What Can This Architectural Wonder Teach Us About Marketing

Visiting La Sagrada Familia, the Catholic Church with an unorthodox and ever-evolving architecture, has always been on my bucket list.  On my way to Lausanne and Milan for business meetings, I decided to stop in Barcelona to visit this historic landmark. In addition to soaking in the amazing sculptures and stunning architecture, I made an effort to connect the dots from what I saw to what I do.

Vision and strategy come first 

Antoni Gaudi, the master architect, designed the church, in his own words, to reflect “all the grandeur of the human spirit in its openness to God.” He wanted to create a sanctuary in which you can feel the presence of divine. To do that, you need a vision and strategy. He had a grand vision with a vivid imagination; he knew what he wanted to build in order to bring the divine glory to his sacred house. Unfortunately, his blueprint was completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but his two fellow colleagues were able to recreate his blueprint from memory. It’s really hard to get where you’re going without a map, so this recreation of the blueprint enabled the continuation of the project according to the designs of Gaudi.

A blueprint is also needed for marketing: Your business model and strategy come first. When marketing is done right, it’s about delivering great user experiences reflecting the essence of your brand to support your business growth.

Vision and strategy require interpretation and execution

Here is the challenge for La Sagrada Familia: while colleagues were able to recreate the high-level blueprint, they did not recall or know enough details to take it to the next level to fully implement Gaudi’s vision. With Gaudi’s passing and the loss of details, those who worked on the project needed to interpret the high-level blueprint and deduce the details required to implement it.

The interpretation can’t be random or without constraints, it needs to be done with thought and intention. There are rules that need to be followed. For example: the new spires need to mesh with existing design elements. With similar aesthetics. Sculptures and statues need to be placed purposefully to reflect biblical references.

Similar thinking is also required in marketing; design guidance is the brand or style guide. The creative and look-and-feel elements of campaigns need to align with brand DNA, brand personas, typeface and other requirements in the brand guide. You can deviate from the essence of the brand, but you need to be able to articulate why and take into the account the impact on the overall experience. At the same time, messaging and copy on various channels need to be well-thought out. Ultimately, user experience is about attention to detail.

To do it right takes time

When Gaudi was criticized for taking too long to build the sacred house, he famously said, “My boss is not in a hurry.” He knew that it was going to take generations and many, many people to build his house of the divine.

Creating something memorable takes time and effort. I have come to realize that this is especially true for digital marketing. I have been fiddling with my own website for the past year. I wrote and rewrote the copy, added/deleted new pages, moved buttons around…Tested and retested what works and what doesn’t. The fact is that websites are like works of art, you can tweak until the cows come home but at some point you need to lock in the design and let go. The trick is to know when to stop and be OK with it.

In the real world, none of us have infinite time and resources to craft and recraft our marketing efforts. We have deadlines to meet, products to launch and bosses who are not as patient as Gaudi’s. The key is to start your marketing planning early, especially when campaigns require extensive collaboration with various teams. Even though Gaudi didn’t set a deadline, La Sagrada Familia Foundation aims to complete the construction in 2026. “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”

George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”, while Salvador Dali stated its terrifying and edible beauty should be kept under a glass dome. To start the construction of this alien-like and radical design in 1882, Gaudi was, no doubt, ahead of his time. I actually agree with both Orwell and Dali, it’s terrifyingly hideous and strikingly stunning at the same time. The mix of emotion reminded me of the Apple’s 1984 Macintosh Commercial. It’s terrifying and remarkable at the same time.

It’s hard to create a campaign with such grand artistic and provocative expressions. We may not have opportunity, resource or budget to work on a big campaign. That doesn’t mean you can’t take small steps and optimizations to improve your campaign or digital marketing efforts. Marketing results come from the sum of small efforts that you repeat day in and day out.

Here comes my bucket list no. 60: Back to see the brave new La Sagrada Familiar in 2026.

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4 Lessons Learned from My First European Workshop

image source: Shutterstock

I had been thinking about doing a workshop outside of the US for quite a while, but I was hesitant to try it. While I have done international roadshows and events in the past, it was challenging and expensive to do international events, especially in the areas of marketing promotion and attendee acquisition. You not only need a reliable event partner, but also an event manager on the ground.

Finally, I decided to give it a try since I would be in Hungary in May. I might as well pilot a workshop while I was in Europe. I reached out to my good friend, Kelly Hungerford, who is a social media super-star. She single-handedly built a vibrant community for Paper.li and a couple other start-ups. She has lived in Europe for over 20 years and knows how to market to Europeans. We decided to try it out in Lausanne where she lives.

