Brand Building: Are you ‘innovative’?

Aug 21, 2014

This over-used word can be working against you.

In one of our seminars, we ask the attendees to spend 5 minutes developing a short pitch to convince a potential client why they should hire the attendees’ firm. We then go around the room and each attendee delivers their pitch to the class. While these are being presented, Mark Zweig and I jot down notes on each pitch. We also find ourselves counting the number of times we hear the word “innovative.” That buzzword is often paired with “cost-effective” and “solutions.” It is astounding how many people will use these words to describe their firm. More than half will say they offer “cost-effective and innovate solutions.” In an industry that obsesses over the threat of commoditization, are we are own biggest enemy? When we are all saying we offer the same thing, what is the client world to think? “Innovative” has been a corporate buzzword for decades and our industry uses it exhaustively in just about every marketing and business development scenario. My belief is that no only has this word lost its original meaning and impact, but it can actually work against us now. Regular readers of this column will know the importance that I place on differentiation. Using words like “innovative” severely erode your ability to capture and hold your audience’s attention. Every one else is saying the same thing and the instant you look like everyone else, you have lost all differentiation. In this day and age, we must provide very powerful and compelling marketing messages in short bursts in order to compete with the incredible volume of messages constantly being piped over every medium available. Here are some ways to improve your differentiation and better capture your audience’s attention:
  • Get rid of over-used clichés and buzzwords from your marketing materials. Task someone with scanning your marketing materials and identifying where you are describing your processes with these over-used buzzwords. This will include marketing brochures, website text, boilerplate proposal text, presentations, interviews and the list goes on and on. Replace this generic text with some simple statements of what sets your firm apart using straightforward language. Talk to your audience in every medium as though they are standing right in front of you and you are engaging them in a conversation.
  • Start citing actual examples of client and project heroics. Innovative and cost-effective solutions do have an appeal if you can actually cite what they are and how you can do it for others. As opposed to using vague, nondescript language to describe your firm, start telling your audience how much you save, how much better your designs perform, and just about anything you can think of that you can quantify and cite as actual successes. Create a perspective in the mind of the audience where they can truly get a reference for your performance and the unique value propositions you offer.
  • Use primary research to become the experts. If you really want to be innovative, develop research campaigns where you can really go deep on a client or subject. There are so many untapped opportunities for you to help your clients or their industry by just doing some simple research on the client or their customers. Taking that research and then publishing it is easier and cheaper than ever with all the online resources. You can get credit for being an authority on a subject by just publishing a simple survey and then adding your own expert analysis.
Create a picture of what you want your clients and potential clients to believe about your firm and start painting that picture for them without over-used and meaningless buzzwords. Start talking to your audience with conversational and easy to read straightforward language. You must leverage every opportunity to engage your clients in the most meaningful and impactful way you can. Chad Clinehens is ZweigWhite’s executive vice president. Contact him at This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1069, originally published 8/25/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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.