Case study: Sergio Mannino Studio
With over 250 stores under his belt – including retail environments for Prada, Lexus and Vince Camuto – the Italian-born, Brooklyn-based designer and practice principle Sergio Mannino knows what makes for successful retail design.
Then along came the Retail Crisis. A flood of vacancies, closures and bankruptcies caused a sudden decline in the studio’s client base.
Our mission was to position the studio as thought-leaders and advocates for a new type of a retail, and share that with an industry desperate for new ideas.
We repositioned Sergio Mannino Studio from the ground up to focus exclusively on the retail space, capturing and sharing the director’s unique insights. We then built a highly-effective lead-generation strategy via the studio’s website, PR strategy, blog and email list.
Since implementation leads and traffic have increased substantially. The firm has been published widely in the architectural media, and the director has become a regular contributor to Forbes on the retail economy and been invited to deliver talks at international retail conferences.
Sergio Mannino studio was like a lot of architecture firms that approach me for advice: positioned across multiple verticals, hoping for leads via Google and word of mouth, waiting for the phone to ring.
That strategy had worked okay for their studio until the market shifted beneath them: and clients no longer just required an attractive interior. All of a sudden, amidst increasing competition for customer attention, the rise of online shopping and Amazon one-click commerce, retailers needed new ideas. Retailers needed design thinking to solve their problems, and a designer who would think deeply about their customers and do something innovative to win back shoppers.
When I first met Sergio, it was abundantly clear that he was an expert on quality retail environments. He had the ideas that the market was screaming out for in its time of need. The problem? He didn’t realise his powers, and had trapped all of that knowledge within the walls of his studio.
To the outside world, Sergio’s firm was like any other: he was being nickel and dimed on fees. He was expected to work for free to win projects. He was unable to charge fees that reflected the commercial value he was able to create for his clients, no matter their budget.
As the American retail crisis worsened, it just got more stressful for Sergio. He faced stiff competition from other design firms fighting over a shrinking pool of projects. They were cutting their fees to the bone just to stay afloat.
Sergio faced a daunting decision: should he hedge his bets and shift his focus to other niches… or double down in retail, the vertical where he had the deepest knowledge to offer, but the most risk?
Sergio knew he needed a rebrand, and new copywriting for his most important landing pages.
Sergio’s website had been optimised for SEO, but savvy prospective clients aren’t Google’s robots – they needed strong, clear messaging.
We thought about every detail of Sergio’s ‘expert’ persona from the ground up. It was important to separate the strategic part of Sergio’s service from his implementation/design services at every step of the visitor’s journey.
Sergio needed to convey how his strategic process would unfold for new clients. We guided him through the creation of a valuable email magnet full of case studies, and complete transparency around his unique design-thinking process.
After Sergio’s website was ready to receive traffic, get ideal clients to that “aha” moment faster and convert, we began our content generation process.
We followed our journalist blogging process – where we met with Sergio for an interview, picked his brains, asked him questions and uncovered his insights.
This interview served as our source material for the production of several relevant, topical blog posts each month.
It was important that Sergio came out with a bang! We decided to face the elephant in the room head on: is retail dead?
Here was the first – “Why Most Retail Stores Are Destined To Fail.”
When I help clients with their content marketing strategy, I always try to figure out their North Star — their guiding principle.
I discovered during my sessions with Sergio that his was: “Retail isn’t dead… just bad retail.”
As it happens, the forward-thinking influencers in the retail space (aka his ideal clients) agreed – quality customer experiences were more important than ever before.
The article drove over 5,000 readers to his blog in the first week and had 1,500+ shares on LinkedIn – including key decision-makers at Disney, Nike, IBM and more.
We continued to generate content on this theme, and as the traffic and impact of each post grew, Sergio was soon invited to contribute regular articles to Forbes.com.
The first “Online Retailers: Why Physical Retail Should Be Your Next Move” addressed the customer experience thesis from a new angle.
Sergio’s content attracted the attention of Medly, a pharmacy startup focused on easing the pain of buying prescription medicines. Their solution meant that the physical pharmacy would function as a community and consultation space. They needed to re-invent the pharmacy entirely, and they knew Sergio was the guy for the job from following his marketing content.
The project was an exceptional example of Sergio’s ideas put into practice, so I helped Sergio create a strategy and process to pitch the project to the design media.
I began by guiding him through the process of selecting a new photographer, then I worked with Sergio to develop the project’s storylines in a comprehensive media kit.
I helped Sergio to select publications, research and reach out to key contacts, and handle cold email and follow-up processes to maximise the potential exposure of the project.
The project was published throughout the design media, and on nearly all of the major global publications including Dezeen, Yellowtrace, ArchDaily, Archinect, Architizer and Frame Magazine.
Most importantly, the process that we followed with Medly was now documented, established and automated for Sergio to carry out effortlessly on future projects.
Sergio had struggled to manage his social media strategy – trying to keep all of the plates spinning on Facebook, Pinterest, Houzz, LinkedIn, Instagram (and anywhere else Architect’s feel pressured to be active).
We asked the question “what would this look like if it was simple?”
We came to the conclusion that he had two key audiences, design fans and ideas fans. We decided to develop strategies to grow his exposure on Instagram and LinkedIn.
On Instagram, Sergio was limited by a small, but growing portfolio of work that matched his new focus (innovative retail) – still, it was unclear how he could post enough content to grow his reach.
Since Sergio was targeting a very tight niche, we helped him to implement a ‘publication’ strategy as an effective way to build an audience quickly.
We established the @notbeigeplease Instagram account. Sergio and his team would ‘pin’ inspiring images, and we would oversee the selection, scheduling and timing on the new Instagram account.
The @notbeigeplease account has grown quickly, and directed loads of followers and traffic to Sergio’s personal account and website. Strategically, it functions like a design publication – a place where he can promote his own projects as they are released.
I love the idea that Architects own their own little piece of the architecture media landscape. For Sergio, it has created a platform for experimentation and advocacy, as he educates his audience on the historical and current precedents that underpin his own practice’s designs — attracting like minded prospects along the way.
On the business development side, I developed a LinkedIn outreach and automation strategy for Sergio that would allow him to target specific companies and their decision-makers with relevant messages about his new content, projects and articles. His professional network has grown into the thousands, and helped the reach of his content to skyrocket.
The New Normal
Supported by my advice, strategy and marketing services, Sergio has built an expert personal brand in the retail space. He is looked up to as a thought leader, the first port of call for retailers across the globe looking for fresh ideas on how they can create better experiences for their customers, and his firm is on a trajectory for continued growth.
His marketing effort has enabled him to transform his traditional design firm into a holistic retail strategy consultancy: selling his ideas to large corporations in Asia, the Middle East and across North America.
Most importantly, Sergio achieved all of this while running a busy design firm, with just two employees.