Marketing matters, part 2

Sep 11, 2017

Digital is critical, but don’t fixate on having an army of followers. Instead, use social channels to build your brand equity.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? If you are like me, you’ll probably reach for your phone to turn off your alarm and then stay glued to the screen for a few minutes (sometimes longer!), until you finally roll out of bed. You’ll clear whatever notifications popped up while you were asleep. You might check the news. You’ll see what your friends and family have been up to on various social media platforms. And only after you’ve given a good portion of your morning to the digital world will you truly begin your day.

According to Zweig Group’s 2017 Marketing Survey, 41 percent of firms spend one hour or less working on social media each week. This would not be a big deal if marketing departments spent that time building and scheduling content that is distributed automatically. But 65 percent of firms do not use any marketing automation software. The AEC industry is not capitalizing on the attention devoted to digital media. Check out the infographic above from Mediakix to get an idea of how much time is being spent on social platforms.

Different platforms attract different generations, but the important note here is the quantity of time and energy being spent on various platforms – hours out of a person’s day.

We don’t have any use for social media. One of the most common responses we hear when we ask why firms aren’t doing more digital marketing is that they don’t know how to sell their services through the various online channels. It’s easier to understands the business-to-consumer value proposition, the sales pipeline through social media – we show you something and you buy it – and a robust website. But the business-to-business value is harder to identify. Social media and digital marketing don’t seem to make as much sense for architecture and engineering firms (especially engineering firms), because the mass market will never need their services. A/E firms aren’t T-shirt or technology companies. What would be the point of trying to get a million followers on Twitter if less than 0.001 percent of those followers could ever buy from you?

The value proposition for digital marketing in the AEC industry, however, is not about immediate sales wins. Even if your firm attains 1 million followers on a social media platform in a short amount of time, that follower count does not add real value to the marketing channel. The value of digital marketing occurs in the long term. Strong brand equity built over time is the true power-play for digital marketing, and that brand equity, which is the culmination of a lot of smaller wins, starts scaling the size of what you do until you’re known as an industry giant. Done properly, digital marketing will help you build your empire.

The large following fallacy. When I first began my work in digital marketing, I approached it as a generalist and as a consumer. That perspective fed the notion that to have true success on social media, it was imperative that an individual or business have thousands, if not millions, of followers. This seems to be a commonly held belief, not just in the AEC industry, but in society in general. The truth is that you do not need a million followers on digital platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to be “successful” on social media.

Success using social media and other digital outlets comes from cultivating a community around what you do and providing them consistent value. The size of the community does not matter as much as the relevance of that community. Zweig Group has spent the last 30 years serving only the AEC industry. The “tribe” that we have assembled over the years is specific; by being specialists rather than generalists, we better serve our niche. We enjoy a beneficial cycle of adding value to clients and clients bringing more business to us.

There are many management consulting and research firms out there, but by focusing on the approximately 100,000 firms in the AEC industry rather than the millions of businesses across many industries, we are better able to build meaningful and lasting relationships. This is a good business practice, and this is the fundamental principle behind any successful digital marketing strategy. Use digital tools to cultivate relationships, accelerate and increase the frequency of adding value to your niche, and document the whole process.

How real growth happens. AEC firms sell expertise and creativity in specific, technical ways. Not everyone is going to follow you on social media, but you don’t need to worry about being interesting to everyone. You can’t sell to everyone and trying to sell to everyone is a waste of time, resources, and emotional capital. Focus on adding value to your community by increasing the sphere of influence of that community. Dedicate time and energy to making your community an inclusive space where you can educate and inspire all who participate. You’re only going to have a few followers early on; this is to be expected. Keep adding value. Reward your early followers so they can’t help but rave about how great you are. Provide content that showcases your technical expertise on a regular basis. The people who find what you do most relevant will follow and interact with you. You never know who you impact.

Start small. Deploy the tools and techniques of the experts from day one. Deploy patience. Nurture your community and assemble your tribe. Stay consistent, as digital marketing is not a one-off project. It is a long-term investment that requires maintenance; not a lot of maintenance in a burst, but a little bit every day. The return on your investment will come, and it will be a multiple of the time, energy, and money you put in. That’s just how the game works.

The next chapter in this series will cover the primary digital platforms your firm needs to implement, as well as the basic principles for success on each one. If you enjoyed this installment, then join me for the third and final one next week!

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