice big and beautifully decorated dining area where he has his family over for dinner and they marvel at how great the place looks and his mother is even a little jealous.

Does this make sense?

Emotional hot buttons are usually fantasies or movies in our head that bring out the emotions themselves.

They rarely exist in reality but are rooted in reality.

In other words they are a movie of something that could happen in reality.

Case Study For Architects Who Are Sick & Tired Of Being Undervalued & Underpaid

How To Reach & Land Committed High-Paying Custom Residential Clients Who Value Architecture Without Being 'Fee Shopped'... ...Even If No One Knows Who You Are & You Don’t Have Good Marketing Skills...

Click Here To Watch This Free Case Study Now

Positioning Step By Step

So think of how an ideal client feels about their situation.

And then think what real world fantasy they tell themselves would resolve it.

This is positioning on a ninja scale.

This can be difficult to get your head around but just follow these steps:

Step 1: Pick a specific type of project

Step 2: Put yourself in the shoes of a client for that type of project

Step 3: What is the dominant emotion they are feeling about their current situation?

Step 4: What is the movie they play in their heads that triggers this emotion, in other words what is the emotional hot button about their current situation?

Step 5: What do they see as the solution to this situation?

Step 6: Position yourself as to deliver this solution

Note that to position correctly is to align yourself with WHAT THEY think is the solution, not what you think is.

Once we meet them where they are we can get them to come around to our solution pretty easily.

But if we go in there off the bat with what we see as the solution then it won’t work.

Changing peoples minds is near impossible, they’ll just double down on what they think the solution is.

Meet them where they are at first with your marketing and then you can influence them later once they feel you understand them.

Categories Diverge Just Like Species Diverge

Every business category eventually becomes two categories - or more.

Computers became laptops and desktops, cars became compact cars, midsize cars and luxury cars.

Anticipate this process and split the category yourself... to create a category that you can own.

Big companies lose because instead of creating a new niche and a new business and a new name, they try to take the old stuff they used to do and re-label it.

Think IBM, Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

IBM was the first computer but they didn’t create the software.

Microsoft created the software but didn’t create the search engine.

Google created the search engine but didn’t create social media.

Each is a splinter of the previous one.

Each is a new category.

Name Your New Category

To get into the mind first, name your new category - so that Clients will see you as the INVENTOR of it.

Win by creating and promoting the category itself, not just your particular business or service.

Who was the first?

Who was the first search engine?

Who was the first energy drink?

Who was the first portable MP3 player?

Most people will say Google and Red Bull and iPod but they weren’t the first on the market.

But they were first in the MIND.

It's better to be first, than it is to be better.

Examples Of Categories

Health Foods: Whole Foods Market

Online Auctions: eBay.

Social Networking: Facebook.

Online Video: YouTube.

These are so well known that they are the category like Starbucks and Jello.

Examples That I've Created

My category is “making your home bigger.”

There’s only 4 ways to do that and that’s extensions, lofts, remodelling or basements and I’ve split each into separate marketing channels but the category is making your home bigger.

And that’s what I focus on in my marketing.

There’s a lot of things distilled into those few words.

What can you come up with?

Exercise 10 – Creating A Category That You Can Own Inside The Mind

The smartest marketers avoid competing directly with bigger, better financed competitors who are established in the market.

Instead, they create a mental category that they can own.

Use this exercise to create a category that you can own in the mind of your prospective client.

  • What is the biggest unmet need that your prospective client has – that you could create a unique mental category around? 
  • What could you name this new category, so you’re considered the creator of it?
  • Where could you take an existing category and divide it into 2 or more sub-categories, based on specific needs – then own one of them?

Ok we’re nearly done on the strategy part of this series of blog posts.

The last part is the Client Journey.

Now I did introduce the Stair Step Marketing concept in the last blog post and that was to pre-empt the Client Journey.

All the foundational stuff and the various strategies have led us to this part.

And it’s the most important part.

It’s the thing that will drive our entire marketing.

It’s the marketing model we will use to get new clients & make more money out of them too.

Please read below to find out about it:

<< Previous Article


Here's The Video Version Of This Blog Post:


If you find watching video easier that reading a blog post then this is for you!


