Best practices for AEC firms will continue to evolve, but firms that take steps to innovate will be the ones that succeed.
AEC marketing is different than product marketing. The marketing, business development, and sales cycle is much longer than for product industries. Best practices for products can be easily found by Googling – but best practices for architects, engineers, and contractors aren’t so easily found. There are few sources and data surveys collected, but it’s really all about talking to the marketplace.
There are some best practices that architects, engineers, and contractors should follow if they want to be part of the marketing elite.
Marketing plan. You don’t get anywhere without a plan! Your firm should have a strategic business plan which will guide the strategic marketing plan. It’s not impossible to put together a marketing plan without a strategic plan, but you’ll reach your goals faster if these two are working in tandem. Writing your marketing plan and the tactics you are taking to get there not only helps your marketing and business development staff, but it also communicates with other firm leaders how you are going to reach your marketing goals. Again, it goes back to alignment.
Writing your marketing plan and then implementing it will take your firm to the next level. Unfortunately, so many times, firms put together a plan with the best intentions – and then it just sits in a folder. No one ever looks at it except for once every three or four years. Once that plan is written, it’s helpful to break it down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly tactics. Having the big picture is great, but you also must outline the details and how you will implement the plan. Firms that write down and implement a marketing strategy consistently are much more profitable than firms that don’t.
Thought leadership. Being perceived as an industry expert is a great way to market your firm. This concept has been talked about for years but hasn’t really taken hold yet in the AEC field. There are many different ways to become a thought leader. You or a technical staff member can present at client/prospect conferences or sit on panels. Offering webinars or podcasts on your own platform is also a way to reach clients and prospects.
Education marketing is the term I use. It’s not selling. You aren’t selling one thing, but rather sharing your knowledge and expertise. Tell stories about how you’ve helped your clients succeed and reach their business goals. Offering guidebooks, white papers, blogs, and other written material on your website, newsletter, or other marketing collateral is also a great way to show your experience. Getting published in client and prospect magazines, newsletters, and websites is another way to market your thought leadership. Our industry has dipped its toes into this concept, but not fully immersed itself yet. Thought leadership has a very long lead time, too. Many times, a lead doesn’t come for years. (It’s also a combination of other marketing tactics you are implementing, not just the thought leadership piece.)
Digital marketing. Digital marketing is just what it sounds like. Everything online – your computer screen, your mobile device, the internet. Digital marketing is the future wave of our industry. The days of packing around loads of paper brochures are over. You can have some printed collateral, but most clients don’t want to have files of brochures and pamphlets.
Digital marketing includes podcasts, white papers, blogs, email marketing, SEO, display ads, video, and social media. These things must all complement each other and work together. Drip campaigns (where you collect a client’s email and then give them relevant information over a course of time) can be successful when used properly. Again, you must educate your client and not just promote your firm. You’ve probably signed up for something online (leadership or management training) and receive emails from that trainer. The good email drip campaigns are customized to you. It can even track when you click to their website and the path you take on their website. This isn’t cheap, but it can be very helpful in knowing the path your clients and prospects are taking digitally when it comes to your firm.
On a more manageable scale, taking good video (both drone and on the ground) is a great way to showcase your clients and their projects. Video content has exploded in popularity and will continue to grow over the next five years. Just remember that most people watch video on their mobile device with the sound muted, so you must include captions with your video. Video is a powerful tool to quickly convey your message and your brand.
Social media – especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram – continues to grow specifically for architects, engineers, and contractors. LinkedIn is becoming the most popular business-to-business social media platform. As an advertiser, you can reach more of your target audience through LinkedIn, because you can better target your clients and prospects.
Tying back into thought leadership, ensuring search engine optimization is maximized on your website is also important. It goes back to writing white papers, blogs, and producing relevant content. Google combs your website frequently to see what you’ve updated, and it produces Google search results accordingly. Content is not only important from an SEO standpoint, but when a prospect goes to your website to “check you out,” you need to have some educational information that sets you apart from the competition. So many times I see the same tabs on a website (About Us, Projects, Services, Contact Us). I’ve been guilty of this, too, but you need to have some call-to-actions and education components on your website.
Best practices for AEC firms will continue to evolve. As the market changes and clients change how they research and purchase professional services, we must always be open to change and innovation. It’s never easy. It’s always challenging. Those firms that take the steps to innovate and improve will be the ones that succeed and are profitable.