Form Versus Function, 6 Steps to Brilliant Architectural Marketing

You might have a hard time believing this…just as I do writing it, but I recently found myself in a conversation with a friend at his office about the concept of “form versus function”…you know, the old architectural standard. For those not schooled directly in the New York architects arts (like myself), the principle states that there are two ends of the spectrum for building…one end for functionality, the other end for aesthetics or “looks”. The debate centers around which point of the spectrum is optimal.

Now this isn’t probably the most interesting conversation I’ve had in a while, but since it seemed cerebral and I really haven’t been in one of those in a little while, I hung in there. I made it a point to make sure my friend didn’t think I came below from ‘steerage’ by suggesting that perhaps the two concepts didn’t have to be at odds with each other…that they perhaps could even be inclusive of each other. After all, why can’t you have a solid foundation and a beautiful building?

I stood up a little straighter with the thought that that little nugget would revolutionize the field…until I learned that this already been discussed and resolved by architectural academia decades before! He politely shared with me that indeed the concepts, form and function, can work together nicely. In fact, the solution now is that “form follows function”. That is, that the shape of a building (or object) should be predicated by or based upon its intended function or purpose.

Feeling more foolish than the ancient surveyor of Pisa, I had to redeem myself. What did I know about that this guy and other architects didn’t? Probably not a whole lot (those guys are pretty sharp with their big, fancy diplomas).

But wait; there was something that many in this field didn’t seem to get. Or perhaps they got it but just didn’t choose to do it…marketing! Yep, I turned to him and wondered out loud why architects didn’t seem to follow the simplest application of ‘form following function’ yet…that of marketing their business. I think I got him with that one…and resumed standing up straighter and even added a kick to my step.

The truth is that form and function rear their heads all over the discipline of marketing an architectural firm. For those architects who know where to draw the line and order the two, marketing should be easier than an isosceles triangle.

So how does the principle show up through marketing specifically? Well, at a high level perspective, function consists of the metrics behind growing…the goals, the tactics, the tracking and measurements; while the form consists of the aesthetics…the branding, the messaging, the relationship-building activities.

The first is quantifiable, the second largely qualitative. So marketing, much like architecture, is both science and art working together toward an objective. Pretty cool, huh? Breaking down the steps into ‘function then form’ helps us to understand further-

We’re talking about developing a marketing plan here that is in concert with the direction of the organization. Frankly, I’ve found that most architectural firms waive the idea of actually planning their growth…expecting it to grow solely on relationships they’ve developed over the years.

The relationships are great…and should be nourished. But architects know all too well the pitfalls of failing to plan. And they also realize that we’ve entered the era of proactive marketing. This consists of setting goals, identifying a target market, developing a niche, tracking competition, and course-correction where needed. This is function at its finest.

Proactive architectural firms know that the basis of any ongoing marketing effort lies in its communications foundation, or “marketing kit”. This kit is what some architecture firms have been paying to the expensive advertising agencies for years.

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