Lunch-and-learns: together with trade show booths, they’re arguably a building-product manufacturer’s easiest route to gaining face-to-face time with architects. In return for a complimentary sandwich and an informative presentation (usually with the tantalizing bonus of continuing education credits), brands hope to get a little of what they want most from architects — a moment of their precious time.
The question is, are they worth a manufacturer’s investment?
To help answer that question, we talked to some architects who’ve had first-hand experience of lunch-and-learns for their views on this tried-and-tested marketing strategy. Kim Lai and Tom Orton are part of the design team at New York-based firm Hollwich Kushner, and both have attended numerous sessions with manufacturers to learn about their products and materials.
“Most staff never actually get to go to trade shows,” said Lai, “so lunch and learns are pretty valuable for getting exposure to more products — especially without the firm having to spend the money to send staff anywhere.” So, lunch-and-learns have the value of convenience — at least on the architect’s side. But do they provide value behind time and cost savings? “Though they can be a drag and can often feel like a waste of time, lunch-and-learns are still valuable, said Orton. “For me, they are an important tool for getting access to the actual product, to touch and feel them.”
On this evidence, the lunch-and-learn strategy appears vindicated — but hold that thought. The quality of the presentation and information provided is key to ensuring true value for architects, something which is far from guaranteed. According to Lai and Orton, the usefulness of lunch-and-learns held at Hollwich Kushner varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.
“Often we have lunch and learns where a rep is simply bringing in a product with quite a weak presentation behind it and we’re left sitting there looking for questions to ask to make it feel like a worthwhile trip for the rep,” said Orton. “If the presentation (verbal and on screen) behind the product or service is weak, it becomes very hard to engage.” Meanwhile, Lai recounted a couple of less-than-stellar presentations that did not form a compelling case for specifying that brand in future.
“One presentation by a tile manufacturer was really boring, and another by a rep for ‘plug-and-play’ bathrooms was terrible,” said Lai. “The reps were both knowledgeable, but only to a certain extent — you didn’t feel like you were learning anything that you couldn’t have read off a brochure.” If there is one thing you don’t want to be in front of dozens of tired, time-strapped architects, it’s boring. The best way to avoid this, said Orton, is to be passionate about your product and explain its features in a way that is relatable to architects: “Lunch-and-learns are more effective when I feel like the person communicating is a peer in the industry and not merely a ‘salesperson’.”
Ultimately, explained Orton, the success of a lunch-and-learn hinges upon the presenter. They need to be incredibly knowledgeable about their product, so that they are able to provide more insights beyond what architects can find themselves in a brand’s marketing collateral. They also need to avoid promoting themselves or their product too hard — architects want to discover solutions for their projects, and informative discussions about design beat sales speak every time. “Presentations where there is something to be learned and where the product being offered can assist in solving that problem are much more beneficial to me, and often are much more memorable,” said Orton.
Finally, the question that manufacturers most want the answer to: Do lunch and learns result in sales? “Yes,” said Orton, “but it’s a case of right supplier, right time. Often we are looking for a product through previously used suppliers and happen to come across a new product because a rep is in doing a lunch-and-learn at the time when we are specifying the product.”
For brands, the reliance on timing (read: luck) in Orton’s scenario is undoubtedly difficult to rely upon. This is why Architizer’s marketplace makes sense for manufacturers — it puts them in front of actively specifying architects who are ready to make decisions about which products should go into their projects. That said, when carried out well, there is clearly a place for lunch-and-learns too.
The lesson? Carefully select your best story-teller to present lunch-and-learns for your brand, and pair this strategy with a more continuous stream of leads online to cover your bases.
Offering truly delicious sandwiches doesn’t hurt either …