As Art Linkletter observed: “Kids say the darnedest things.” The other day, my daughter Christina, who is in the first grade, said to me, “Dad, why don’t you do a commercial where you tell everyone how great you are and how perfect your company is?”“Well, Christy,” I said. “When you see those commercials on T.V., or read ads like that in a magazine, does it make you want to buy what they are selling?”“No,” she said “It just sounds like they’re bragging.”“You just answered your own question,” I said.She then asked me: “How do you sell your books and other jobs, then?”“By giving people information about the product or service, or by giving people some other information they want or need so they can see we understand their business,” I told her. “Then they call us.”The very next day, a brochure from an engineering firm in the midwest hit my in-box. I opened it up, and here’s what I read (with the names changed to protect the innocent):“From its beginning in 1935, John Jones and a staff of three men, the firm has greatly expanded its staff. A large percentage are registered in the State of ______ as engineers and land surveyors. The non-registered people provide a most important segment of the engineering output of the firm, as they are skilled in the collection and presentation of the data shown in the drawings and in engineering reports.... “A desirable blend of abilities and talents has resulted and the widely varied projects turned out during the past years have been of particular importance to our clients. With this background of successful engineering services, it is of paramount importance that continuing reasonable solutions to engineering problems be achieved.”I wasn’t sure what I read, but I knew that they wanted me to think they were good. Out of curiosity, I pulled out some more brochures from other, larger firms, just to see what they were saying. One large engineering firm’s brochure starts out:“Across America and around the world, the firm of XYZ Associates is known as one of the leading American _______ engineers in the design of ______.” Don’t laugh. It continued: “Headquartered in _______ for nearly 30 years, XYZ Associates has been recognized internationally with hundreds of awards for innovative designs of state-of-the-art _______s and _______s.” I’m sure they must be proud. The next brochure I found stated:“As we review our performance, a look back at just a few of our landmark projects is doubly rewarding. It reminds us of where we have been, as a firm and as individuals, earlier in our careers.” I’m glad they are pleased with themselves. Then I pulled out another brochure that read: “ABC Associates, founded in 1953, boasts a management team which brings together many years of experience in the consulting engineering, architectural, and management fields.” They went on to say “for numerous years, ABC’s record of service has brought us repeat business from our loyal clients.” They weren’t kidding when they said “boast”! The next brochure I read opened up with: “John Public & Associates, Inc., successfully conducts complete architectural and engineering programs, culminating in esthetically and functionally pleasing products. Exciting results are achieved through carefully tailored and managed programs, that build from initial client parameter meetings through creative concepts, planning, budgeting, design and production stages.” Whew— that was a mouthful! I dug into my file cabinet even deeper for yet another brochure from a mid-sized, multi-discipline firm and just skimmed the headlines, which promised “Innovative Yet Practical and Cost Effective Solutions” plus “Multi-Disciplinary Service,” “Highly Qualified Staff,” and “Ever-Changing Services.”My reaction to all of this stuff: Is this what consulting engineers and architects really think makes people want to buy their services? Can’t they recognize tired cliches? Can’t they see that none of this communicates any degree of understanding for their client’s business? It’s just bragging.Why not try what I did with your own firm’s literature. It’s time to go back once again and look at your brochures and marketing materials. Let’s be careful not to insult the intelligence of those who read these things. Even a first grader can tell you that bragging turns people off.Originally published 2/28/1994
About Zweig Group
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.
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