Websites, social media, online trade publications, visualizers & custom configurators, chat bots—these and other digital experiences shape the world in which today’s architects and designers find ideas, products and specifications. They are vital aspects of an architectural firm’s standard selections. If your product and specs are only tucked away in a handout, countertop materials or directories, many architectural firms may never find them and your bid to become the standard for architectural firms will suffer.

A 2023 survey of 183 architectural professionals by the American Institute of Architects found that just 11% of architects surveyed rated hard-copy directories as a top-five information source for them. Conversely, having a responsive and knowledgeable rep and an easy to navigate website were indicated as the most important attributes when working with product manufacturers. The study determined that 79% of architects surveyed rely on manufacturer websites to keep on top of trends relating to products and materials.

The architect’s greatest pain point in dealing with manufacturers, however, is his or her desire for more information on the website. Moreover, your own site is not the only online resource where you should have a presence and provide information. From social media to sample sites and beyond, you can help gain product preference among architects by embracing the digital experience.

Make your website easy to use, interactive and comprehensive.

The 2023 AIA study found that, in selecting products or materials, over half of the surveyed architects rate technical descriptions (61%), product specs (60%), design guides (59%), CAD/BIM files (58%), and pricing information (just 50%) among their top five sources of information when making decisions on a typical project.

All of these information sources should be available and easy to find on your website. A well-designed website will have simple navigation, with product information that is categorized in a logical way and  with the ability to drill down for further product information.

Additionally, digital resources like comparison guides, estimating tools and visualizers will help architects quickly get up to speed and build confidence in your new product. When creating your website, never think of it as simply a digital version of your print materials. It can and should be interactive, with text and images that link to more information or that carry the visitor through an architectural journey. Architects have high expectations for self-guided experiences that allow them to take a deep dive into your product or material selection before talking to your company rep. This requires your website to offer easy-to-find technical content, inspiration, and intuitive navigation and search capabilities. By the time architects have an initial conversation with your rep, they should be able to have formed a complete mental image of how your product would fit into their project as a result of visiting your website.

Make your website easy to find

Be aware that often architects enter your site, not from the home page, but from a page inside your site as a result of a search on Google or another search engine. Consequently, it’s important to know the most common terms relating to your product or material that architects and designers enter into these engines and to be sure those terms, containing keywords, appear in the description tag that provides the wording that shows up in search engine results. The terms also should appear in the individual page descriptions and in the text of the page. 

This process of boosting a website’s visibility in search results is called search engine optimization, or SEO. As you build your web pages, ensure that they are well optimized. Pages should be optimized for the product’s category and style, e.g., “luxury vinyl siding,” as well as for words related to the issue it solves, e.g., “vinyl siding that looks like wood.”

You can do your own searches on Google to see which keywords will turn up your site, or even better, ask your rep to talk with your clients to find out the terms they use when they search for your types of products or that they would use for one of your new products.

Alternatively, you can type potential keywords into Google Trends to find out which are the most popular, although the results will not be specific to architects and designers. Note that the search terms on your site can be updated as changing conditions prompt users to look for other keywords, e.g., “hurricane-resistant siding.”


Make your website a wide-ranging resource

While a list of recommended additional website content will be reviewed in a later section of this guide, feedback from architects and designers indicate a strong interest in a number of principal elements that you should build into your site:

Specifications: The AIA survey found that three out of five architects rate product specs near the top of their interests when selecting a product or material for a typical project. Your website should offer complete specs on each of your products, with the 3-part spec so architects and designers can easily drop it into their plans. Providing a downloadable PDF version of the specs on this page will make it easier for the architect to share the file with team members or to print it out if necessary.

Images: Your product pages should include images of the product from multiple angles and, where possible, images of how the product has been applied or installed in completed projects. With architects more settled than ever with products they’ve used in previous projects, they need to see actual installs and applications before considering a new product.

Architects frequently choose products and materials that will be highly visible in the building they are designing based on their aesthetics, often before they start thinking about price. The architectural firm’s clients often seek a building or complex that is unique in its design, visually appealing and reflective of the owner’s brand or corporate themes, while the architect may be looking for materials and products that he can incorporate into a distinctive, landmark architectural statement. You can contribute to these goals with professional-quality, real-world images of your product on your website.

BIM objects: : BIM objects have become more essential in recent years as a source of product detail and design. The AIA survey concluded that 58% of architects ranked BIM files highly as a source of product information, although most of them wished that specification would be more integrated with BIM so that BIM contained more spec information.  A data file with geometric and functional information about a product, BIM download links on your website allow architects to view a 3D model reflecting the product’s physical appearance and performance. By providing accurate data files via your website, you encourage the interest of architect’s in the product.

