If you're an interior designer looking for marketing strategies to help set you apart online - then you could learn a lot from the philosophy and approach of Jerry Jacobs.
A highly skilled architect and interior designer based in San Francisco, Jerry has been creating stunning designs for discerning clients in the US and overseas for over 25 years.
Classically trained and with an interest in all forms of art, architecture, design and history - Jerry's work is refined and beautiful, and definitely has the 'wow factor'.
While describing himself as a contemporary minimalist with a design ethos of 'classic simplicity', Jerry draws inspiration from a variety of styles such as Art Deco, Bauhaus, Neoclassical and Palladian.
Looking through his impressive online portfolio, you'll find yourself getting lost in his numerous project case studies with their incredible photography documenting a host of breathtaking designs.
Like many great interior designers and architects, Jerry gets most of his business through referrals and word of mouth - yet for the past few years he has increasingly made use of content marketing techniques such as blogging, social media and email marketing to build his online brand and connect with past and potential clients - with great success.
As a content marketer I'm always fascinated by how real businesses are using such techniques, so I caught up with Jerry to discuss his background, business and how he got started with online marketing.
Jerry's Backstory & Early Work
Q. Tell us your backstory Jerry?
Although I work as interior designer I'm actually an architect. I studied architecture. I love it. I'm passionate.
I'm that old, I still believe in a lot of the modular theories, but I landed into interiors because of a client who by chance wanted me to design his retail stores in the late 80's. I ended up doing a couple of hundred.
Most of the stores were based in Mexico, where I grew up. Two or three were in London. Then after doing a few hundred stores, the business I was working for collapsed - but by then I had realised that I very much liked doing interiors.
As an architect one tends to neglect interiors because it's like the engine of a car, you really get hooked up on the shape of the Aston Martin, not really on the mechanics inside.
Although interiors are not necessarily mechanics - my theory is that as we spend most of our time in interiors, they are actually quite essential.
In selecting what part of the discipline to focus on, although I did a lot of commercial work at the start, I decided residential was more for me because of the scale. I like to take care of a lot of things myself and I didn't like multiple, commercial projects that much.
Jerry Jacobs Design
Q. So bring us up to date with your work at Jerry Jacobs Design
We're a small company and we focus on high end residential. However, if a commercial client were to want some retail hospitality space, we would take it too because those projects have more of a personal character - such as a lobby, a hotel or an office.
I don't believe in trendiness. I'm not classic, I'm contemporary - but I definitely believe in timeless design. This mean rather than being cutting edge, we're doing things that will last. That's part of my philosophy, because if you invest hundreds of thousands of pounds you don't necessarily want to do things that are going to go out of style.
We have an international presence too (at the time of writing one of my junior associates is in Hamburg). I do a lot of work in Mexico as well, where the new minister of tourism is a close friend. We might do some projects there like train stations or something like that.
Although we are not that ambitious, we do have some global standing. For example, we were recently featured in a book by London based furniture retailer Andrew Martin, so we do enjoy quite a lot of success with our work. I'm not one of those people running after success though. I'm happy. I like it easy. I'm no longer a go getter.
The Educational Power of Blogging
Q. It's interesting you say that because I first came into contact with your business when I was researching a blog post about interior designers.
Of everyone I contacted, yours was the business that reached out the most with content marketing and used blogging and email marketing to promote your work.
Your blog is alive with case studies of amazing interior designs that you've completed for your clients. So you are being very proactive, and I guess you must find this approach effective for getting the word out?
It's a very good point. I must confess, I do believe in marketing.
As a matter of fact, before I started architecture school, there were many reasons I wanted to be an architect but I thought - you can actually do business with architecture because if you design places the right way, they will be effective and create money.
The retail projects I worked on later in my career actually proved this as those stores were so successful. People would say, 50 percent of the success of those stores is the architecture. I do see this relationship with architecture - the business side of it, so I definitely believe in marketing.
Having said that, while my experience is big my marketing budget is small. So when I learned what blogs were about, I started to blog. It's all about teaching people what you do.
