As we close out the first month of the New Year, AEC firms have made (and are still making) plans for where and how to spend their marketing time and budgets in 2018.
Just as people everywhere are making resolutions to improve their lives—both personally and professionally—in 2018, 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 the impact and effectiveness, here are 14 marketing resolutions to consider embracing in 2018.
1. Move beyond a proposal-centric, project-pursuit only approach to AEC marketing. In the AEC world, proposals are synonymous with marketing. Outside of the AEC 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.
As the industry continues to evolve, a growing emphasis needs to be placed on non-proposal marketing activities. Keep in mind that the RFP/shortlist/interview process is the final stage in what is often a 2-3+ year chase. So in 2018, 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. AEC marketers will always be tempted (and perhaps pressured) to be reactionary, but don’t give in! Strategy should drive everything you do. Whether it’s your website, social media, email marketing, tradeshows, 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. 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.
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 AEC 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 AEC firms, I’ve found them to be the exception, rather than the norm. So let’s change that! In 2018, 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 agency to assist. Once the plan has been crafted, be sure to share it with firm leadership.
5. Partner with HR to win the talent war. Undoubtedly one of the top (if not THE top) priorities for AEC 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 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 recruitment arena, an alignment of HR and marketing is essential to winning the talent war.
6. Quarterback the client experience (CX). As AEC firms everywhere look to avoid commoditization and establish sustainable competitive advantage, client experience (CX) is emerging as a viable solution. While budgets and price will always play a role, today’s buyers are increasingly looking for their AEC 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.
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 AEC 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 AEC 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, close more deals and penetrate 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. Police your brand. Assuming your firm already has a solid, impactful brand identity (if your brand leaves much to be desired then consider a brand refresh in 2018), one area where many firms stumble with branding is consistency. While especially challenging for AEC firms, consistency across all touch points is a crucial aspect of brand management. Try performing a communications audit that takes an inventory of your current communications efforts (online, social, print collateral, business cards, ads, tradeshow booth, signage, etc.) and identify any inconsistencies and areas that need improvement. If you don’t already have them, you should also develop brand standards to protect your firm’s brand identity. Once they’re established, it’s imperative that all employees (even/especially firm principals) understand and uphold them.
9. Prioritize your website. In 2018, your website will 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? 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 AEC 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 2018, this philosophy should be applied to virtual every piece of content you create, whether your emails, blog articles, social media updates or proposals.
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 2018, 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.
11. Fine-tune your communications efforts. 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. In 2018, resolve to bring more focus to your communications efforts. Choose the most relevant and appropriate channels for your target audience. 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.
12. Rethink your tradeshow approach. Nearly every AEC firm attends conferences and tradeshows as a marketing and business development tactic. In many cases, tradeshow expenditures make up a significant portion of a non-payroll marketing budget. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for many firms to handle tradeshows as more of a tactical and reactionary exercise, rather than a strategic investment that demands ROI. In 2018, many firms should rethink their tradeshow strategy overall. This means scrutinizing what tradeshows they should attend, identifying a game plan, goals and metrics for each event and making conference speaking opportunities a priority.
13. 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 2018, 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.
14. 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 2018, 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 14 resolutions will provide some ideas on how to tweak your AEC marketing in 2018.
About the Author
Tim Asimos is a syndicated blogger and sought-after national speaker, providing keen insights on modern marketing and an uncommon perspective gleaned from more than 15 years of B2B and AEC experience. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @timasimos