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We executed a workshop and met our goals. Here are some of the lessons we learned:

Preparation time: We started promoting aggressively in April which was about 6 weeks before the workshop.  We thought that was plenty of time, but we were wrong. We needed about 10 weeks of promotion time.

Lessons learned: 10 weeks of solid promotion time is necessary, since Europeans plan their schedules earlier than North Americans.

Paid and organic promotion: We started with paid FB, LinkedIn, even Twitter with timely organic tweets and LinkedIn posts.  What we discovered is that paid FB may work well for American audiences, but it didn’t seem to get much traction with Europeans. Cost per clicks was less than $1, but we didn’t get much sales conversions.

There are several possible causes:

  • Creative
  • Messaging
  • Audience attributes
  • Perception of sponsored ads
  • Lack of awareness of Pam Didner

Although these are possible causes, we believe that how Europeans perceive sponsored ads also contributed to lack of conversions. My target audiences didn’t know me and ads or retargeting ads won’t necessarily convince them to attend a workshop.

Paid LinkedIn didn’t perform well either. We had better luck with personalized and organic outreach through LinkedIn.  We also tried paid twitter feeds to provide air cover, but, again, not much conversions. In addition, we also did some personalized outreach via Twitter, since these people don’t know me, it seemed to come across as spam.  At the end, Kelly and I believe that customized and personal outreach on LinkedIn and local MeetUps and marketing community sponsorship may work better than paid social media promotion.

Another variable we experimented with was employing various attendee attributes via FB’s promotion tool.  For a small budget and one-time workshop, it’s difficult to do continuous trial-and-error optimization to get to an optimal solution. Also, it burns through budget very quickly. We don’t think it was a good use of our budget for one-off workshop promotion. However, if you are doing promotion for a long period of time with a solid budget and time to devote to optimization, it’s worth the investment.

Lesson Learned: Focus on organic efforts on social media channels and allocate some budget for paid Twitter and an FB event page for broad air coverage. Then, hone in on personalized outreach via LinkedIn. In addition, it makes sense to use budget to sponsor local MeetUps, marketing events and local marketing influencers.

Marketing Messaging: This was also a big “Aha” for us. I used the same messaging as I did for my Portland workshop. However, the word “Global” didn’t resonate with Swiss marketing professionals the way it resonates with American audience. Switzerland has three official languages: French, German and English. A lot of marketers are doing marketing locally. Some marketers speak German and they only focus on marketing to German-speaking audiences. What I should have done is to explain “Global” in the sense of being able to scale content targeted to German-speaking audiences to French-speaking and English-speaking segments. We didn’t really understand that until our promotion was done.

Lesson Learned: Explain the word “Global” in the context of “Local”.

Budget: I actually spent a lot of time to determine the cost per acquisition. Based on my US workshops, I calculated the cost per acquisition was about $125. Since I have never done a workshop in Switzerland, I set a goal of approximately $175.  The total cost per acquisition was about $200, including translation, venue and food.

Pricing: Kelly and I debated about the pricing. We are exploring between US$299 and 399. We settled for US$339.  I think that was reasonable for 4-hour workshop. Most Swiss pay only by Swiss Franc (CHF), we set up the payment to accept the local currency.

Lesson Learned: Accept local currency and try different discounts and pricing next time.

Actual Outcomes: Although our goal was 20, we had 10 registrants with 6-week of hard work.

Overall, it went very well…

The workshop was well-received by attendees. The overall survey feedback was positive and the tips and tricks shared were useful according to attendees’ comments and feedback. Some attendees even asked me what other workshops I would be doing and if I would be back in Switzerland again.

We had Legos, markers, crayons and other fun stuff on the table for attendees to use for exercises. Snacks, desserts and drinks were available during the workshop. Cheese and wine were served after the workshop and several attendees stayed afterwards to network. We finished two bottles of wine.  J

 4 Lessons Learned from My First European Workshop

4 Lessons Learned from My First European Workshop

In summary…

At end of the day, I broke-even for my first international workshop. Throughout the experience, I have also changed my mindset about doing workshops.  The objective of my workshop is really to build awareness of my expertise. It’s like publishing a book.  It’s hard to make money on a marketing book, but the book itself opens business opportunities and potential leads for consulting projects.

With our new found understanding of the market, Kelly and I decide to do workshops again in Geneva in October with two different topics. We are looking forward to refining and stay tuned for more details.

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