As we start the New Year, A/E/C firms have made (and are still making) plans for where and how to spend their marketing time and budgets in 2021.
Just as people everywhere are making resolutions to improve their lives—both personally and professionally—in 2021, why not do the same for your firm’s marketing efforts? Doing what matters most, fixing what’s broken and adding what’s missing can make your marketing more effective than ever. With the goal of improving impact and effectiveness, here are 17 marketing resolutions to consider embracing in 2021.
1. Move beyond a proposal-centric, project-pursuit only approach to A/E/C marketing
In the A/E/C world, proposals are synonymous with marketing. Outside of the A/E/C world, proposals are a product of the sales department, not the marketing department. But while proposals do play a crucial role in helping get new business, a firm’s approach to marketing shouldn’t be focused solely on project pursuits and limited to proposals.
Outside of the A/E/C world, proposals are a product of the sales department, not the marketing department.
As the industry continues to evolve, a growing emphasis needs to be placed on non-proposal, non-pursuit marketing activities. Keep in mind that the RFP/shortlist/interview process is the final stage in what is often a 1-3+ year chase. So in 2021, look for ways that marketing can proactively support your firm’s business development efforts by reaching, engaging and nurturing prospects before the RFP is issued AND after a client is landed.
2. Put strategy before execution
It’s always a good reminder to commit to putting strategy ahead of tactics and execution. A/E/C marketers will always be tempted (and perhaps pressured) to be reactive, but don’t give in! Strategy should drive everything you do. Whether it’s your website, social media, email marketing, tradeshows (virtual and in-person), or general communications, a solid strategy aligned with your firm’s strategic business plan is essential. Your marketing activities and initiatives should not be executed in a silo, rather they should be integrated and singularly focused on achieving your firm’s top strategic objectives.
3. Lose some (tactical) weight
Losing weight, dropping bad habits and being healthier seem to be perennial New Year’s resolutions for many people. A similar approach should be taken with your marketing as well. The new year is a great time to stop doing what you shouldn’t be doing, even if your firm has been doing it for a long time. So evaluate your firm’s marketing practices and look for tactics that are no longer effective, or not as effective as other tactics you could be investing in. The truth is, most firms need to lose some tactical fat before they can build strategic muscle.
Most firms need to lose some tactical fat before they can build strategic muscle.
4. Write it down and pass it around
Your marketing strategy and the corresponding tactics should be documented in the form of a marketing plan. I speak regularly to A/E/C marketers all over the country and I often ask attendees how many of their firms have a formal marketing plan, as opposed to simply a list of “to-do” items for the year ahead. I’m always shocked at how few raise their hands. While marketing plans are fundamental blueprints in other industries, among A/E/C firms, I’ve found them to be the exception, rather than the norm. So let’s change that! In 2021, set out to develop a documented, strategic marketing plan that is aligned with your firm’s top business priorities and objectives. If you need help, seek out a qualified consultant to assist. Once the plan has been crafted, be sure to share it with firm leadership.
5. Partner with HR to improve the employee experience (EX)
Undoubtedly one of the top (if not THE top) priorities for A/E/C firms over the last few years has been attracting and retaining top talent. And it’s no secret that qualified job candidates can practically pick and choose to work for any firm they wish. With a talent shortage, and increasing competition for the talent that’s out there, new approaches to recruitment and retention are necessary.
In fact, talent acquisition (what recruitment is now called by HR professionals) has evolved to depend much more on a marketing approach than an HR approach. Whether it’s helping with employer branding initiatives or talent marketing strategy, HR teams throughout the industry could greatly benefit from the assistance of their marketing peers. So as firms look to gain a competitive advantage in the employee experience arena, an alignment of HR and marketing is essential to winning the talent war.
6. Quarterback the client experience (CX)
As A/E/C firms everywhere look to avoid commoditization and establish sustainable competitive advantage, client experience (CX) has emerged as a viable solution. While budgets and price will always play a role, today’s buyers are increasingly looking for their A/E/C partners to add value and provide them with an exceptional experience, from all phases of the relationship. By focusing on the client’s needs and building a strategy and culture that seeks to consistently elevate the client experience, firms can distinguish themselves from everyone else.
