Marketers and firm leaders across the A/E/C industry are busy planning their marketing initiatives for the year ahead. As the industry continues to evolve, there’s a growing emphasis being placed on marketing activities outside of the traditional proposals and presentations model.
Modern marketing strategies and tactics continue to evolve as well, opening up new doors and opportunities for marketing to play a larger role in contributing to a firm’s bottom line. Here are 11 things to consider incorporating in your marketing plans in the year ahead.
1. Buyer personas
Many firms “know” who their target audience is, but it isn’t necessarily something that gets addressed specifically in their marketing strategy. But it’s important to simply ask the questions: Who does your firm want to work for? What does your ideal client look like? And what influencers and industry organizations are critical to reaching new clients? A one-size fits all approach to marketing can only get your firm so far. What’s needed is a strategic approach to engaging your key audiences, and it starts by identifying who they are in the first place. Research-based buyer personas are helpful for understanding your audience’s needs, interests, questions and pain points on a deeper level. They also help you better understand their selection process so that your messaging, content and communications are more relevant, valuable and, ultimately, persuasive.
2. Brand strategy
While many A/E/C firm leaders don’t think of their firms as brands, branding can play a critical role in helping your firm own a distinctive position in the marketplace. A firm’s brand consists of much much more than a name and a logo, Branding is the process of defining, conveying and maintaining your firm’s core value and differentiators. It’s about figuring out who you are, what you stand for, why your clients should care and then conveying that in a meaningful and consistent way (through messaging, design, content, etc.). In an industry where standing out from a crowded sea of similarly qualified competitors is becoming increasingly challenging, an effective brand strategy works to differentiate your firm and reinforce your unique position in the marketplace.
3. Content marketing
Many A/E/C firms have been slow to embrace content marketing, while others that have jumped in are experiencing challenges trying to sustain their programs. Content marketing is not easy. It requires commitment, hard work, perseverance and patience. And unfortunately, it’s a process many firms start, but don’t necessarily finish. Content marketing is more than a tactic, it’s really a philosophical shift in how your firm “does marketing.” It’s as much a cultural shift in business development, as it is a marketing initiative to execute.
But content marketing (and the philosophy behind it) is essential for effectively reaching and engaging prospects and clients in today’s marketplace. It’s sharing helpful and educational information, as opposed to firm-centric sales materials that are rarely what the prospect is interested in. Simply put, content marketing can support your business development efforts in ways that brochures, qualifications and project sheets can’t.
4. Website strategy
Every A/E/C firm has a website, but many don’t see their website as a vital component of their firm’s marketing and business development efforts. It’s also not something that is typically addressed in a firm’s marketing plan. But your website does and should play a central role in your firm’s communications strategy. It is, after all, one of the primary ways that your firm communicates to prospects, clients, teaming partners, potential employees, press and the community at large. Do you have a strategy for your website? Was your website designed and developed to be a tool for accomplishing your business development goals? Whether you need a new website, or you simply need to bring a more strategic approach to the one you have, your website should be a focal point in your marketing plan and budget. This means strategizing how it will fit into communications, business development and recruitment.
5. Account-based marketing
Speaking of business development, account-based marketing (ABM) has emerged as a strategy ideally suited for A/E/C firms who tend to have long, complex sales cycles that often involve many stakeholders and are typically high-value in deals. While content marketing operates as more of a broad-based strategy for generating awareness and interest, ABM provides business development teams with strategic marketing support to help engage and nurture named, targeted accounts (clients).
Most firms have a running list of high priority targets—organizations that your firm wants to do work for—and ABM strategies are created specifically to engage those accounts and their associated contacts. ABM has been described as fishing with a spear, as opposed to fishing with a net. As A/E/C firm leaders start to look to their marketing teams for business development support beyond proposals, ABM represents an opportunity to make a tangible contribution to the firm’s bottom line.
6. Video storytelling
While video was once considered a “luxury” digital medium, it’s become an essential component of effective communications. There are a plethora of video marketing statistics out there that all underscore the fact that video is increasingly popular, often preferred over text, and in many cases more effective than other platforms. For A/E/C firms, video provides an ideal medium for storytelling—showcasing their work, clients, expertise, thought leadership and culture. Whether in the form of informal video blogs that convey a process or construction progress, or a documentary-style video that tells the case study of a challenging project, video can be a powerful way to engage target audiences.
