Marketing’s best strategy

Jul 14, 2008

I just saw a blurb in our ZweigWhite’s 2008 Marketing Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms that stated A/E and environmental firm’s number-one marketing strategy is “relationship building.” While most people in our business would agree that IS our “industry’s” or profession’s favored marketing strategy, it does NOT, in my opinion, mean it’s the best! In fact, it simply proves to me that no matter how much progress we’ve made marketing-wise over the past 30 years, most people don’t get what it takes to build a company that grows in bad times, can weather the comings and goings of any employee, and has value that allows the founders/owners to get out at some point with a little dough in their pockets. “Building a brand” should be the numero uno marketing strategy and everything you do should be centered around this. It works in architecture, engineering, planning, interior design, environmental consulting, management consulting… it works for ANY type of business. Yes— it takes money— yes— there will be wasted efforts— and yes— it is not foolproof. But it sure is a heck of a lot easier than trying to take people who don’t necessarily have people skills and make them into great communicators and relationship cultivators. It’s just common sense. Brand-building has a greater probability of success… AND, it produces a BETTER long-term result. A good brand allows you, as a professional services provider, to charge more for what you do. It helps you win more jobs you try to get. It makes the phone ring from clients or other service providers who want what you’ve got. And, it helps you recruit the kind of people you really need to be successful. What are some things that you can do now to start building a brand? Here are a few suggestions: Project signage. Take a look at the high-growth structural engineering firm Miyamoto International, Inc. (West Sacramento, CA). Their project signs are bigger’n than anyone else’s. And, they put them up everywhere they are allowed to. This is a big part of their branding program. Branded clothing. How much name recognition can you get by having a wide variety of clothing items, each in the company color scheme, and giving these things away freely to employees, suppliers, and clients? I think a lot. And the cost is minimal if you really think about it. Vehicles. Paint ALL of them the same color, something other than white. This is one of the easiest and best ways to get brand recognition. And give away front license plates (if you are in a state that doesn’t require them such as the one I live in) and license plate frames with the company name and logo on them. In my little redevelopment business (Mark Zweig, Inc.), for example, I use a black truck with my company name in white letters in a special type face. This is repeated on license plate frames and duplicated on all job site signage. Office interiors. The paint scheme should match your letterhead and signage. Ellerbe Becket’s (Minneapolis, MN) Kansas City, Missouri, office is a perfect example, all done up in red and grey. The whole thing, lit up at night, is a three-dimensional expression of their brand. Projects. Some firms— particularly architects— help create a brand by routinely bringing certain elements into their projects. Arquitectonica (Miami, FL) is a great example as they popularized the “deconstructionist” movement. Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP (New York, NY) likes to put cedar shingles on everything the firm designs. And Marlon Blackwell Architect (Fayetteville, AR) likes to use forms and materials that remind the of the area’s agricultural roots. T.Y. Lin International (San Francisco, CA) was all about cable-stayed suspension bridges. Having something in the way you do work can be a big part of creating your brand. These are just a few of the many things you can do to help make your firm a brand name. So before you start that letter to me to tell me why “relationship building” is your number-one marketing strategy, please ask yourself what approach is more likely to breed long-term success— mine— or yours? Originally published 7/14/2008

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.