No amount of aspiration is going to drive CX without someone “owning” the end-to-end experience.
But no amount of aspiration is going to drive CX without someone “owning” the end-to-end experience—from prospect to client, and client to advocate. And just like no A/E/C firm can truly prioritize safety without a program (leadership, accountability, coordination, training, etc.), firms can’t prioritize client-centricity without a program either. As marketers look to expand their roles, quarterbacking a CX program—which leverages many traditional marketing strengths including strategy, research and communications—would be a wise resolution to make.
7. Narrow your marketing/business development focus with account-based marketing
For most A/E/C firms, marketing and business development only come together for a client/project pursuit when it involves a proposal. And while BD folks are busy targeting specific accounts, marketing’s non-proposal efforts are largely (if not exclusively) focused on raising general firm awareness—not engaging specific prospects. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has emerged as a marketing approach to assist business development teams with accelerating the business development cycle, closing more deals and penetrating new markets.
By allowing the marketing team to focus on high-priority targets, 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. And marketing teams can add tremendous value by developing highly-personalized campaigns (leveraging a myriad of marketing tactics) that target key accounts (and the various stakeholders inside those accounts) proactively.
8. Invest in your brand
Historically, many A/E/C firms have not been willing to invest in their brands the way companies in other industries have. Yes, all firms already have a logo, a tagline, a color palette, apparel, branded-giveaways, etc. But as competition heats up for both clients and talent, firm leaders are starting to realize the great importance of having a distinct, differentiating position in the marketplace.
For many firms, investing in a brand refresh should start with core branding concepts such as brand purpose and brand promise—establishing them for the first time or revisiting with more intentionality. This foundation should be augmented with greater reliance on brand research, client perception studies and competitive analysis. Ultimately, firms will want to craft more differentiating and compelling value propositions and messaging complete with a brand identity refresh that raises the bar from previous iterations. Assuming your firm already has a solid, impactful brand identity, creating consistency across all touch points by developing brand standards to protect your firm’s brand identity is essential. Once they’re established, it’s imperative that all employees (even/especially firm principals) understand and uphold them.
9. Prioritize your website
With so much emphasis on emerging trends, many firms have neglected their most valuable marketing asset—their website! But in 2021, your website should continue to play a larger role in the business development and talent acquisition process. Prospects, clients, teaming partners and job candidates alike visit your website to answer questions, perform due diligence, understand your capabilities and experience and inform selection decisions. Is your website up for the task?
With so much emphasis on emerging trends, many firms have neglected their most valuable marketing asset—their website!
To capitalize on growth opportunities, websites must serve as platforms for differentiation, thought leadership, business development and talent acquisition. Growth-focused websites are planned, designed and developed with the audience—not the firm—in mind. They are effective at attracting, engaging and delighting visitors by delivering a remarkable user experience (UX) that allows users to find what they are looking for as quickly and as easily as possible. Unfortunately, many A/E/C firms are missing out on growth opportunities due to websites that deliver a subpar user experience and miss the content, design and technical mark. Whether you just launched a new website this month or are planning to redesign in the year ahead, updating and improving your website should be an ongoing priority for the marketing department.
10. Share more, sell less
Prospects aren’t nearly as interested in your firm as you might assume. Rather than a sales pitch, they’re looking for you to answer their questions, solve their problems and establish credibility. Content marketing for A/E/C firms is all about sharing knowledge and best practices—not selling or talking about your firm—in order to attract prospects and build trust. In 2021, this philosophy should be applied to virtually every piece of content you create, whether that’s your emails, blog articles, social media updates or proposals.
11. Blog consistently for thought leadership
Speaking of content marketing, blogging should play a central role in your firm’s content marketing program. But while many firms have a blog, they are frequently ineffective and may go largely unread! This can be the result of posting the wrong kind of content on the blog, or inconsistent or infrequent posting. In 2021, commit to posting high-quality, thought-leadership-oriented content at least twice a month and ideally weekly. Blogging is a lot like working out: the more often you do it, the more results your firm will see.
