Adaptive reuse in marketing

Jan 29, 2023

By applying various levels of rewriting, redesign, and repackaging, you can successfully bring adaptive reuse concepts into your AEC marketing realm.

Adaptive reuse is defined as reusing existing buildings in lieu of constructing new buildings through various levels of renovation, urban design, historic preservation, and performance retrofits, according to the AIA Adaptive Reuse Practice Guide.

Adaptive reuse is an accepted and often lauded approach and has many benefits over the wrecking ball or paving paradise. These benefits are abundant in the areas of environmental and economic sustainability, comparative speed of completion, and overall character and quality.

As AEC marketers, what lessons can we take away from this adaptive reuse approach?

Old buildings with good bones are the core of adaptive reuse projects in the architectural realm. The best adaptive reuse candidates have solid foundations, structural integrity, and retained character or original features.

For AEC marketers, brochures, project promotions, and marketing approaches from the past are examples of counterpart components for adaptive reuse. The evaluation points for their good bones could include things like: distinctive copy that still strongly represents your mission, vision, or core services; hand detailed imagery that speaks to the legacy or beginnings of your firm; or even details like fonts or unique page layouts. Any firm that has some organizational longevity can and should be revisiting these resources from the past and determining what foundational, structural, and original elements exist.

Have you ever spent time looking at a blank page or laptop monitor, waiting for inspiration to strike? Adaptive reuse in marketing can jump-start your creative mind and give you a head start. You don’t have to start from nothing. Instead, pick up where someone else left off and propel your marketing forward.

All firms can benefit from looking back … or around.

In the book Copy, Copy, Copy, Mark Earls glorifies the use of existing ideas to create your own new approaches to marketing. Mark proposes that we learn to copy well (by which he means badly): “loosely rather than tightly, from far away rather than from our immediate competitors.” And I propose, even from our past selves.

A common statement in support of adaptive reuse is the adage “they just don’t build things like they used to.” This is also true of much of our content from the past. Written at a time when there was no online thesaurus feeding us all the same word choices, the messaging of old was curated and crafted with care.

What was the essence of that messaging? Do the values and core approaches still apply? If yes, and if you are looking for character and authenticity, this could be a great place to start building your next generation marketing approach.

Adaptive reuse, especially historic preservation, is believed by some to be the most sustainable approach to building design. Donovan Rypkema, principal and CEO of Place Economics, has argued this point across the United States and around the world.

Adaptive reuse in AEC marketing can also bring more sustainable approaches to past efforts. With advances in printing and digital technologies, what used to be in print can now be digital. What used to require 5,000 prints to be economical can now be printed in smaller quantities, perhaps even one at a time. Campaigns or ideas that at one time may have been cost prohibitive may now be economical or even free to implement. Printed pieces can be produced using paper with different percentages of recycled or post-consumer waste content. Going further, multi-page brochures can be delivered into your prospects’ hands with a QR code, replacing hard-copy formats.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus tells us you can’t step in the same river twice, as the river is always changing and so are we. As AEC marketers, acknowledging and embracing change, picking up where someone else left off, and optimizing modern-day capabilities can result in something viable, fresh, and new … ish.

Good bones – whether architectural or promotional – are worth saving. By applying various levels of rewriting, redesign, and repackaging, you can successfully bring adaptive reuse concepts into your AEC marketing realm.  

Jane Lawler Smith, MBA, is the marketing manager at Derck & Edson, LLC. She can be reached at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.