Much of what we write at Hinge focuses on the most effective marketing tactics for professional service firms, offline and online. For example, content marketing, websites, analytics and speaking engagements are some of the most powerful implements in today’s marketing toolbox. But, it’s important to recognize that many tried-and-true AEC marketing fundamentals still hold an important place in the pursuit of new business. Think of these fundamentals as the infrastructure and planning behind a well-built, LEED-certified building. Marketing your firm is no different.
In our Internet-fueled world, it’s easy to get distracted by the latest online tools. But the boring stuff is still important, and you don’t want to lose sight of old-school techniques that are just as persuasive now as they were a few decades ago. Today, I’m going to look at six often-overlooked AEC marketing fundamentals that are critical to the success of any AEC firm.
1.Resumes / bios
In the professional services, the resumes of its technical professionals are valuable currency. The best resumes/bios present more than the standard academic degrees and professional credentials. They tell a compelling story about the individual’s role in key projects — positioning him or her as essential to the success of each project. When appropriate, a bio should highlight the person’s areas of expertise.
According to our research into the relationship between visibility and expertise, we know that more than two-thirds of AEC buyers seek out high-visibility experts because the buyers themselves lack the appropriate internal expertise. To address this need, your resumes and bios should provide project and professional details such as:
- Project names
- Key areas of responsibility
- Past roles
- Niche expertise
Don’t forget that it’s also important to identify if project experience was gained with the current firm or a prior firm.
We also see an increase in the use of photography in resumes/bios. Don’t be afraid to break out of the standard headshot mold. Individual photos or team photos can tell a story that goes beyond a standard resume/bio photo.
The best examples reinforce credibility (with a polished and professional pose) or collaboration (with other team members and open workspaces).
2. Project portfolio: photos
AEC firms already understand the importance of photography when it comes to showcasing projects. There is a greater appreciation for the importance of showing these projects in relation to the audience they hope to attract. Think patrons enjoying the water fountains in a town center plaza.
Whether its end users enjoying a beautifully designed space or a project team working together on site, imagery needs to be clearly connected to your content and messages. While this may take more effort, it can be a powerful way to connect a project’s story to the visual experience.
When you commission project photography, it’s important to hire a professional with a strong architecture portfolio — someone who will make your projects look great. Amateur photography sells your work short and positions you a cut below the premium firms in your industry. Consideration will need to be given to staging, model releases, lightning, shadows, props and more — but a professional photograph can handle many of these details for you. In the end, you’ll get a collection of “hero” shots and unique details you can use throughout your online and offline materials.
If your firm is not in a position to budget for professional photography, or if you are a subcontractor, try reaching out to the architects, owners, or developers of key projects in your portfolio. Most often than not, the architect will have commissioned professional photography and may be willing to share it with you. Terms can vary — in some cases you will be asked to pay a fee, while other firms will freely provide photos so long as you always include a credit alongside the image.
You may also want to consider video, which can be as simple as a photomontage with text or as sophisticated as a 3-D BIM fly-through animation.
3. Project portfolio: descriptions
Just as important as the photos are the project descriptions themselves. The project details are important, but explaining how you solved the clients’ problems is even more important. Don’t limit your description to the project specs. Instead, tell a story.
In telling the story, it’s helpful to connect projects, teams and expertise. From a project description, for instance, consider creating cross-links between the teams and experts involved in them. If your firm has produced any related educational content, you might link to that, as well. For AEC firms in particular, these are crucial connections to make. While saying “our people make the difference” is certainly not a differentiator, proving it by showcasing your firm’s experts and their educational content will build your overall credibility and reputation.
Referrals have been a mainstay in professional services for decades. But producing a wealth of free educational content is a relatively new phenomenon. By connecting the two, firms today can actively drives referrals from non-clients.
Traditionally, referrals came from one of two two sources: 1) existing and former clients; and 2) colleagues in related professions. These are still major sources of referrals, but they’re not the only ones. In fact, our research shows that 81.5% of buyers have received a referral from someone they have never worked with.
Where do these non-client referrals come from? Here’s what our research shows:
94.5% of referrals are made because of a firm’s reputation, expertise or visibility. Only 5.5% of referrals come from someone that the referred firm has met before. So focusing on building your firm’s brand (think of this as the product of your reputation and your visibility) and demonstrating your expertise are essential for moving beyond traditional client referrals and getting non-client referrals.
Here’s a common way this process works today: People search online for answers to their questions. If you put free educational materials on your website (think a blog, white papers or articles), people can find them by conducting a Google search. Once they become regular consumers of your content and begin to trust your expertise they will begin to refer you to others who have a problem you can solve.
Some of those same referral sources will also serve as references for your work. Does your firm have a process for maintaining an updated list of references? It can be as simple as keeping an Excel spreadsheet where you organize your best client references by service, project type and market served. Reference lists can get stale fast, so plan on updating it at least once a quarter.
6. Contact list
Maintaining a clean contact list is essential. It will include influencers, decision makers, clients and prospects. It’s amazing how many established firms don’t have a proper system for maintaining contact information. If you keep yours in your accounting software, that won’t cut it — you need a system that your whole sales team can access. If you haven’t invested in customer relationship management (CRM) software yet, I urge you to do so. They are available at a wide range of price points and with an equally wide range of features. But even a basic CRM is miles better than a spreadsheet.
The most important piece of information you need to collect — more important even than a contact’s name — is their email address. The more clients and leads you have on your email subscription list, the more people you can connect with and nurture through your email marketing campaigns.
How do you grow your list? If you have educational content (white papers, articles, webinar recordings and the like), you can put some of it behind a registration form on your website. Many people are more than willing to exchange a small amount of personal information for content they perceive as valuable. And some proportion of these individuals will become prospective buyers some time in the future. It’s a proven and effective way to add new leads to your list over time.
Today’s marketing has continued to grow in complexity. However, a continued focus on your AEC marketing fundamentals will pay dividends for your firm.