Most architecture firm C-Suite executives believe their firm is on a strong growth trajectory to more revenue and higher profits. But beyond the more immediate indicators such as steady repeat business and utilization ratios, what else highlights a path for growth for architecture, engineering, and construction firms?
In this blog post I’ll be highlighting three themes that can foreshadow growth and how architecture marketing can be the lever for change.
1. Succession Planning. More than a quarter-million Americans turn 65 every month. For most of these folks, exiting the workplace is now top of mind. According to a recent Architect Magazine, the average age of AIA members is 54. Clearly, these folks are thinking about the next life chapter. But what happens when an entire career has been dedicated to running the business and being the primary decision maker? Now, when it’s time to exit the business, there’s likely no successor who has the experience in running such a business.
Unfortunately, many of the Baby Boomers that started today’s established architecture firms are the same executives that have hesitated handing over the reigns to their project managers and others in their talented staff. By limiting the decision-making opportunities to a few, these firms are now faced with a void of in-house strategic leaders. And, the possibility of seeking outside suitors is also wrought with stressful unknowns.
Recently, I was having a conversation with GenX architects, a group that recognizes that waiting for the phone to ring is not a sustainable path to growth. For these future leaders, there are grey areas on the best ways to generate new business.
Most often, new business opportunities just showed up for these GenXrs. Their limited exposure to business development and strategic decision-making has tempered their leadership development – in turn, limiting their ascension potential. However, these are the same technical professionals that recognize that buyers of professional services develop trust and seek service providers differently, and they are hungry to adopt new marketing and business development techniques.
In succession planning, there is an opportunity to focus on those individuals that recognize marketing as an integral dimension of business growth. Marketing considers aspects inside and outside of the firm – staff, clients, services, competitors, and pricing. Tracking these indicators gives insight into the overall impact on your firm.
But it comes down to this notion: good marketing decisions drive faster growth, higher profitability, and a higher firm valuation. When it comes to architecture marketing, savvy seller-doers realize that uninformed, mediocre marketing strategies can have a negative impact and can limit the potential of professional services firms. That’s why savvy seller-doers can be a good start to your firm’s succession planning.
2. Positioning for Design Changes. Thanks to multi-generational work forces, technology and other trends, society no longer uses workspaces the same ways as before. Healthcare environments need to incorporate shifting workflows and evolving contamination protocols that impact the consumption of spaces. Open workspaces are more conducive for collaboration and also introduce an entire new swath of distractions.
What are the emerging dynamics that present opportunities for growth? And, will established architecture firms be poised to recognize these dynamics or will they lose to more entrepreneurial firms?
Growth oriented firms are already investing in the understanding of these changes because they recognize that the past will not equal the future. Once firm leaders embark on a rhythm of understanding behaviors that impact design changes, sharing these insights through thought leadership will position them for growth.
One effort that leads to understanding these changes is the research of external target audiences. Through frequent external brand perception research, professional services firms can learn what motivates target clients and what mistakes to avoid.
The research can shed light into target audiences’ most pressing issues and greatest challenges – insights that help your architecture marketing highlight differentiators and position for growth.
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3. Differentiators that Matter. Like most professional services firms, architects tend to highlight differentiators that mean more to themselves rather than to their clients and prospects. The role of differentiators is to highlight dimensions of a firm that are true, supportable and meaningful to client/prospect/teaming partner target audiences.
To identify differentiators that matter, firm leaders must push beyond the surface. If your firm’s value proposition sounds like everyone else, then your firm is not differentiated and it’s on the path to commoditization.
Thought-leadership, also known as content marketing, is an effective vehicle for communicating firms’ differentiators. And Visible Experts℠ are in the unique position to communicate these differentiators and their niche expertise through thought leadership and educational content.
Yes, there was a day when marketing for AEC was rejected. Over 40 years ago, marketing was synonymous with advertising, and the advertising practice was prohibited by the industry. But the industry has matured and marketing is not only recognized but also substantially sophisticated.
For example, younger leaders are more apt to recognize the more modern emphasis on thought/authority leadership. As today’s AEC leaders retire, those same leaders that grew up with distrust for marketing, the aversion to thought/authority leadership will diminish. However, those AEC firms who are actively instituting a thought leadership strategy now will have a distinct advantage over those who are late to the gate.
For most firms, architecture marketing continues to be an emerging discipline within firms. While the C-Suite executives may not have an extensive background in marketing, they will be called upon to make decisions that will directly impact the growth and profitability of tomorrow’s leading firms. It’s not too late. In fact, it’s time to take a step towards the future.
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