Turning overhead into revenue

Jul 20, 2020

Marketing has a role in building brands, developing strategies, winning work, and more – and the firms that invest heavily in marketing reap the rewards.

If your firm is like most, you have someone dedicated to cranking out proposals – unfortunately, for too many firms in our industry, this is the extent of their “marketing.” Fortunately, there is a solid recent trend changing that focus. More firms are increasing their investment in marketing teams, resulting in real revenue growth.

Zweig Group does a fantastic job of capturing this data as proof that marketing drives success. Check out the Awards page on their website for evidence of success. The “Hot Firms” and “Rising Stars” are made up almost exclusively by firms that invested heavily in marketing. Marketing has a role in building a brand, developing strategies, winning work, displaying company culture, recruiting, and client experience (for internal as well as external clients).

Where to start. If you want to be successful, look at what the successful brands do. Don’t be afraid to explore ideas in the B2C world. The consumer product marketing environment has excellent examples of companies tying success to their brand – Google, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, Netflix, Chic-fil-A, and Starbucks, just to name a few. What are your favorite brands? Why? Successful consumer marketing has laid the groundwork since the inception of their brands, and their methods are tried and true. For whatever reason, the AEC industry and other professional service industries have been slow to capitalize on branding and strong marketing campaigns as compared to consumer marketing brands. This can be a positive. It means we have an entire world of marketing ideas and trends we can tap for our industry.

Tell your stories. Marketing departments have more tools and channels at their disposal than ever before – it’s time to capitalize on these digital platforms! Often, our technical teams have difficulty sharing content – I’ve found they don’t always think what they’re doing is that interesting. It’s time to help our engineers, planners and designers find and appreciate the stories in their work. How did the project provide value, how did we thrill the client because we thought of something that solved a problem for them, is there a story in the project that taps into human emotion? Every project has a story, some more simple than others, but it’s there, and it doesn’t have to “sell” anything. The best stories show our human side and provide an opportunity to share our ability to connect or have an impact.

Once you have the story, it’s time to share it. Determine the audience and choose the appropriate channels. There are so many to choose from, but make sure you have a team that knows the changing algorithms to get the best ROI. You’ll find that occasionally sharing a story, while better than nothing, doesn’t give your audience a good picture of who you are as a firm. Take a close look at your firm’s values and discover ways to teach your audience what those mean to you. Don’t be afraid to share your company’s personality, and don’t wait for the “perfect” opportunity. Quality and quantity matter.

Oh, the places you could go! As your team grows and you start to see success, don’t stop – ask what’s next and determine a strategy to take you from being a great company to an industry-leading company. You’ve heard the phrase “client experience” tossed around, but what does that mean? Can your marketing team drive the value of client experience as a differentiator for your firm? Your marketing team can be at the front line of this effort. They can drive program development and help clients understand how communications and feedback loops can be incorporated in every project for ultimate success.

It’s no longer acceptable for our industry to simply check boxes. Our clients, and importantly, their clients deserve a quality communication plan with real-time feedback loops that bring clarity and transparency to every project, especially during times of disruption.

This is where your marketing team comes in and shines. Ideally, you support a staff of marketing professionals (graphic designer, digital media coordinator, proposal coordinator, etc.) with the skills to manage communication plans for internal and external clients. We’ve seen increasing requests to include these roles in design and engineering projects. Clients recognize that for their projects to be successful, they need to communicate with their constituents effectively throughout the project. Communicating effectively is more than just putting information on a webpage; it’s more than putting a note in their mailbox, and it’s more than a couple of social media posts to keep everyone informed.

A great project communication plan needs to go through several steps to be unique and effective to a particular project:

  • Discovery. Focus on understanding the project, identifying stakeholders, defining audiences, and learning what is important on both intellectual and emotional levels. The goal is to empathize with the people impacted by this project.
  • Planning. Meet with clients to understand the scope of work allowed in the budget and determine the strategic communication tools that are most effective with the greatest return on investment.
  • Design. Create a communication plan – an all-inclusive matrix itemizing every piece of the communication puzzle. This includes the messaging (both micro-targeted and general), the creation of graphics or branding for the project (including renderings, photography, and videography), identified communication channels (website, social media, print media, community engagement events, email messaging, signage, etc.) and opportunities for feedback. The communication matrix should also include the timing and cadence of all forms of communication, providing a roadmap and set expectations for accountability and timely execution. The communication plan design should allow for analytical data tracking. Make sure you gather enough data on your plan to determine its real value.
  • Execution. Follow the communication design and prepare for changes in direction based on data you receive around ROI. If something isn’t working as planned, be prepared to change paths. Execution is a dynamic process.
  • Analyze. Review the data collected to ensure your plan aligns with the strategy. Assure that every goal you set is reached or adjusted to accommodate a new, more successful direction.

What does the future hold? With so many unknowns on the horizon, your firm needs to provide differentiated value to your clients. The uncertainty of today’s world means trusting relationships are crucial to success. Make sure your clients know who you are and what you stand for. Tell your stories and help them tell theirs. Take the time to map out strategic business and marketing plans that provide industry-leading experiences for your clients – both internal (related to culture) and external. In the future, we will communicate with more intention delivering helpful information and tell our stories in ways that help our clients know and trust us as partners in their journey.

Tammi Nagucki, CPSM, is director of marketing at Environmental Design Group. Contact her at tnagucki@envdesigngroup.com.

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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.