The holidays are upon us and your thoughts are swirling. Your to-do list includes many pressing personal and professional tasks; clients are scrambling with getting RFPs out before the end of the year; you have client gifts and holiday parties, and your in-laws are coming to stay. And don’t forget, you are facilitating your firm’s marketing planning session by year-end!
Marketers and firm leaders across the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry are busy planning their 2023 marketing initiatives. Marketers are being asked more and more to look outside of traditional marketing activities for creativity and evolution. Gone is the day of a marketing plan that is focused on proposals and presentations. How can you guide your firm to stay relevant in today’s marketplace?
Looking at new strategies and marketing tactics that will contribute to the firm’s bottom line is crucial. Well, never fear! We’ve highlighted ten discussion topics that can be used when your firm leaders gather to strategize and give input you can incorporate into your marketing plan. The outcome of these discussions will open doors and provide opportunities for the “right” type of relationships that lead to profitable work.
1. Client “specs”
We create standards and specifications for our projects. These guidelines help us communicate the “best way” to design and build a project. Without these guidelines, projects can run over budget and schedule. The same is true when we are researching and planning our target clients and market sectors. We may know generally who our clients are, but have we defined them specifically in our marketing strategy? It’s important to ask questions such as: Which clients have been profitable for our firm in the past? Which market sectors are growing and what clients are in those markets? Who do we want to work for in each market? What does our ideal client look like? Which influencers and industry organizations are critical to reaching new clients?
Your firm doesn’t have to take just any project. You can be strategic in your approach and create a checklist of preferences for the “perfect” client specification. A strategic approach to finding and engaging key clients starts by mapping out what characteristics are preferred before pursuit. Research-based client specifications are helpful for understanding a target client’s needs, interests, questions, and challenges on a deeper level. This type of knowledge will help you understand their selection process so that your public relations, business development, proposals, presentations, messaging, content, and communications are more relevant, valuable, and ultimately, persuasive.
2. Recruitment marketing strategy
The most frequent pain point we hear from AEC firm leaders is attracting and retaining top talent. Because of the current employment climate, candidates have many options to find, evaluate, and select employers. This necessitates marketing’s involvement in the recruitment process, and proactive firms have added recruitment marketing to their overall marketing plan.
There’s an uncanny similarity between the process a potential employee goes through when choosing an employer and that of our clients when selecting an architecture, engineering, environmental, or construction firm. As you plan for your strategic initiatives, make sure to align marketing and human resources. You will find that many HR objectives will require the marketing department’s skill set. These initiatives are most effectively accomplished leveraging the talents of an experienced marketing team.
3. Branding is more than a logo
A firm’s brand consists of more than a name and a logo. Your firm’s brand should express differentiators, values, vision, and persona. Who are you as a firm? What is important to your firm? How is your firm valuable to your clients? Answering all these questions and more can define your core messaging. Branding will help your firm stand out from other qualified competitors. An effective brand, that is communicated firmwide, can provide your clients and employees with a consistent interaction from project to project, team member to team member.
4. Content marketing
Content marketing has become increasingly more valuable in the AEC industry because it can support your business development efforts more directly than traditional marketing collateral. It involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that is intended to stimulate interest in your firm’s services. The outcome of successful content marketing is ultimately to support business development activities by:
- Giving credibility and awareness to potential clients
- Highlighting your firm’s thought leaders
- Educating prospects about your firm before project pursuit efforts
- Developing and maintaining long-term relationships
- Establishing and promoting firm differentiators
5. Aim small, miss small
Speaking of business development, specific targeting strategies are essential to incorporate into your overall firm’s plan. This philosophy means you are not waiting for prospective clients to find you, but rather you have a pursuit strategy to reach them. This strategy streamlines the time spent on business development efforts with strategic marketing support to help engage and nurture named, targeted clients and associated contacts. It’s analogous to fishing with a spear as opposed to fishing with a net. As an AEC firm leader this will require using your marketing team for business development support that reaches beyond proposals.
6. Website strategy
Is your website included in your firm’s marketing strategy? Many include it as part of their public relations plan, but not overall firm marketing plan. However, in today’s market, your website does and should play a central role in your firm’s communications strategy. It is your website the primary way your firm communicates to prospects, clients, teaming partners, potential employees, media, and the community at large. Does it generate leads? Is your website designed to bring visitors back? Is it a recruitment tool?
You need to have a website strategy. An effective website is used as a tool to assist business development goals and client relations. Take time and spend money to make it a conduit for communication, business development, and recruitment.
7. Social media as a public relations planning tool
A question we are frequently asked is how important and effective social media is for our industry. Social media is hard to define in terms of ROI, but the relevance of this medium has caught the attention of marketing and business leaders in the AEC industry as a primary means of finding and consuming information. AEC lead generation is hard to tie directly to social media activities, but it is crucial to your firm’s communication strategy. Social media enables you to share content marketing, recruitment information, company culture insights, and many more important aspects of firm branding. That’s why our answer to the oft-asked question is it’s critical for your public relations planning to include social media.
8. Email marketing campaigns
Think blog articles, direct mail, client spotlights, recruitment marketing, e-newsletters, targeted lead focused emails, and public relations among other ideas for email marketing campaigns. Email marketing remains a focused, cost-effective, yet highly underutilized marketing avenue that can be a push marketing strategy to deliver content to prospects and clients instead of waiting for them to find you. The most important aspect for this tactic is to be strategic, consistent, and intentional in your approach, planning and execution.
9. Video incorporation
With the introduction of TikTok, Instagram reels and other storytelling focused channels, video has become preferred by viewers over text, and in many cases more effective than other platforms. Video is an ideal medium for storytelling for AEC firms—showcasing projects, clients, expertise, thought leadership, and culture. Video can be used on websites, social media, recruitment, and project interviews as an effective and powerful way to engage target audiences.
10. Marketing knowledge
All members of the marketing team—from the CMO to the marketing assistants—should be given the opportunity to grow in their marketing knowledge. Whether through SMPS programs, conferences and webinars, or involvement in other organizations like AMA and PRSA, the ongoing development and training of marketing staff should be a priority.
For AEC firms ready to enhance their playbook, plan for marketing to play a more proactive role in business development. Discussing these ten topics will help your firm take a fresh look at your marketing plan and strategy and have a positive impact on your firm’s bottom line.