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What's the difference between marketing and architecture?

So, I guess architecture is just like marketing. I mean, they’re both fluffy and vague, and involve wearing no tie, and flash clothes.

Well, yes, but that’s not quite it. It may look that way, but that’s not the similarity I’m thinking of.

Both are also disciplines which everyone engaged in the company or project, think they can do better than the trained incumbent – both are viewed as the ‘colouring in’ departments of their respective supply chains.

But you know, that’s not it either. No. Marketing is like architecture because both of them are rubbish at persuading people of the value they deliver.

Consider the CharlieGate episode. Prince Charles singlehandedly defeated the dark forces of modernism by persuading his distant cousins in the Qatari royal family to ditch Richard Rogers’ tower blocks and go with some sort of regency pastiche.

The remarkable thing about this is not that he managed to accomplish it – Chas is royalty after all, and many would argue he’s just doing his job, representing his people and all. He also has at his disposal a fearsome PR machine – the same one that turned round the public opinion which was so resolutely anti-royal after the death of Princess Diana. His speechwriting is masterful – Kieran Long in the Architects Journal did a great examination of his technique in this regard. So in fact, he has every right to have succeeded, except for the small fact that he was talking rubbish.

For example, he champions Georgian London as ‘organic’ and in some way natural – whereas a brief examination of the history of development shows that the squares and terraces so beloved of the Duke of Cornwall were in fact the creation of speculative developers looking to make a fast buck rather more in the manner of a cowboy housebuilder than a responsible urban change agent.

So, why did he win the argument? Well, because the RIBA, and architects in general, are so appallingly bad at articulating the value that architects add to the world that any dumb old crown prince can beat them with his hand tied into his pockets.

How come a profession with members who have all done seven years study and indentured service to become who they are let an amateur beat them? Don’t they study ‘why architecture matters’ at college?

Marketing has similar problems. The seminal line from Lord Lever – “I know half my marketing is wasted, I just wish I knew which half” – rather encapsulates the problem. Imagine the Ops Director saying “I know half my spend on materials is wasted, but I can’t work out which half”, and think how long he’d last.

The truth is that most competent marketers deliver value for their companies, good ROI on campaigns, and value for money. They just can’t persuade their bosses of this. But why? Because they don’t talk their language? Because they can’t tell their story properly? Because, like the RIBA, they defer to authority without respecting it?

Who knows, but if we don’t work it out, Marketing will always be a Cinderella.

So, architecture is like marketing. Neither of us can persuade people that we make a difference where it matters.

We’d better learn.


marketing ROI

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