When I started, one of my first jobs as an architect was being a professor. The dean of the school said, "Why don't you teach urban planning?" because I had studied new towns in England with the town and country planning association. Once I started I quickly realised - teaching and learning is very important to me - but as a very young architect I didn't really have the experience to know what I was teaching people.
Now I'm older and have much more experience, I started thinking - how can I give that knowledge back? I thought blogs were a perfect medium to do that. So I started sharing my experience to showcase my work and help people learn a little bit of what I've learned. Through blogging I can give to the community while at the same time gain more traffic.
As a designer, I also like working with the image preparation involved with blogging - working with colour schemes and cropping photographs. That's very nice. That's creative.
When I was very young - some 50 years ago - I loved magazines. I really liked opening a magazine and seeing how each ad was composed, how the colours and the photography were used and all that. I still do. I love media. I do enjoy blogging a lot and I think it combines very nicely with interiors or architecture. We're lucky to have all this new media.
Q. What you're saying really there is, blogging is a form of online educational magazine that you can bring all your experience and skills and design knowledge into - to help educate your audience and at the same time, increase your traffic. That sounds like win, win, win.
Yes I agree. I'm no expert with this, but I'm always thinking - is that going to bring me traffic or not? One of the beauties with new media like this is you have access to potentially millions of people - like with Instagram and social media. It's very interesting.
Q. You're also active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram as mentioned. You've got all these wonderful interior design images to share. They're just made for each other, aren't they? And as you say, you could reach millions of people through them.
Yes indeed. When you create an interior design or building that you put a lot of effort into, one investment I've always made is in good photography - and this helps my blog.
In fact, my best current photographer is English, a guy called Michael Calderwood. He spends most of his time in Brighton and Mexico City.
I've always believed in great photography. I could shoot pretty decent photographs with my iPhone 8, but you can't compare with the quality, equipment, knowledge and talent these guys have. By investing a little bit in photography, you end up over the years having a lot of good case study images so why not share them?
I gave some advice to an old friend of mine, a sculptor, when the Internet was starting 30 years ago - I said, "You should put your sculptures out there online." He said, "You're crazy, people are going to copy me."
However, my philosophy in copying and sharing is that who cares? It's nice when people copy you because they're saying you're good or your work is attractive and that's why they want to copy it. We all copy. Like I mentioned earlier, Norman Foster influenced me when I was starting out - so the stores I designed were all clear, tempered glass and open.
I mean, life is like that. You can't say, "Here's my photography and it's beautiful and it's for me. What do you want it for?" But it's good to share (with appropriate citations). I think it's healthy.
Email Marketing For Interior Designers
Q. For sure. Speaking of sharing being good for you, you've mentioned your email marketing newsletter. You talk about the images you use as well when blogging. I think they say it takes seven touch points for your audience to connect with your brand.
I'm on your list and I've been getting these wonderful emails from you featuring all your different interior design projects. This made me really want to talk with you about your approach to content marketing. Because it obviously does work, doesn't it? It creates that connection with your target audience.
Absolutely. I love it. That's why I got back to you. I said, "That's great, somebody's interested or likes it or appreciates this." I immediately welcome the enjoyment and the sharing.
I was president of the American Society of Interior Designers in San Francisco over 10 years ago and they use this newsletter concept called Duct. It's the same system with my email list. How else do you stay in touch with a group of hundreds of people in such an effective way?Imagine if you had to write letters to people every time you wanted to share something. It would be impossible, right?
Cleaning your email list is important though. At one point in Constant Contact I had 2,200 people, now I've cut that back because I sieve and filter. You have to check that people haven't opened them or have unsubscribed - then delete them from your database.
The great thing about email marketing is that it not only promotes your work but you generate real engagement. Some people reply occasionally, while others always send you a note, every time. So email is a nice media to not only market with but to stay in touch. I'm very happy I do that.
