Digital strategy

How I helped this architectural design business go digital and get results

Architectural designer Michelle Marsden runs a boutique practice called MM Design, specialising in creative excellence in traditional and contemporary residential design. With over 30 years in the business, Michelle has designed homes all over the world — from the shores of Palm Beach in Florida to Melbourne’s Yarra Valley.

In late 2014 I was consulting with various businesses on new technologies that could be implemented at low cost, yet potentially have a significant positive impact on their bottom line. My first encounter with MM Design was initially to update their outdated website. My agency, Potion Digital, was engaged to modernise the branding and user experience (UX) of the website.

It was during my scoping and product strategy discussions with Michelle that I realised how little she had invested in her online presence. Like so many small to medium sized businesses at the time she was heavily reliant on word-of-mouth referrals for new business. For her whole career running her residential design company she had always had a pipeline full of excited new customers who had heard about her from previous clients. For Michelle, going digital or being found online wasn’t really a concern, as she didn’t appear to need to… That was until now, a few years after the GFC, when things really started to slow down for her business.

So what changed? Why now? What I believe happened was not unique to MM Design, but was a reflection of bigger macro factors, specifically innovative technology and digitisation. With the proliferation of the iPhone in Australia at the time, and the growing dominance of apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, people’s attention had shifted online to social platforms. The traditional word-of-mouth marketing had been almost instantly transitioned online. Discovery and purchasing of products and services was now a factor of algorithms propelled by “social proof”. Unfortunately for Michelle she was not positioned to benefit from this new wave of digital browsing and sharing.

The solution was simple and clear. MM Design had stunning content (share-worthy photos of before-and-after renovations of mega mansions) that if placed online would give potential customers the chance to discover and share. My first strategy, other than updating the MM Design website to make it visually appealing and content rich, was to position MM Design on context specific social platforms that rely and benefit from quality imagery. At the time I had been following the unstoppable journey of a Palo Alto based tech startup in the interior design/ housing renovation space called Houzz. I was aware that they had just launched in Australia, and I couldn’t think of a more suitable platform for MM Design.

My team and I helped Michelle create her profile on Houzz, curate the best professional photos from her extensive collection, and seek some customer reviews to bolster credibility. Her profile was set, it looked amazing. We also helped Michelle create a Pinterest account to target the same audience who may not have yet discovered Houzz, but were actively looking for renovation design inspiration.

The results were almost instant. Michelle’s photos on Houzz were being “saved” at such a rate that MM Design has since gone on to receive the “Best of Houzz” award for 4 consecutive years (2015 to 2018). Michelle began to, and still does, receive numerous enquires for new business directly via Houzz.

I wanted to share this story to inspire those business owners out there who have been reluctant to embrace the digital transformation that is taking place around the world. Technology is offering customers and business owners new tools to interact, promote, engage, share and serve. I urge all businesses to look at what simple steps they can take to participate in the digital and online world that their customers now play and work in.

There is no single strategy that fits all, but there is certainly a range of options out there that could work for your business. As competition increases for customer attention it is more important than ever to get creative, yet ensuring your strategy is effective (targeted) so that it reaches your audience for a reasonable ROI.

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