Jun 05, 2022

Over time, evolving client needs and approaches could erode your marketing foundation. Take the time to shore up your foundation before it crumbles entirely.

In the AEC industry, a strong foundation is of utmost importance. Build it poorly, and you will suffer the consequences. Build it well, and it will serve you for a lifetime.

Marketing is not so different from building construction when it comes to foundations. Those of us with longevity in our positions worked hard to create strong foundations for our marketing structures.

We are intimately familiar with the equivalent of the concrete, steel, block, and stone of our constructs. These metaphoric building materials likely take the form of your one-page firm history, organization chart, project sheets, professional resumes, business card templates, and letterhead files – for print and digital use of course.

Building on top of these foundational items, we have our website (which some may argue is a foundational element today), your latest 3D graphics for marketing, and your movie files. Then there are the campaign details for direct mail and email marketing, procedures and details for core client gifts, promotions for prospects and promotions for existing clients, and let’s not forget the qualifications packets and of course, the proposals.

Suffice it to say, over time, as client needs and marketing approaches evolve, so have our marketing enterprises. In most cases, I would argue that the basics are still the same and the core structure stands. But depending on your organization, your target markets (which may remain consistent or change over time), and your overall growth, you may have new additions – in the building metaphor, a new wing, a dormer, a carriage house, additional floors, or levels above.

Add to that the transition from print-based systems to more digitally intense marketing.

Where once there was an elegant structure on a solid base, now teeters a Tim Burton-esque quirky creation or perhaps a fantastical monstrosity. How long can such a structure stand in the real world?

Is it time to shore up or replace your marketing foundation?

Going back to the field of construction, the answer may be yes. Bowing walls, leaks, cracks, and crumbling mortar – these are all signs that foundation work might be necessary. If a second or third floor is desired, often the original foundation cannot bear the weight so it simply must be rebuilt.

Likewise, in marketing, there are signs too. Consider these questions:

  • Are there signs of weakness?
  • How long does it take to drill down to the files you need for a promotional or proposal effort?
  • Is it just as easy to locate new files as go-to files?
  • Is it equally easy to find project files and data from the various stages of project design as well as from final constructed reality?
  • If there are multiple people on your marketing team, do you all save files according to the same conventions?
  • If someone from outside of your marketing team needs to find a marketing resource, can they?

What have you added?

  • Office locations
  • Target markets
  • Geographical territories
  • Service offerings

One way to gauge the health of your marketing foundation is to invite someone from the outside in – an intern, an assistant, a peer, a co-worker from a different department, or a professional mentor. Talk them through your structure. What are their struggles, confusions, and questions? Is their impression that of a well-thought-out arrangement or more of an escape room experience?

If you detect cracks in your foundation, it’s always advisable to look to the pros. On This Old House, Tom Silva lays out some basic steps for foundation repair that could be applied to our marketing:

  1. Chisel away as needed from the inside and the outside. For marketers, chiseling away will take the form of deleting or archiving old materials and files. It is important to establish guidelines to differentiate between what materials are just plain old and what materials are core to your work.
    Old files can be deleted and will make accessing your most recent work faster. If you don’t want to delete, archive. But if you archive, you should revisit your archive at a pre-determined date or interval. Maybe those files really can be deleted.
    Conversely, if you find you are copying files from the archive repeatedly, you can always bring those materials back into the core.
  2. Mix up your new material to fill any gaps that are left. With old material out of the way, gaps in your marketing foundation may be evident. Spend time evaluating what is missing and creating new materials to fill the void.
  3. Prepare the surface for the new material and apply. Before initiating your changes, be sure to prepare yourself, your team, or your entire organization for what is to come. Then, apply your changes.

Save the quirky and teetering for the movies. In marketing, it is time to re-build it well. 

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

Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter!

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.