BIM objects are thus an integration of modern architecture with the architect’s process. They simplify the design process, allowing architects to envision, modify, and implement designs with precision, ensuring the product’s seamless fit within the larger design. Their availability is critical for an architect’s consideration for non-custom applications.

Especially for a new product or a product from a company new to the commercial segment, architects will want to spend more time understanding how the product works, where it best fits in, and how it will interact with elements of the building design. BIM enables them to experiment and get comfortable with your product.

Product selector: Your product may be available in a variety of forms or an array of options. A line of paint products, for instance, may offer formulations specific to trim or with certain sheens and a wide variety of colors. A product selector on your website allows architects and designers to choose from the complete range of options and can inspire creative applications and color pallets.

If you have added a new version, color or form to your range of products, you may want to highlight that product in the selector tool or showcase a particular new attribute (e.g.,, “Now produced from 100% recyclable organic material”).  If you want to elevate a new product or product feature, you can code the product page so that it shows in search results, even if it does not meet the exact search criteria but was close.

Comparison tool: Many manufacturers will launch new products that are in an established category or that are an evolution of an existing product line. A product comparison tool will help architectural professionals understand the nuances of each of your products, including the new one. The tool can indicate the variety of applications for each product and suggest which product may be best for an area of a building or for a specific function.

If you are new to the commercial market or have only a limited line of products, consider adding comparisons to existing standard products, pointing out the advantages of yours, such as, “An aerogel glass brick that not only admits daylight, like conventional glass bricks, but also integrates insulation directly into the brick, resulting in the highest insulating performance of any brick on the market.”

A comparison tool also is a great way to reinforce the value of your legacy products. Often a new product launch can be a catalyst to revitalize an entire product line.

Contact form: Architects appreciate person-to-person interaction. They rank the ability to engage with reps and products and to ask questions as the most valuable part of events and conferences, and they want the same opportunities for engagement in the virtual environment. To start a conversation with an architect who discovers your product online, include a contact form on your website. This should be as brief as possible, requesting the site visitor’s name, firm and preferred means of contact (phone, text or email). Then it should provide a box where the visitor can ask questions, request samples or set up a meeting. Contact information for your rep(s) should be provided prominently on this page, as well.

Chat bot: If you are equipped to staff a chat bot, this can be a highly productive communication tool on your website. The chat bot is a small pop-up window where your visitor can communicate with a live person at your company for a chat session that works much like texting on a phone. This is the quickest method of capturing a new lead, answering questions about specs or applications, resolving any misconceptions about a product and setting a follow-up meeting or other electronic communication with the prospect.  Chat bots can be provided by online services for a monthly fee.

Automated AI-powered “chatbots” are also available, but currently they often result in more frustration than leads. They provide standard answers to questions but are not very effective in responding to more specific queries and end up transferring the visitor to a live agent.

Rep finder: Having knowledgeable reps and an easy-to-navigate website were the two top attributes for the surveyed architects when working with product manufacturers. It makes sense, then, for our website to feature a rep finder, where visitors easily can find the right rep for the product or material they need. As stated earlier, architects value direct interaction, and the rep finder can guide them to the email and phone/text contact information they need to get answers to their questions. Even better, the rep finder could be incorporated into a chat box so that the architect can immediately text with the rep.

Tax credits: If your product has federal tax credits for contractors or building owners associated with it—such as energy-efficient windows or heat pumps—architects will want to know that. While the architect may not directly benefit from the credits, their clients will; and such credits can boost your product’s attractiveness so that it becomes the commercial architectural firm standard. An architect will want to know more about these products so that he or she can incorporate them into the building’s design in a way that optimizes their efficiency and dollar savings for the owner. Include tax credit information prominently with your product’s specs on the website.

Establish a virtual presence beyond your website

While your website will likely be the primary digital platform for generating conversations with prospects, you also should reach out beyond the boundaries of your web pages for other virtual strategies that will strengthen your ties with architects. Particularly if your company or product is new to the commercial sector, you will want to generate a broad digital presence to raise your brand to a top-of-mind position with architectural firms.

Here are the digital arenas you should consider.

Social media: You can put sites like LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest to work promoting your products in many ways. You can post introductions to new products and to advancements in your legacy products. Create a brief post about your news and, with it, provide a link to a product page, case study and/or blog post (both discussed later in this guide) on your website. This is a great way to get your target audience into your website for further exploration.