The Benefits of Content Marketing
Q. If you could quantify everything you've been doing consistently over the years, compared to when you weren't doing it, what sort of a difference has content marketing made to your design business? It surely must have brought in more business for you?
As interior designers, particularly in the residential space - we have a close relationship with our clients, and content marketing helps with that. You end up learning everything about their life. How they sleep, what they like. It becomes very personal.
So one tends to see that most of your clients come from referrals. But with my website and newsletter, I have generated extra business from my content marketing work - even though that's a term I haven't really used before to name what I was doing. I'm really just being creative and staying in touch with my target audience. It's a reminder that you're out there.
People might have you in their contacts directory, and might even have bookmarked your website - but then they don't look at it in 10 years. But if they get a monthly newsletter, you're reminding them you exist and what you do. I was an early adopter of websites in my business and that's why I'm still doing well with it, but I arrived later to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media.
I was successful without the need for them, so I'd advise you only to use them if you have a good business reason to. With all the negative press, I'm actually pretty suspicious of Facebook right now - as a lot of people are. But if you have a good strategic reason to use the various social media platforms then they can work well.
Although I do get a lot of business through referrals I do welcome all the new media technology. I believed in SEO from the start. Years ago I met an SEO guy at a marketing conference and hired him there and then once he explained it all. I said, "This is great." I'm so glad I did because eventually, I would lose some of my old clients and new ones would come in through the website.
Nowadays, particularly if you're starting, you have to have an online presence. Everybody these days - including Lord Foster - just everybody has websites. There's nobody that doesn't. I do believe technology's here to stay for sure - and if you use it well you can get some great results.
The new generation of interior designers just coming into the industry will get left behind if they don't embrace all this email marketing, social sharing, blogging and everything else. And it's up to more experienced designers like me to keep up as well.
The Importance of an Online Portfolio For Interior Designers
Q. You also emphasise the importance of having an online portfolio don't you?
Yes, we've talked about blogging, social media and email marketing - but having an online portfolio is also crucial for interior designers. Remember when we used to go to an appointment or an interview and you would carry a book and show people the photographs? You obviously don't have to do that anymore. It's all on the web.
It's now a case of, "You want to see what I do? Sure. Let's open the laptop and I'll show you." I think that's the accepted way it is now. I still love print as well, but digital media is much stronger for getting your work out there.
Building Your Online Authority
Q. It's interesting because listening to you talk about your depth of experience, all your years of expertise in architecture and interior design, it occurs to me that what you're really doing is transferring your offline reputation and authority to the digital space. Are you going to continue with all this into 2019 and beyond?
Yes. Why not? I mean, it's the way the world works now, right?
I actually enjoy it and firmly believe in sharing my work. What am I going to leave behind? Where we're all going, you can't take anything with you.
If my work is worth anything, then I want to share it and leave a legacy behind. You want people to say, "That's nice. Maybe we can do something like it," or maybe it's just inspiration. I seriously believe in that while at the same time, it also brings me some clients.
So try doing what I'm doing - and even if it isn't as effective as you wish at first, and even if it does take a lot of time - be persistent. You don't necessarily have to get it all right from the outset.
One of the beauties of the creative person - interior designers, painters, graphic artists, bloggers - is that if you keep practising for a long time it brings benefits. That's how you get better and master something.
Remember Picasso? I think he died in his nineties. He was always painting and learning. You will also continue getting better over time. I'm not comparing my work with him, but what I mean is that as you mature, your work becomes more accomplished and you earn more of an audience.
Don't expect to be successful right away. Some people are, like Richard Rogers - he won the Pompidou competition and was immediately famous but don't expect that. It's a challenging road ahead for those of us in creative careers, but you need persistence and a lot of patience.
But the good news is that now more than ever in history, creative people do get the opportunity to hone their skills using digital media, so I think it's fabulous and fantastic that we have them.
I mean, carrying your book with photographs all over the world, which I used to do, is unthinkable right now. So in this context, content marketing is definitely the way forward for ambitious interior designers.