Blogging is a lot like working out: the more often you do it, the more results your firm will see.
12. Build an integrated communications strategy around owned, earned, paid and shared media
There has been tremendous (an ongoing) change in the media landscape. Marketers now have a myriad of channels (mobile, web, social, direct) and formats (video, interactive, print) at their disposal. But effective B2B marketing in today’s ecosystem requires a strategic and integrated approach. In 2021, resolve to bring more focus to your communications efforts. Choose the most relevant and appropriate channels for your target audience. Even though owned media (content) may be the dominant centerpiece of today’s marketing mix, it’s best to leverage the strengths of all media options in order to most effectively reach and engage your target audience.
Remember that owned leads to earned and shared, and paid and earned lead to greater visibility of both your firm and your content. In other words, don’t put all your communications eggs in one basket. Diversify your mix and let each component reinforce and compound the effectiveness and reach of the other. Be intentional with your emails, updates and posts by tying all of your activity to your firm’s content strategy and remember to be consistent. Better to do more with less, rather than less with more.
13. Leverage the power of video
Video is a powerful storytelling medium that A/E/C firms can leverage to get their message across for a variety of purposes including brand videos, products videos, case stories, culture and day in the life videos, client testimonials, how-tos and thought leadership videos, live streaming and pre-recording shows, just to name a few. While many A/E/C firms have dabbled in video, the medium is not being fully leveraged industry-wide and it remains a largely untapped storytelling vehicle.
14. Build a MarTech stack
Over the last decade, A/E/C marketing has become increasingly dependent on technology—requiring new skills and processes and creating new challenges. While A/E/C marketers continue to empower their efforts with technology solutions, it’s essential to look at MarTech use holistically, to know what tools are being used and how they (should) work together as one cohesive unit to support a firm’s marketing efforts. In 2021, A/E/C marketers should look to design and build a strategic MarTech stack (a “stack” is the nickname given to the grouping of technologies that marketers leverage to perform marketing activities) for their firm and continue to audit what they’re using and review its utilization and performance on a regular basis.
15. Adopt an agile approach to marketing
While agile marketing—an iterative approach inspired by software developers—has long had its proponents, the uncertainty of the future and the volatility of the economy in a post-COVID-19 world is pushing marketers in virtually every industry to take a hard look at the benefits of adopting an agile approach. So what exactly is agile marketing? I like this definition from Workfront: “a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.” An agile approach to marketing involves prioritizing initiatives that will ensure the highest rate of return, rather than simply responding to the squeakiest wheel or treating every request with the same level of importance. And most importantly, adopting an agile marketing mindset will help your team continuously look for ways to optimize and improve your efforts.
16. Track your success
As management guru Peter Drucker famously quipped, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” And you can’t measure success without establishing goals and metrics for defining what success looks like in the first place. In 2021, aim to ensure that every marketing initiative—both digital and offline—has specific goals and quantifiable metrics that align with those goals. Establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will play a critical role in tracking the ongoing performance of your marketing and help you determine what’s working, what’s not working and where best to invest your firm’s resources.
Aim to ensure that every marketing initiative has specific goals and quantifiable metrics that align with those goals.
17. Try something new
Marketing is in a perpetual state of change, with new channels, tactics and technology rolling out seemingly every day. It’s easy to get in a rut and get comfortable managing the same basic marketing playbook and marketing initiatives that have been in place for a while. But don’t make this mistake! Modern marketing is all about adapting to the evolving landscape and recognizing the need for agility in your marketing approach. There are a host of new marketing tactics and trends to consider. So in 2021, I encourage you to try some new things and add something new to your marketing mix.
Out with the old, in with the new
The start of a new year provides the opportunity to start fresh, and correct shortcomings from the previous year. Hopefully these 17 resolutions will provide some ideas on how to tweak your A/E/C marketing in 2021.