By combining traditional marketing tactics with unique approaches for our industry, AEC firms can get ahead of the competition, stay relevant, and win more and better contracts.
Marketing for the AEC industry presents unique challenges and requires unique approaches. It’s easy to make the mistake of hiring a marketing person and sending them to generic marketing training, expecting that they’ll be able to translate what they learn into results for your AEC firm.
Unfortunately, such an approach is incomplete for our industry. Marketing in most industries is a matter of generating brand awareness and, perhaps, sales leads. It tends to follow a fairly smooth path from strategy to campaign to execution, with easily measurable KPIs.
The AEC industry has additional complexities that impact how you have to market. For many firms operating in the public sector, much of the firm’s revenue comes from successfully responding to requests for proposals. This results in a relatively unstable operating environment, as marketing teams may at any time have to drop anything they are doing to respond to an RFP.
Additionally, marketing in the AEC industry requires that marketers also be technical experts and understand the needs and demands of a highly technical audience. They also must be flexible and capable of marketing in both private and public sectors.
To get you started down the right path, here are three standard marketing tactics that are worth investing in, plus four that are uniquely important in our industry.
Standard marketing tactics to embrace. These three marketing tactics are just as important in our industry as they are for others.
- Brand awareness. Like any other industry, brand awareness is a valuable asset for an AEC firm, especially when going after private contracts. Having a name that your buyers recognize can give you an edge.
Brand awareness marketing includes targeted ads, sponsoring events, blogging, social media, and producing thought leadership content, such as white papers and e-books.
- Business social media. Sites like LinkedIn are a valuable place for AEC firms to invest marketing dollars and sales time. An effective strategy for engagement on LinkedIn can help your principals develop valuable industry relationships and establish recognition as authorities in the industry.
- Website, blog, and email. Your website serves as the central hub of your public-facing identity. It’s critical that it represents your organization effectively. Develop a site that is easy to navigate, represents your firm effectively, and serves as a platform for publishing additional content to establish yourself as an authority.
Your blog is the appropriate place to build search engine optimization as well as authority in your industry. Post regularly on topics of interest to your market, and use the platform to showcase your expertise.
Unique marketing tactics for the AEC industry. Often, AEC firms hire a marketing person hoping they will engage in all of the activities above, but may find that instead they end up mired down producing RFPs and supporting the sales team.
It is one of the unique challenges of our industry that the timing of RFPs is unpredictable, and that the time-consuming effort of responding can take everyone away from their core responsibilities.
Here are four unique marketing approaches that work for us:
- Hire for technical proficiency. When hiring marketing team members, whether in-house or outsourced, add “technical proficiency” to the list of required skills and abilities. Your marketing team must be able to listen and understand technical conversations and conduct interviews with technical personnel, and translate that into viable marketing material.
- Divide and conquer. Building brand awareness, writing blogs, and making ad purchases are all very different skills. Add in the skill of preparing RFPs and PowerPoint presentations, plus the technical proficiency necessary to effectively market an AEC firm, and you will have a very hard time finding one person who can handle all of it effectively and consistently.
Divide these activities up and group them so that the people performing each activity are seated firmly where they perform best. For instance, our in-house marketing team is divided up such that one person focuses primarily on pure marketing, while another person primarily focuses on RFPs and PowerPoints.
- Expect flexibility and responsiveness. In many industries, the “divide and conquer” approach is the end of the story. But in our industry, it can’t stop there. Everyone on the team must be willing to pitch in and make things happen when they need to happen. You can’t afford to let an RFP slide through the cracks today because somebody on the marketing team would rather focus on marketing strategy at the moment.
- Plan ahead. To make all this work together, and not have one aspect of your marketing and sales dominate all the others, you must plan ahead. Think of it like budgeting – you don’t know exactly how much money your company will make in a given month, so you plan ahead to make sure you have buffers to account for the slow times.
Likewise, your marketing team should stay a step ahead of the curve as much as possible, so that when push comes to shove and you’re too busy responding to RFPs to focus on marketing, the marketing can continue to run without your team’s immediate attention.
By combining traditional marketing tactics with unique approaches for our industry, AEC firms can get ahead of their competition, stay relevant, and win more and better contracts.
Robert Greene, PE, PG, CIH, LEED AP is the president at GLE Associates, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.