7. Social media, PR and contributor marketing
The media landscape has dramatically shifted over the last decade or more, with the rise of social media, the evolution of traditional media outlets and changes in consumer habits. Today, social media is no longer a question of ROI, but rather a question of relevance as a growing number of business leaders now see social media as a primary means of finding and consuming information. While social media may not necessarily play a large role in A/E/C lead generation, it should play an instrumental role in a firm’s communication strategy. Social media provides a platform for having a public voice to share your firm’s content marketing, news and job openings. It’s important for A/E/C firms to be strategic about their use of social media, and make sure that all efforts are integrated with the overall content and communications strategy.
Social media has also become increasingly critical for public relations as many reporters and journalists use social media to look for both story ideas and subject-matter experts. Another change impacting traditional public relations is the rise of contributor articles, as many newspapers, publications, journals and online blogs are looking for guest contributors to provide content. The point is, social media demands a strategy and public relations more than a press release. Your marketing plan should address both.
8. Employer branding and recruitment marketing
Attracting and retaining top talent has been an ongoing priority (and challenge) for many A/E/C firms. The war for talent and the changing ways in which candidates find, evaluate and select employers necessitates marketing’s involvement in the process. There’s an uncanny similarity between the process a potential employee goes through in choosing an employer and the process a professional services buyer goes through in selecting an engineering, architecture, environmental, or construction firm. While the audience and “product” are obviously much different, the principles of employer branding and recruitment marketing are innately strategic marketing principles.
So collaboration between marketing and HR makes complete sense, as many of HR’s objectives align perfectly with marketing’s skill set. These initiatives are most effectively accomplished leveraging the best of the modern marketing playbook. Who better to task than the marketing team?
Technology has become an indispensable component of modern marketing. So many of a firm’s online and offline marketing efforts are managed and conducted using technology. “MarTech” is the term that’s been given to the tools and software that have been developed specifically for marketers. Scott Brinker’s MarTech Landscape shows that there are nearly 4,000 tools that marketers have at their disposal across a variety of categories. Unfortunately, many firms haven’t taken time to think through what tools should comprise their “stack,” how the technology will be leveraged in their marketing plans, or accounted for in their budgets. Marketing’s use of technology shouldn’t be an afterthought, nor should it be at the mercy of the IT department. As firm’s look to step up their marketing game, a strategic look at MarTech will be essential.
10. Email marketing
Email marketing is a digital oldie but still a goodie. In spite of all the attention given to newer and trendier channels and platforms, email marketing remains a powerful, cost-effective, yet highly underutilized marketing channel to deliver content to clients and prospects. Email marketing should play a larger role in your marketing plan—well beyond the quarterly e-newsletter that is so common across the industry. It’s handiness extends across a broad spectrum of uses, including lead nurturing emails, blog articles and news updates, client engagement, targeted ABM outreach, public relations and recruitment marketing among others. So think beyond the e-newsletter. Just remember that, like all things in marketing, email needs to be approached strategically and intentionally in your marketing plan.
11. Professional development and training
Marketing is one profession that you can absolutely guarantee will experience change—profound and ongoing change. And just as it’s critical for architects, engineers, scientists and construction managers to keep themselves up-to-date on all the latest best practices and technological innovations in their field, the same goes for marketers. Every A/E/C marketing plan (and budget) should specifically address professional development for the marketing team, as well as marketing training for technical staff.
All members of the marketing team—from the CMO down to the marketing assistants—should be given the opportunity to grow in their marketing knowledge. Whether in the form of SMPS programs, conferences and webinars, or involvement in other organizations like AMA and PRSA, or conferences such as MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum, the ongoing development and training of marketing staff should be a priority.
Moving beyond a proposal-centric approach to marketing
For A/E/C firms ready to embrace change and look for marketing to play a more proactive role in business development, you’ll want to take a fresh look at your marketing plan. This list represents just some of the strategies and tactics that should be considered for inclusion due to their potential to have a positive impact on your firm’s bottom-line.