Survey says…

Jan 16, 2022

When it comes to our clients, employees, and brand, are we competing like AEC professionals or acting like Family Feud contestants, simply guessing at answers?

Have you ever downloaded a “free” report from a website? Attended an online webinar? Registered a product? Requested a rebate?

Have you ever researched something online and then had that same element or a related product show up in your Instagram feed? I think it is safe to assume that most people are answering yes to that question.

In Erik Larson’s book, Naked Consumer – How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities, his research reveals “the technologies and techniques of mass surveillance allow companies to learn details we never would have told them if asked directly.”

This may not come as a shock to you, but would you be surprised to learn that he wrote this in 1994?

The United States conducts a census every 10 years. The American Community Survey happens every year. Google Analytics allows you to track activity on demand. Today, the technologies and techniques of public and private data collection are legion. The business world is full of people with refined systems who want to know everything about you and all the other perfect strangers – aka potential consumers – just like you.

Using this kind of secondary survey data can be helpful, depending on your goals. If you are looking to identify trends or tendencies among a large pool of people, secondary data is often a fast and efficient approach.

However, if you have a predetermined group you are interested in or a smaller area of focus, primary survey data may be worth the extra effort.

Should primary data collection play a part in our role as AEC marketers? Generally, our jobs are concerned with things like proposals, advertising, and our brand. So, I was very interested to attend Zweig Group’s Branding Session as part of the ElevateAEC Virtual Conference. I thought this would be a session on, well, branding. But instead, we went down an unexpected path paved with EX (employee experience), CX (client experience), and surveys.

During Chad Clinehens’ presentation, “Building a Strong AEC Brand,” he made a strong argument for primary surveys and their impact on your brand, your marketing, and your overall firm success. Speaking from years of experience, he explained that your brand is shaped by every single touchpoint with your firm and the optimal brand expression is achieved through consistency in message and experience.

As Chad described it, your brand is made up of two sides:

  • The message side: The description, the things we say we do.
  • The experience side: The delivery, what we do.

As we work to close the gap between the message and the experience, we continually refine our brand. The interconnected relationship between the client experience and the employee experience creates a reciprocal cycle, even a virtuous circle.

However, if only one-third of AEC firms survey their clients on a regular basis, how do we know what the client experience actually is, and how it compares to the messages we assert? And that is only half of the equation. How many of us are surveying our greatest asset – our employees?

Simply put, as Chad states: We’ve got to know these things.

The long-running show Family Feud with its memorable “survey says” sound bite was voted one of the best TV game shows of all time. Families would try to guess the answers given by 100 random people to questions on a variety of topics.

When it comes to our clients, our employees, and our brand, are we competing like AEC professionals or are we acting like the families playing Family Feud and simply guessing at answers?

How valuable are your clients? What about your employees? The survey and data collection technology and techniques are readily available. Are your clients and employees worth the time and effort to survey, to study the responses, and then work to close the gap? 

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