When Will Engineering and Environmental Firms Start to Market?

Apr 03, 2006

After seeing their black and white VW New Beetles running around town all of the time, I just saw an ad the other night on TV for The Geek Squad (Richfield, MN). If you don’t know who The Geek Squad is, you will soon. They are a firm that solves computer problems for people at home and work. And they are a marketing machine! Engineering and environmental firms have a lot to learn from The Geek Squad and how they are building a name for themselves in a crowded technical service business where no one really dominates (does that sound like our industry?). The Geek Squad started by picking an unusual name that pokes fun at themselves and that everyone will remember. Can you imagine a firm in our business calling themselves “The Technology Nerds” or something similar? Do you think they would be more memorable than “ABC & Associates?” The Geek Squad calls their people “agents” and their fixed office locations “precincts.” Their main office is “Mission Control.” What if we did something memorable with our people and their titles? How about “environmental problem solver” vs. “environmental consultant?” Do you think clients might pay attention to a business card that has a different title on it? How about our main office being called something such as “The Brain Trust?” What about their cars? The Geek Squad uses New Beetles (weird shape) and paints them all black and white like police cars and slaps on huge orange graphic logos. How many engineering or environmental firms have you seen that picked one company car for everyone and painted all of them the same color? Can you imagine if every company car that a firm such as CH2M HILL owned were painted lime green and had a huge company logo on every one? Or what if all the field techs rode motorcycles Ü with sidecars? Do you think that would be more memorable than the white Explorers with no signs or small white magnetic signs with blue writing that every firm in our business uses? Do you think there’s value in seeing those lime green vehicles and signs EVERYWHERE on the road by the general public? And how about the wacky web site of The Geek Squad? Check it out at www.geeksquad.com. They have a lot of fun. They aren’t afraid to not always be only solemn and serious. Can you imagine if people in our business did that? Would it be easier to attract quality young people to work there? I think so. And, before I get a bushel basket of e-mail from people telling me we deal with the public’s safety, let me say that I think even though that may be true, we take ourselves way too seriously. The result is...boredom. Boredom from those who have to select our firms and decide who to hire for what problem that needs solving. I can tell you that, as someone who was the CEO of a firm that used computer consultants regularly in all five of our office locations, I would periodically (and not often) hear from a salesperson who wanted our account. I’d get a call, or a voice mail, or an e-mail, with a plea to meet and talk about how they could save us money. Some of ‘em stuck with it for years. But you know what? I never met with any of them, and couldn’t remember their names or the names of any of their companies today to save my life! “DEF Technical Service,” “Network Support Consultants, Inc.” or “Able Baker Charlene Associates” are all just a blur. But I won’t be forgetting The Geek Squad any time soon, that’s for sure. Engineers and environmental consultants can tell me that the tactics of The Geek Squad won’t work in our business. “We’re different,” they’ll say. But, sooner or later, someone in our business is going to figure out how other businesses really market themselves and they are going to do it. And my guess is that company will grow like a weed in a crowded marketplace full of thousands of competitors, none of whom really markets, and all of whom think personal selling is the only way to go. I guess only time will tell if I’m right or not. And, if anyone out there wants to embrace this kind of marketing in a new or existing engineering or environmental firm, please consider me for a seat on your board and a chance to buy a tiny bit of your stock! Originally published 4/03/2006

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