Do you need a marketing plan?

Apr 16, 2018

Do you need shoes on your feet, a roof over your head, and food on your plate? If you don’t have a plan, start working on one!

More than one-fourth of firms in the AEC industry don’t have a formal marketing plan, but that doesn’t make it OK not to have one.

If your firm doesn’t have a marketing plan, or has one that is very outdated (think 2015 or earlier), starting from scratch can be a daunting task. A textbook definition of a marketing plan includes a situational analysis, which often necessitates a lot of research, a strategy or action plan, forecast (also may include a lot of research), and budget. AEC industry firms often focus heavily on the research component, looking up market economic reports, research on methodology, and industry data benchmarks for a variety of situations and actions. Zweig Group is a big proponent of using research, but with the amount of information available on the internet, it’s easy to get caught up in this phase and take months to accumulate and assess all the available data.

If you have limited time, a limited budget, or need to work on the actual implementation of marketing, don’t spend months putting together a 100-plus page plan. Here’s what you really need:

  • A definition of who your clients are
  • A statement of who you want your clients to be
  • How you plan to reach clients
  • How you will retain clients

That’s it!

Here are a few more tips for your marketing plan.

  1. Don’t involve too many people. You don’t need a committee to put together a marketing plan. This may be controversial, but I think it’s better to have one person start with the overall structure of the marketing plan. Later in the process it can be added to by others, but the people writing the marketing plan need to be limited and highly qualified.
  2. Don’t obsess over the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). It’s important to know these things, especially from a strategic perspective, but you don’t need a highly detailed list with hundreds of items. The best place to get information for your SWOT is from a simple employee or client survey. A committee made up of every principal in the firm may not be the ideal group to assess and define a SWOT. You need objectivity and a broad perspective.
  3. Start with something simple and basic. When it comes to a marketing plan, something is better than nothing. Don’t delay doing the entire marketing plan because you’re not sure of an exact strategy for a new market.
  4. Once it’s done, share it. Some version of your marketing plan should be available to nearly every employee in your firm. I can promise you that no one is going to successfully steal your unique strategy for client follow-up or your plan to do more social media marketing.
  5. Include metrics, goals, and a budget. Don’t be afraid to state these things because you might not achieve them. According to Zweig Group’s 2017 Marketing Survey, of the firms that have a marketing plan, just around half include a budget. That’s crazy! You need to know how much your firm has to spend on marketing efforts and a potential return on these expenditures.

The most important thing about your marketing plan is that it reflects your brand and your firm’s unique characteristics and strengths. No one should be able to “steal” your strategy because it’s representative of your firm’s experiences and people – and there are no two firms in the world that are identical in this regard. If you don’t have a marketing plan, break out a clean sheet of paper and get to work!

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at

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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.