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 architectural 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.

Function —————————————————Form

(The old, dry architectural principle)

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.

Marketing Kit

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.

Effective marketing materials and ad concepts today are information-driven. That is, the business is presented around a single theme in a number of ways that reach the spectrum of prospects most effectively. Consumers, both business and personal, are savvier today…so the messages need to display heart, passion and experience. The marketing kit is where function and form meet.


There are a myriad of advertising tactics available today, which would fall under ‘form’. But which one to choose? Are contractors turning more to the internet for architectural services? How about more traditional print tactics? Are prospects even affected by architectural advertising?

The studies show that they are…assuming that the effort is combined with tactics that have been successful in this industry. Which leads to…

Referral Marketing

Ah yes, referral, or ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing. The oldest marketing tactic is still the most effective. And that’s certainly true in the architecture world. Without influential contacts, we all know that the business is in trouble.

Well, how about taking referral marketing to the ‘next level’? What many fail to realize is that this tactic can be transformed from a reactive (waiting for the phone to ring) to a proactive (identifying and targeting strategic partners) one.

The question to ask is how do we develop stronger and broader-reaching relationships? And how do we organize our clients and strategic partners to talk about us? If you don’t have a plan for this, you need to create one, because increasing referrals is one of the most effective ways of increasing the visibility of the business.

Public Relations

Another strong tactic if proactively pursued. Again, most wait for the journalist’s call…you know, the one that almost never happens. Waiting is a mistake.

Your new project is news worthy. You are affecting your community. An article in the local newspaper, a TV interview, or a positive blog creates credibility that just can’t be bought.


What is working? It’s shocking how many businesses fail to get feedback on their marketing efforts. And it’s a shame that those who do don’t act on it. The usefulness in finding what works, is simply to do more of the same. If a marketing effort is not working, then can it be fixed? Sure. But if you can’t see that it’s not working, how would you know?