LinkedIn also enables you to post recommendations from your current and past clients to show how your products have supported their needs.

You also may choose to advertise on social media, a very popular practice for the business-to-business marketing segment. A 2021 survey by the Content Marketing Institute, reported by, found that 77% of all manufacturing marketers used paid social media promotion. Advertising on social sites can introduce a new product widely and simultaneously to architects and their customers, which may create a building owner demand.

The 2021 survey also suggests where to focus your efforts in this universe of social sites. The survey found that “far and away, the most effective social media platform for manufacturing marketers in LinkedIn, with 79% of respondents selecting this as a top producer of results…The next-highest answer was YouTube with 35%–a steep drop-off.”

LinkedIn outperformed largely because it is a site for professionals to network with other professionals and because it serves as a platform with extraordinary reach. Not only can your company have its own LinkedIn corporate page, but each of your employees can have his or her own LinkedIn site. This can serve to amplify a message through multiple posts and igniting conversations in which your professionals engage with architects and designers, as well as with their customers.

While this survey embraced all types of manufacturers, architects and designers also may make extensive use of more visual-oriented sites, like YouTube and Instagram. YouTube especially is a valuable video tool for demonstrating how your product works, as well as how to install and maintain it. So, it’s important for your company and your employees to be active on a range of social media platforms.

Presence on sample sites: Sample sites like Material Bank and Swatch Box allow architecture and design professionals to order free samples of any of hundreds of thousands of products and materials, from flooring and countertops to upholstery and paneling. Architecture professionals search these sites to order materials they can see and touch to gain a better sense of their quality.

While these sites may not be used to search for new products, architects and designers do look for alternative products for the plans they have in mind. Moreover, as with social media, sample sites offer opportunities for advertising, which can build awareness of a new product.

Presence on spec sites: As with sample sites, architects visit spec sites to access BIM objects and 3-part spec documents to build complete specifications. These digital content assets can help  legitimize your new product or your entry into the commercial segment and make it easier for architects to understand the details of your product or material.

Again, it’s important to ensure that your product is included on these sites, including AIA MasterspecRIB SpecLink, ARCAT, Acelab and BIMsmith. Spec sites differ in what they offer but can provide such features as most-used building product information, product information built into smart specs, cost estimation tools and free access for architects.

Email campaigns: Architects may do some initial research on a new product or a company that’s new to the commercial segment, downloading a brochure or design guide. But if they don’t have an immediate  project on their screen, your information may not be top of mind when a project does come along. Employing email campaigns—often called email nurture sequences—to keep the product on the architect’s consideration list will provide continuing education about the product’s benefits and offer an easy way to contact your rep.

This type of campaign involves sending emails to clients and prospects at regular intervals. One email may introduce your product; others may invite the recipient to an online webinar that will demonstrate it, publish a testimonial from an architect who has specified your product, or furnish your product’s booth number at a trade show.

Be certain each email contains links to a rep, the product page on your website and a phone number. Monitor your emails for any bounce-backs, indicating a bad address or someone no longer with the firm. This, incidentally, is a good way to keep your client and prospect lists up to date.

Trend content: Architects and designers are all about trends, both setting and following them. Trends can drive the adoption of new products and help yours become the commercial architectural firm standard. For example, lessons from the COVID pandemic have translated into major upgrades of commercial bathrooms. Plumbing manufacturers are rapidly employing the internet of things (IoT)—smart and interconnected devices—as part of a complete building management system. Digitally publishing trend content around ways that the IoT can help prevent disease transmission—with sensor-equipped touchless faucets and voice-activated showers, for instance—is a great way to build credibility for new IoT plumbing products.

Trends in design, prompted by fashion, new materials and sustainability, also can provide a context for your product’s benefits or your material’s features.

Future digital developments: The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to grow exponentially in the  years ahead. The 2023 AIA survey found that “a fifth of the respondents expect to use artificial intelligence for product research and specification. However, a quarter of principals and a third of project managers expect the same, suggesting it will grow notably.”

For now, AI is being employed by search engines to provide summaries of search term results and in applications like Chat GTP to write documents (including basic specs), gain insights and automate tasks. AI apps use information and wording that they find elsewhere on the internet, so the greater your digital presence, the more likely it is that your product descriptions will be included in summaries.

Digital is imperative.

Digital marketing of your products and materials is no longer an option; it’s imperative and now the standard way of promoting a brand. If you work creatively and comprehensively to get your product on the screens of architects and designers, not just on their desks, you will enhance your bid to gain specification as the commercial architectural firm standard.