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 But too often, firms rely on a tactical approach, or an outdated strategy that needs modernizing.
Whether your firm’s marketing is operating on tactics, an outdated strategy or you are simply looking to make some improvements, here are some tips that can help you refine your marketing strategy.
1. Make it all about them (not about your firm)
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.
2. Develop research-based buyer personas
So how do you start to change the focus of your marketing strategy? We recommend developing research-based buyer 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 some of the key challenges and issues they face?
- What topics do they need to be educated on?
- What questions do they have?
- What is their selection process?
- 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.
3. More pull than push
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.
4. Narrow the focus
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.
5. Target specific prospects with Account-Based Marketing
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has emerged as a marketing approach to assist business development teams with accelerating the sales cycle, close more deals and penetrate new markets. By allowing the marketing team to focus on the high-priority targets a firm is most interested in doing business with, ABM can make a measurable impact on business development and the bottom line. It’s been described as fishing with a spear, as opposed to fishing with a net.
An essential question to ask at the onset of an ABM strategy is who are the organizations (accounts) that your firm would love to land as clients? You’ll certainly want to talk to the business development team who already has specific accounts that they would like to pursue. But there are others who aren’t on the radar that should be. One great way to identify new target accounts is to profile what makes up an ideal, best-fit client. Take a look at your best accounts, the ones that firm leadership would love to duplicate over and over again, and identify the characteristics that are common in an ideal client. These characteristics might include the following:
- Organization type
- Organization size
- Annual revenue
- Geographic location
- Project volume
- Method of procurement
- Projected CLV
- Strategic importance
- Leadership/cultural fit
Once you have a list of targets in view, an integrated Account-Based Marketing program will help to align the efforts of marketing and business development, while providing more intentional and proactive support during a long and complex sales cycle.
6. Emphasize the client experience
As you develop your strategy and create your marketing plan, don’t just think about business development, but instead plan for the entire “client journey.” In order to meet the growing demands and expectations of clients, firms should establish marketing-led client experience (CX) programs that manage the end-to-end experience. At it’s core, CX is about becoming advocates for your clients, in order to turn clients into advocates for you. And it’s looking holistically at the client lifecycle—from prospect to client and client to advocate—with the goal of providing exceptional, personalized, value-adding, differentiated experiences at every touch point along the way. While there has historically been and emphasis on pursuits (proposals, SOQs and interview presentations), A/E/C marketers can add more value to their firms by also focusing on turning clients into advocates through a strategic CX program.
7. Communicate smarter
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.
8. Craft a (real) marketing plan
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.
9. Rethink your marketing budget
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.
10. Consider bringing in outside help
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.
Strategy is key to your firm’s success
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.