More About This Episode
The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.
Stephen Martin is the Managing Director of Professional Development and Resources for the American Institute of Architects. His work with AIA gives him more perspective than most on the world of architects — and his background in education makes him a great guest for this week’s show.
What Architects Want From Building Materials
Stephen Martin had aspirations of working with building materials as an architect in his earlier years, but his career path took a turn after “a really good history and government teacher in high school,” he says. “I might very well be an AIA member versus an AIA staff person…but ended up along the education track and have been very happy doing this for really over 20 years now.”
Stephen’s work in education gives him great insight into how the American Institute of Architects (AIA) approaches the continuing education programs it offers to architects. He’s also gained perspective on what motivates this group of people.
“Most states and jurisdictions in the U.S. require at least 12 hours of continuing education as part of the recertification, re-licensure [and] registration process,” he explains. “Instead of seeing that as a burden, I think that a lot of architects see that as an opportunity to expand the knowledge that they have about different pieces and different things they're looking at.”
The AIA gives architects plenty of opportunities to expand that knowledge. “We’re recording about 1.3 - 1.4 million hours a year. So we have a pretty good idea of what people are interested in,” Stephen tells us.
Stephen and the AIA ensure that they do their legwork when it comes to researching what architects are interested in. “When we do surveys of our membership and surveys of architects in general, they're looking for a wide range of information. Materials always comes up really high.”
We’ve talked before about what architects want from the building materials manufacturers they work with, but Stephen helped us drill that down further, from the architect's point of view. “If you're looking at designing for the built environment, you're going to want to know what's new, what's emerging [and] what are those things that are out there? What can set you apart?”
And like most of us, architects want education without the sales pitch. “They're not really looking to be sold to as part of education.”
Building a Marketing Plan With Education in Mind
We talked more about how manufacturers might approach education as a part of connecting with and marketing to architects, and Stephen had research to help us out. “Our research shows that continuing education is actually one of the best ways for product manufacturers to connect with architects.”
That’s because architects don’t just want a product — they want a partner in design. “They're looking for sort of a trusted partner,” Stephen says, “not just for the technical specs or the best prices, but they're looking for somebody that can be a resource in terms of what's going to work on my project.” Building that partnership will take time, but education goes a long way toward establishing that connection (and potential customer).
Stephen gave us a few strategies that manufacturers can use to educate and connect with architects.
Think about your product and how it fits into their process. “Tell me about how this system can interact,” Stephen explains. “Starting that with a continuing education relationship, where you can demonstrate that you really do know what you're talking about, starts to develop that connection.”
Don’t sell. Showcase your expertise. “Use your subject matter experts. Use your engineers [and] bring in your product specialists,” says Stephen. The sales team, he suggests, might not be the best fit for a CE course, unless they have a deep understanding of the product market. “Make sure that your sales [reps] who are doing the education really know your products and your services inside and out,” he says.
Focus on solutions for them. “Sometimes, the way to develop that best relationship is [when] the expert says, ‘You know what? We actually don't have something that meets your needs, but this line over here will.’” When you build trust that way, you’ll create a relationship. “You're not necessarily going to lose them. They may come back because they trusted that,” says Stephen.
Education really is the perfect platform for building materials manufacturers to build relationships with architects, and Stephen gave us a few ideas on how to have more conversations with them in this space.
Ideas for Continuing Education Content
If you’re not sure where to start with designing a course in product education, Stephen helped us understand what architects want to learn about and where product manufacturers might focus.
Material Sustainability: Architects design with the future in mind, which means they’re thinking more than ever about building performance, indoor health and safety. “The other places that we see an increasing amount of interest are in energy and looking at energy modeling and those pieces. And BIM has become really big,” says Stephen. “You're starting to see the drive towards high-performance buildings.”
The Business of Building: “There's always a desire for things around the business of architecture,” says Stephen. “There are things that architects aren't taught in the academy related to how to run a business. To be a successful architect, you've also got to be able to sustain your firm.”
Code Content: Product manufacturers can help architects further by providing education around product performance and code compliance. “So maybe instead of just doing a generic course on windows … something on how to choose the right storefront windows or how to select windows for cold weather climates or hurricane-resistant pieces,” suggests Stephen.
These strategies not only provide resources and support to architects, but they help the product manufacturers build trust with an online audience. “If somebody is coming to a course that's specifically about windows and the Florida building code, you've got a pretty good idea that they've got an interest in the subject and that's going to be a much more qualified lead for you.”
Where to Focus: The Future of Building Materials Education
If you’re looking to build an audience or create leads, putting together an online course can require a lot from your team. “But if you're doing it as an online program and they can connect from South Dakota and Massachusetts and South Korea and the UK, now you've been able to draw in a much more niche audience without having to worry about the expense of travel and all those things,” says Stephen.
That doesn’t mean in-person classes will go away. “There is a lot to be said about returning to the firm and being able to see and touch and feel and show those product things,” says Stephen. The research and work that architects do with materials they specify can require some hands-on experience. “One of the places where I think there's a great opportunity, especially in the product space, is things like tours of manufacturing facilities or going to a job site,” says Stephen.
Integrating education into your business and marketing plan will make your brand more relevant and your content more engaging to architects. And by connecting with architects around your products — through a course, online conference or social media post — building materials manufacturers create an opportunity to innovate on those products. There’s space for everyone to learn from each other, and Stephen suggests that we continue to ask questions and have those conversations about building materials.
“Especially in the architecture realm, when you've got somebody who's doing planning and all the programming for something that may be two, three, five years out, I want to know that what I'm spec-ing for that is still going to be viable five years from now,” explains Stephen.
Want Even More Insight?
By educating and engaging with architects, in class or on social media, manufacturers have an opportunity to build long-lasting relationships and more clout in the industry.
“If you're looking at what makes a company successful or not, it's looking for that authenticity in terms of talking about the technology and the product segment,” says Stephen. Education gives manufacturers a chance to truly stand out from their competition.
“The big thing is don't get intimidated by what it takes to create education. I think a lot of people think that good continuing education has to be flashy, and it has to be really fancy with great graphics and video and all of this stuff. Quite frankly, good content will overwhelm flashiness any day of the week,” Stephen says.
Be sure to listen to the full episode here and check out the AIA’s Continuing Education Provider Toolkit for more information.
Learn more about connecting with architects in person — check out our recent podcast episode where we talk about how manufacturers can approach exhibiting at the AIA conference.
Subscribe to Smarter Building Materials Marketing for even more great conversations and resources on the building materials industry.