Apr 18, 2021

Channel your inner toddler and question everything about your marketing plan to uncover what still does or doesn’t work for you, your firm, and your goals.

Anyone with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or any precocious youngsters in their lives will know exactly what I am talking about. The relentless stream of why questioning is a phase that most children go through.

Today, I suggest you revisit those days by channeling your inner toddler and aim that relentless stream of questioning on your own marketing plan, activities, and budget.

Question everything and whether or not it still works for you, your firm, your goals, and your brand.

But why? The overriding reason is, if an activity does not promote you, your firm, your goals, and your brand, it is probably time to stop doing it. So often, especially when firms that have some longevity behind them, we unconsciously do things because that’s the way we do things here.

However, that justification is now a moot point. In 2021, it is time to completely leap over that mindset and realize that here is a very different place than it used to be. The global pandemic that began in 2020 knocked us all out of the realm of business-as-usual. And the real kicker is, business-as-usual may never return. Ever.

Which one could interpret as a great thing for marketing professionals. The pandemic is a disrupter of the grandest scale. This makes marketing and sharing your precise story more important now than ever.

So we are faced with an opportunity to make things more thoughtful, meaningful, and relevant. And we can succeed by simply asking why.

Let’s look at a basic example first, something that is a ubiquitous part of most AEC marketing: business cards.

Why do we distribute business cards? This is a simple question with a long history and perhaps a complex and multi-faceted answer behind it.

The origins of business cards can be traced to the 17th century. Originally employed in social contexts with their own coded folding system (cards with a corner fold for people who actually stopped by in person, cards folded in half intended for the whole family), visiting cards were quickly adopted by the trades, and eventually morphed into the business cards we know today, with their own codes.

According to an article titled “A History of Business Cards” by Designer Daily, “Time has eroded much of the etiquette regarding business cards, however rules do persist. Cards should not be handed out by the left hand, should never be written on and should always be translated to the language of the specific country they are being handed out in on the rear of the card. They should never be carried loose. They should always be presented in the best condition.”

Obviously, by surviving from the 17th century to 2021, business cards have proven they have staying power. Yet today, in 2021, ask the question: why does your firm distribute business cards?

There are likely as many reasons to continue with traditional printed cards as there are to move away from them. If you stick with the cards, why are you choosing to do so? Why do your clients or prospective clients accept them? Why do you make space on the exhibit hall display for them? Why do new employees get them? Why do you reorder them for seasoned staff? Why do you use printed cards? Why do you use digital cards? Why do you use both?

The answers to these queries may be supportive of your actions … or not. But answering the why will most likely drive your future steps in one divergent direction or another and point you to some important realizations.

With toddlers, we are often drawn to the point of exasperation because, let’s face it, without Google, most of us don’t know why the sky is blue.

However, in marketing, in business, in AEC, we need to be able to rise to the challenge, pursue the line of questioning, and deliver robust answers to the question, why?

The how-to of why? Answering the why of your marketing activities will help determine what activities should remain, what may go away temporarily, and what should go away for good.

In the world of why, advocates postulate anywhere from four to nine rounds of why to get to the core answer. (If Googling the topic, you may uncover the “5 Whys” used by Toyota.) Test some rounds out and see what works for you. Just keep in mind that we are driving for purpose in your marketing, not the purpose of the universe.

In addition to asking why, an equally key component is listening. With a toddler, what can be just as frustrating as the questioning is that it often seems like they are not listening to the answer before asking the next why?

Don’t do that to your team or to yourself.

In addition, a knee jerk answer or repetition of the party line is also not helpful. Yet, even if you get (or give, if conducting these exercises solo) the automatic, company-sponsored response, listen to the answer. Then keep asking why. At some point you will get to the core issue. Keep pushing until you get to the (sometimes amazing, light bulb moment!) answer.

Stay forever young. Why do you attend conferences? Why do you print those brochures? Why do you sponsor that event? Why do you pay for that online listing? Why does your website look like that? Why do you give out swag? Why do you send holiday cards? Why did you choose this logo? These colors? This font? That tagline?

You may have very good reasons why you do all the things you do in AEC marketing. However, your efforts will be more effective if you take the time to question why, explore your reasoning to the core of the issue, and ensure that your marketing is intentional, as opposed to doing things a certain way just because last year’s marketing plan says to.

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