Why does a client even come to an A/E firm’s website? This blog outlines the 3 reasons clients come to your site and gives 3 examples of firms that do it well
Setting aside how a client actually got there in the first place (be it email marketing, online search, social media, or simply typing in the URL), why do they bother coming at all? And, no, I’m not fishing for the obvious answer — to hire you; though that’s logically an end goal (assuming it’s a well qualified prospect we’ve built our firm to effectively serve). What I’m really asking is, what are they looking for?
It’s my experience that a client comes to a firm’s site for three reasons. We call them the 3 P’s, and they’re the fundamental building blocks of an A/E firm’s modern marketing website. They are:
- Perspective — They visit the site to access your firm’s thought leadership; to gain insight on critical business issues they face as it’s authored by the subject matter experts in your firm.
- People — They come to take a peek inside your firm into the people that actually do the work. To explore who they are, how they think, what’s important to them, and to get a sense of whether your firm is someone they could actually see themselves working with.
- Portfolio — And, of course, they come to gauge the experience of your firm and to decide whether it’s relevant to their specific business situation. Have you designed facilities similar to theirs? Do you have the experience necessary to help them overcome the fundamental challenges they face.
What’s Critical is the Connectivity of All Three
While the framework itself is pretty simple, delivering it elegantly and effectively is not. Where I see most firms fall down is by treating each of these three aspects of the site as silos. Each area is only really accessible through the primary navigation, and is effectively left with its own isolated, navigational structure. Essentially, the site is using “brute force navigation” — it’s forcing the user back to the primary navigation to move between sections and explore:
What the site needs to be doing is intersecting these three sections dynamically. It should be using “user-driven navigation” that lets users explore from one section to another based on what they’re reading and what interests them. This takes a more sophisticated web platform and more time and cost to develop. It requires an effective prototyping process to plan the site and the technology that But, the result is an experience that allows a user to follow a thread based on what they find most interesting. I can start reading an article and follow a thread based on the topic of it, the person who wrote it or something else entirely. The site uses technology to deliver a more compelling user experience. This article provides 3 examples of architecture firms that are doing this effectively.
Focused almost exclusively on sports, Populous has designed some of the world’s most notable and successful stadia, arenas, ballparks and convention centers. The firm’s website is a really effective example of user-driven navigation applying the 3 P’s model.
The firm has been publishing an array of useful thought leadership for over 3 years. From any single post, it’s very easy to navigate to other topical articles, to find more posts by that individual author, and to learn more about the architect who wrote it.
In addition to being well-written and giving you a real sense of the firm’s culture and personality, a Populous bio connects a client with projects that architect has been a part of, recent blogs they’ve written, and any industry publications they’ve authored.
Each of the firm’s project profiles brings together all aspects of the 3 P’s model. Scrolling from top to bottom, you can see that the firm prominently features some of the team members on the project, perspective articles that relate to the project, and other similar case studies.
With over 15k employees and 250 offices, Stantec is one of the 25 largest A/E firms in the nation. Despite it’s scale, the current version of the firm’s website, launched within the last year or so, is fairly simple. It essentially spreads the 3 P’s throughout the site and relies heavily on user-centered navigation to let you stumble upon them.
Perspective + People
The simplicity of the site starts directly on the homepage. As you scroll down the page, you can dive into any one of its market sectors to learn more about its expertise, or you can access its Perspective(via the Blog on the right) or its People (towards the bottom).
One of the more interesting features of the site is the feature, “View a Project Near You,” that appears towards the bottom of a variety of site pages. This feature uses simple geolocation services to highlight a project the firm has completed near the person viewing the page. This is a good example of using site personalization to make the firm’s global scale and reach feel local and accessible. (For more on personalization, read my blog on the topic or my 2014 talk at KA Connect).
Sectors Tie It All Together
Each market sector functions like a mini-portal of sorts, highlighting the firm’s experience, relevant perspective, project portfolio and key people in the market.
A diversified firm, DLR Group is one of the 25 largest firms in the U.S. I’ve profiled their site a few times in the past — I wrote here about their effective use of case studies (some of the best in the industry, in my opinion) and here about their knowledge-based content model.
All their articles are effectively authored and enable you to browse to other articles of interest based on subject.
A click on an author’s name, reveals their bio. Each bio, in-turn, connects you to their published content and projects they’ve been a part of.
Each project profile features project details and connects you to similar related projects.
Locations Tie It All Together
One of the more interesting features of the DLR Group website is its office pages. On most firm websites, an office page is little more than an address, a phone number, and a Google map. DLR Group has used it’s 3 P’s methodology to deliver a highly relevant site page that brings together not only the details of an office location, but also the key people in that office, and some of the projects the firm has designed within that region.
Does It All Matter? Closing Thoughts
Each of these firms relies on user-centered navigation to effectively move potential clients through the three critical aspects of their firm’s site — their perspective, their projects and their people.
It takes a fair amount of planning and some smart use of technology to build sites in this way, which raises the ultimate question, “Is it worth it?” A firm’s expertise is only valuable if it’s both tangible and accessible.
Making Expertise Tangible
You make your expertise tangible by publishing useful perspective, demonstrating your perspective is valid by showing it applied in your past projects, and documenting that expertise as available by showcasing the people that make it all happen. If you didn’t write about it, you don’t know anything about it. If you don’t have a project like it, clients assume you’ve never done it. If you don’t showcase the people that make it happen, clients question if they’re still there.
Making Expertise Accessible
When you use technology to intelligently connect these three areas of your site, you’re making expertise accessible. You’re enabling a client “to feel” the depth of your knowledge and expertise in a way that’s natural and intelligent to them. And, you gracefully rise to the top of their short list.