A solid marketing strategy should be at the center of an A/E/C firm’s marketing plan—defining and directing every facet of the firm’s marketing activities. But too often, firms rely on a tactical approach, or an outdated strategy that needs modernizing.
Whether your firm’s marketing is operating on tactics, an outdated strategy or you are simply looking to make some improvements, here are some tips that can help you refine your marketing strategy.
If any one thing encapsulates modern marketing it would be the concept of being client-centric. Now, most A/E/C firms would tell you they are client centric and the client always comes first. However, in many cases the same can’t be said about their marketing strategy. When it comes to marketing, many firms are guilty of throwing their client-centric philosophy out the window. But your marketing strategy should be laser-focused on your prospects and clients—their needs, interests and goals—not on your firm’s. To succeed in modern marketing, everything you do ultimately needs to be for their benefit.
So how do you start to change the focus of your marketing strategy? We recommend developing client persona profiles as a starting point to help you visually picture the type of people you’re trying to reach and understand them on a deeper level.
So think about your typical client:
• What are they interested in?
• What keeps them up at night?
• What are their pain points?
• What gaps in information are they lacking that your marketing can fill?
• What problems can you help solve for them with your content?
And once you start to uncover these questions, you’ve got a starting point for the kind of marketing that’s going to resonate with your audience and ultimately move the needle for your firm.
Traditional A/E/C marketing (and all marketing for that matter) has been all about out-yelling the competition. It’s been about pushing your firm-focused messages out to your audience and essentially saying: look at us! But your audience is not motivated by your firm’s stump speech and they’re not nearly as interested in your mission statements, your accolades and your projects as you are.
So smart firms are responding and adapting their marketing strategies and moving away from a push and more toward a pull strategy. Instead of shouting your firm’s qualifications with a loudspeaker and trying to convince prospects to select your firm, you actually communicate in such a way that they’re attracted to you. The ultimate goal is to be magnetic by creating marketing that your prospects and clients find helpful and will seek out.
Over the last several years, many A/E/C firms have been trying to chase every client and vertical they possibly could. And for a lot of firms, especially multi-discipline firms with many different groups, their marketing departments have been forced to support them all equally. Since your firm has limited resources, staff and budgets, you’ve got to stop the shotgun approach and be more focused with your marketing strategy.
So take the time to ask your firm principals what types of clients and projects are most profitable. What are the verticals and geographic markets that have the most potential for success? Where is your firm best positioned to grow the footprint? Identify several key areas of focus and plan your marketing strategy around those.
While you’re narrowing your marketing scope, you’ll want to also develop a list of high priority targets:
• Prospects you want to work for
• Clients you want to keep working for
• Verticals you want to break into or own
Again, you have limited resources, so just like your business development staff, your marketing department has to focus on the best opportunities. Therefore part of your planning should be around what marketing can do to help the business development team attract these high priority targets.
As you develop your strategy and create your marketing plan, think about your business development cycle and the entire “client journey”—from an unknown prospect to client to brand evangelist. And then plan your marketing with this in mind, making sure you’ve got each stage covered with everything from your content, website, email, conferences, proposal and SOQs— basically all of your marketing activities.
And don’t forget about nurturing existing clients as well. We’ve all heard that it’s easier to keep an existing client than it is to gain a new one, so consider the entire client lifecycle in your marketing strategy, not just the front end.
As part of your marketing strategy, it’s important to consider how you’re going to communicate with your audience using targeted, relevant content that meets them where they are in the client lifecycle. Modern marketing is all about customization, personalization and contextualization. That means your marketing communication needs to be much more focused than it has been in the past. They have to be strategic—making sure you are sending the right message, to the right audience, at the right time and using the right channel.
Many A/E/C firms struggle with marketing plans: they either don’t have one at all, their marketing plan is more of a glorified “top ten” to-do list or they’ve had the same basic plan for years. But once you’ve narrowed your focus and identified your best opportunities for growth, you need to craft a marketing plan that supports the strategy. So no matter which camp you may fall into, it’s absolutely critical to start each year with a comprehensive marketing and communications plan for your firm.
Along with a marketing strategy and marketing plan comes a marketing budget. And I propose that many A/E/C firms need to rethink their marketing budgets entirely. The fact is, there is a whole new marketing ecosystem and it’s becoming increasingly digital.
• Does your marketing budget reflect these changes?
• Do you have the right positions/people to reflect the changing landscape?
• Are you adequately investing in your website?
• Are you investing in technology to support your firm’s marketing?
Basing next year’s budget on this year’s spending is not a strategic way to budget. Your marketing budget should be tied to your marketing plan and built on what you need to spend in order to accomplish the marketing strategy you’ve put in place.
Marketing strategy is one of those things where an outside consultant can be a real asset. The truth is, many A/E/C firms have a hard time thinking strategically. Strategic plans can look more like tactical plans, which is why a lot of firms bring in an outside consultant to help with strategic planning. But a marketing plan is no different!
Bringing in outside help can provide a unique, unbiased perspective and identify things that your firm’s leaders might not otherwise notice. Additionally, a marketing agency with expertise in the A/E/C industry can help firms navigate the changing landscape and put together a winning strategy that positions your firm for long-term success.
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Developing a solid marketing strategy is critical to the success of an A/E/C firm’s business. With the right focus and approach, the tips can help your firm refine and improve your marketing strategy and position your firm for greater success.