How Architects go from being ‘Undervalued’ to generating High-Value Custom Residential Projects using this Sir Norman Foster method…

...without being 'Fee Shopped'...

...and even if no one knows who they are and they don't have good marketing skills...

My name is Declan Connolly, founder of Affluent Architect.

I’ve been designing homes since 2000.

I started my own practice in 2009.

And now I teach Architects from all over the world how to generate Custom Residential projects for their practices.

And after all that, I can safely say:

The ‘normal’ way of educating potential clients on the benefits of hiring an Architect…

...is NOT THE ANSWER to getting great clients & projects.

If that worked Architects wouldn’t find themselves in the constant battle of:

❌ Talking to people only interested in free advice…

❌ Writing proposals for people who only use them as a fee shopping exercise…

❌ Being underpaid & treated like a commodity…

These problems happen because Architects haven’t been taught something crucial:

How to articulate the value of their services in a way that impacts their clients on an EMOTIONAL level.

Instead, they try to ‘logically’ educate potential clients on:

❌ Reasons to hire an Architect…

❌ Project process…

❌ How they deliver their services, etc…

But high-quality clients don’t care about these things.

In fact, they view these things as OBSTACLES to them getting their new home.

It’s like when someone books a flight for a holiday.

They don’t care about the number of rivets in the plane & the stitching in the seats.

All they care about is enjoying their holiday at the end destination.

Similarly, all that matters to the potential client is the new home.

Along with all the lovely lifestyle benefits it will give them.

All the ‘logical’ based approach does is position Architects as a ‘set of plans to get the permit’.

So, here’s how we fix this.

My Architects attract creative residential projects with clients that pay top dollar for great design.

And the key to this is my proprietary A.V.I.D. Method (Articulate Value & Influence Design Method)...

…which creates marketing messages that emotionally connect with their potential clients.

This A.V.I.D. Method has been developed by trial & error in the real world since 2009.

And it’s the only method specific to the single-family residential market for Architects on the planet.

It’s enabled me & my Architect students to:

✅ Work with celebrity clients on their new home like Mark Owen from the pop band Take That...

✅ Work on jobs that have been featured on the TV Show Grand Designs…

✅ Work on homes worth as much as $18.75 million…

And the secret to this is something I learned when I was struggling to get decent projects for my practice.

I had hit a brick wall and decided to study how past Architects managed to do it.

And who better than Sir Norman Foster himself.

He got started in the high-tech industrial market.

Which is a super-competitive market against far bigger and more established firms.

Sir Norman Foster didn’t go and try and ‘logically’ educate potential clients.

Instead, he described what his target clients’ businesses would be like AFTER they built one of these buildings.

And once I applied this same principle to Custom Residential it completely changed the game for me.

Describing a potential client’s life AFTER they have built their new home is what gets their attention.

✅ It instantly creates trust & respect because we are describing what they really want...

✅ It creates an air of 'exclusivity' & ‘uniqueness’ around our services which clients pay more for...

✅ Defines who our target clients should be & where to find them…

However, it must be done in a certain sequence.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to show you on a special Case Study recording.

Where I show you how the A.V.I.D. Method works.

As well as how it creates my students’ marketing for them which saves a bunch of time.

This Case Study also shows you loads of examples of our students' marketing that is working like crazy in the Custom Resi market:

Click Here To Register For Your Free A.V.I.D. Method Case Study

So, if you're sick and tired of being treated like a commodity...

And you want to finally work with appreciative clients who value what you do…

…get paid the fees that you deserve & have a great income for a change…

…and work on fulfilling creative jobs without sacrificing time with your family…

Then let’s get the A.V.I.D. Method working for your practice.

Go ahead and register for your free Case Study right now:

Case Study For Architects Who Are Sick & Tired Of Being Undervalued & Underpaid

How To Reach & Land Committed High-Paying Custom Residential Clients Who Value Architecture Without Being 'Fee Shopped'... ...Even If No One Knows Who You Are & You Don’t Have Good Marketing Skills...

Click Here To Watch This Free Case Study Now

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