7 Top Trends to Impact AEC Marketing in 2016

According to a recent study, “strategic marketing is more important than ever as B2B companies face new challenges. … Educated and sophisticated buyers now have easy access to research and information through the Internet and other sources. These factors make the traditionally tactical role of many B2B marketers insufficient to grow their businesses.” Professional services are part of this B2B world and also fall prey to these new challenges. What’s the antidote?  Building a strong brand, both online and offline.

Historically, architecture, engineering, and construction consulting firms have tackled uncertain and evolving market conditions with shotgun marketing mentality and approach – ‘if we do a little bit of everything, something will stick’. Yet, there is significant evidence that highlights why more than ever, strong marketing strategies are required.

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2016 looks to be a volatile year in AEC marketing – not necessarily due to external forces, but rather internal old-school vs. new-school dynamics. I anticipate this shake up to be exacerbated by these 7 trends:

1. Intentional marketing strategies NOT accidental marketing. Marketing strategies have traditionally been reserved for firms at the very top of ENR lists. Today marketing strategies are more important than ever, whether a $25 million dollar firm or a $2 billion dollar firm – the days of not having a marketing strategy are over. Start with the basics, what is the view from the outside? What do prospects, clients and even got-away’s see as the firm value? What are differentiators? Who is the real competition? Relying on research to identify blind spots and reduce risk is an effective foundation for planning out an intentional (not reactive or accidental) marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy must be agile, making the most of data driven information now available. By embracing agile marketing, firms can embark on a continuous cycle where they conceive, execute, implement, review, and adjust based on experienced, real-time results. And, combined with a 360° marketing view, strategic marketing can take hold.

Download-VF-Guide2. Data, data, data – going beyond Excel. For many, focusing on data meant pulling reports from accounting/project systems to examine metrics ‘after the sale’. And when it came to AEC marketing, ‘hit rates’ were the data of choice. Today, data and analytics can drown the average marketer – think Google analytics, online conversions and more. And, ongoing analysis ‘before the sale’ is just as important as ‘after the sale’. Understanding what’s important, and how to find it requires a new skill set for most marketers (so ongoing professional development is critical) and demands a working knowledge of new technologies that far surpass Excel. Metrics aren’t just a means to an agile marketing end: they’re increasingly necessary to make effective operational decisions and maintain a competitive edge at every level of a business. By leveraging marketing analytics, your firm will be able to measure the effectiveness of each marketing channel.

3. Long engagements yield better relationships. Selecting a service provider is much like embarking on a new marriage…will it work? Will I still like them after the honeymoon period? Much like in real life, long engagements allow us to get a much more authentic perspective. By carefully developing a lead funnel with appropriate engagement levels along the way, professional services firms can develop relationships with prospects well before the need exists. We call this, mapping the client journey. Once you understand your client journey, you can then develop the online and offline marketing activities that will foster a more intimate relationship. In the B2B world, this 360° view is called omni channel marketing; in professional services it’s called Visible Firm℠.

Online and offline marketing activities

4. Content is STILL alive. Mapping the client journey allows us to understand the issues and topics that are most relevant to your firm’s target audiences. The better the understanding, the better the content. For the past two years, I have identified the proliferation of content (video, blogs, webinars, speaking, writing, social sharing) as a top disruptor for AEC marketing. And 2016 will be no different. While more and more AEC firms are producing educational content –many are still being dragged kicking and screaming. Content marketing is not a fad, but an essential investment in business development.

Side note: Many of today’s seasoned AEC leaders continue to reject the idea that buyers of professional services look to educational content as a way to develop trust. Don’t forget that there is an ongoing generational shift compounded by the bookend issues of succession planning and recruiting within a limited talent pool – this trifecta gives content marketing a solid footing as a business development, attraction and retention tool.

5. Smartly share knowledge. You’ve created helpful and educational content, using it to generate leads and nurture prospects is the next frontier for many firms. There is a whole new set of tools that can help with that – think marketing automation (drip campaigns). HubSpot identifies marketing automation as one of the game-changing marketing trends in 2016.

Content funnel

6. Social – it’s not just a verb, but also a noun. Last year, our research showed that approximately 57% of professional services buyers check a firm out on social media before buying (see the figure below).

How buyers buy

Many AEC firms talk about ‘being social’ yet few are strategically engaging their staffs to foster social engagement, aka social media employee advocacy. Social media employee advocacy has different names (digital engagement, social media engagement), but they all mean the same – a strategic reliance on staff to develop relationships online and serve as brand ambassadors.  Employee advocacy is new source of impactful and authentic content, and AEC firms are taking notice. Social media advocacy can help amplify firm and Visible Experts’ messaging.

SEE ALSO: 7 New Rules in AEC Marketing

7. Being responsive makes friends. This year we saw the change in Google’s algorithm. Many firms lived through  “Mobilegeddon” – where Google now adjusts search rankings based on website mobile-friendliness and is displaying search results with “mobile-friendly” tags. With this update, it’s clear that a site’s ease of use for mobile users makes a significant impact on a site’s overall visibility. Going hand in hand with this shift is the demand of content to be consumable on mobile devices.  So, for those firms whose site is not responsive (mobile friendly), not only are you creating barriers to being found online, you are also diminishing user experience.

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Bonus – Keep an eye on video. 73% of B2B Marketers say video positively impacts marketing ROI. For professional services firms, case studies, testimonials, thought leader interviews, and how-to’s are perfect fodder for video.

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠  to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.



Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM A Senior Partner and the head of Hinge’s A/E/C practice, Sylvia collects many shoes and wears many hats. When she’s not traveling around the country for speaking engagements or client meetings, you will find Sylvia creating marketing and branding strategies for clients, supervising her A/E/C team, developing new business, or working on her personal brand. With a 20+ year career spanning visual communications, strategy, and marketing, and over a decade working in the A/E/C sector, Sylvia brings a creative, business-focused approach to her client engagements.

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