That’s the job

Jun 04, 2023

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For AEC marketers, crafting messaging that makes sense, resonates with your intended audience, and lodges in their minds is simply the job.

Scene 1: You’re at a conference, staffing the carefully curated display table for your company. You’re surrounded by your branded banners, collateral, and SWAG. An attendee takes it all in from afar, then walks up to you and asks, “So, what do you do?”

Scene 2: A client you have worked with on several projects has recently awarded a job to a competitor. When you inquire about the project and express your interest in future projects like it, your client says, “I didn’t realize you did that kind of work.”

It’s understandable. Providing AEC services is often a very broad undertaking. As an industry, we provide a continuum of services from overarching, comprehensive planning to detailed design and construction documents for specific projects. Likewise, many firms offer services from multiple disciplines like architecture and landscape architecture, various flavors of engineering, and ancillary skills like survey, interior design, and construction observation and construction administration.

It is a lot to wrap your mind around, even for those of us in the business.

When the general public – i.e. our clients – look at the built environment, they may appreciate it or they may take it for granted. Only some will ask, “How did this come into being?” Few are educated on what we do, even though they interact with our work-product every day.

So the question still needs to be answered: What do you do?

You’ve all heard of elevator pitches, those magical collections of words that tell a prospective client everything they need to know about you in the amount of time you share a short ascent in an elevator. And you’re most likely familiar with its derivatives too: the one word pitch, the question pitch, the subject-line pitch. How about the anti-elevator pitch? Tag-lines are also popular. As well as allegory and storytelling. Seth Godin introduced me to Clay Hebert’s perfect intro. Recently, the 10 percent message is getting some attention. Marketers in every industry have put a lot of work into trying to crack this code. What is this all about?

No matter what you call it, it is all about taking responsibility for crafting messaging that answers the question, “What do you do?” And it is the job of marketing to educate our clients on what we can do for them. So, to answer the question, ask yourself:

  • Does it make sense? Pick any or all of the above pitch styles or approaches and start writing. Turn the question on yourself – what do we, as a firm, do? I am sure you can answer this question in a way that makes sense to you. However, the key is to see if it makes sense to others – people who don’t work in your department or for your company at all.
    Some might say, test it out on your family and friends. Most of them are probably like your clients and only have a vague idea of what you do. But the difference is key. Remember point 2 – because most times, your family and friends are not your intended audience.
  • Does it resonate with the intended audience? The only way to know is to ask. This requires testing and a lot of it. Because not only do you need to test the message in written form, but also with the spoken word. In plain text formats like email and in layouts where it can be accompanied by imagery. Is the receiver listening or reading? Are they receiving the message one-on-one or in a small group or in a large conference setting?
    All of these various conditions are likely what gave rise to the buffet of pitches and approaches that marketers feed on. So in a way, they do make sense. The point that many marketers miss is the role they play at the buffet table. Marketers are not the ones surveying and selecting the items to consume. Marketers are the ones creating the offerings and curating the assortment for our various audiences and consumers.
  • Is it memorable? The marketing life would be a lot easier if all we had to do was craft the perfect messaging for each of our prospective client groups for each of the situations where our prospects might encounter it.
    The reality is even more complex. We work in a space with competition – from other firms as well as Father Time. This is where the 10 percent message comes in. Out of all the content you create to tell your story that makes sense and resonates with your intended audience, what is the core of the message? And how can you best craft it and package it to make it memorable? Like during a conference, as described in Scene 1. Or later that same day. Or when your intended audience has a need, like before Scene 2 plays out.

It is a lot to wrap our minds around – for marketers, but even more so for our clients and potential future clients. But when it comes down to it, for AEC marketers, crafting messaging that makes sense, resonates with our intended audience, and lodges in their minds is simply the job. 

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

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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.