Marketing matters, part 1

Aug 28, 2017

‘Doing it how it has always been done’ is a recipe for failure, so try something new, like ditching the ‘max utilization’ mentality.

The Achilles’ heel of the AEC industry is marketing. Many firms do absolutely no marketing. And for those that do, they struggle to use their tools to effectively build their brand. Firm leaders say that they rely on “word of mouth.” Many firms are filled with people who want to keep doing it how it has always been done. Both are good ways to fail.

I do understand that many firms are seller/doers that don’t have a dedicated marketing staff, and all the staff at these firms have billable work to do. They don’t have time for marketing, which is rarely billable. However, the longevity of a business depends on people letting go of the “max utilization” mentality. As entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham routinely mentions, growth depends on “doing things that don’t scale.”

It has always been difficult to track marketing’s ROI. Not only is the payoff hard to measure financially, but it also takes months or years before the payoff occurs. However, building brand equity through marketing provides lasting value. It could be the difference between life and death for your firm. Let me show you a good example, one that Zweig Group sees all the time.

When a firm launches, everyone is excited and eager to get the word out. However, work starts coming in, people get busy, and the marketing slows and in many cases, stops entirely. Market forces (similar to the conditions we are currently experiencing in the industry), drive business. Everyone seems to be doing well, even without the marketing. Then the market matures or crashes, the volume of work gets dramatically cut, and everyone sits around wondering what to do.

So how does your firm survive a crash? By building brand equity through marketing.

If you spend significant resources to establish your presence in the marketplace while you enjoy good market conditions and growth, your firm will be well known by the time market conditions turn sour. Rather than coming up to a recession being unknown or under-appreciated and having to cut prices to compete for work, you could be the first choice for a client who needs your expertise. Even if conditions stay healthy, early and consistent marketing will help you build a reputation as an industry expert. Experts, as we all know, get paid a lot more than non-experts. Once the initial momentum is built, maintaining it becomes a lot easier. The early marketing efforts that did not scale stop working, creating room for marketing efforts that do scale.

Marketing is an exercise in delayed gratification. However, you have to keep at it – and hang in there long enough – to receive that gratification. Little marketing efforts add up over time and can be the difference between being a really good firm and being an empire.

There are a variety of tools and best practices that we at Zweig Group recommend for our clients. In this three-part series, I will provide the specifics you need to effectively market your A/E firm.

Sanjay Jenkins is the marketing and e-commerce specialist at Zweig Group. Contact him at

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.