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A Mindset Shift for AEC Professionals

Online marketing works.

In fact, it’s often less expensive (and less time-intensive) than traditional marketing and advertising techniques alone. Yet architecture, engineering, and construction firms approach online marketing very conservatively, arguably more so than other professional services firms. While the jury’s out on exactly why they’re holding back, one contributing factor is likely doubt about the efficacy of online marketing. The Internet is, after all, far less tangible than the physical structures and components—not to mention the relationships—around which AEC firms build their businesses.

Of course, traditional marketing and business development techniques (including proposals) still work, but they can’t stand alone in the increasingly competitive marketplace. A wide world of lead generation and business growth extends well beyond RFPs and networking events. AEC firms must refocus their efforts—like every other professional service firm—and better balance both online and offline marketing strategies.

Ensure that your AEC firm is giving adequate attention to the three key areas below to enhance your marketing efforts and generate new business.

1. Your Website

Your website is a critical component of your marketing strategy.  Not only is it the first contact much of the outside world has with your firm, but it’s also the resource most buyers use to check out prospective AEC service providers.

How Buyers Check Out AEC Services Providers

And considering that nearly 52% of buyers rule out a firm before even having a conversation with them, it’s crucial that your website make an impact. Here’s how:

Display high quality pictures.

AEC firms are lucky. Many firms have high quality photographic proof of their expertise. Your website is the perfect place to showcase your project portfolio—from concept to finished product. Feature your best work and let prospects browse before-and-after images, jobsites/workspaces, and, importantly, your staff. In addition to a reputation for results, buyers are looking for a culture and value fit when selecting an AEC firm. Putting your people on display helps provide that insight and it makes your firm more approachable.

Provide a great user experience.

Visitors should be able to figure out from your website what you do, how you do it, who you do it for, and why that matters (what value you bring your clients). This requires targeted, scannable messaging, clear images and graphics, and navigation and pathways that make it easy to quickly find desired information. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly, too—appearing legible and attractive viewed on every device from a laptop to a smartphone. Follow the Keep-It-Simple principle. An overly busy or text-heavy site diminishes your content and message, but a simple layout lets your images and identity shine.

Make it easy to contact your firm.

A printed brochure features a phone number and address, but your website should link directly to a hyperlinked email address, your firm’s social media accounts, newsletter sign-up fields, and whatever else provides a way for a prospect to get your attention. Whatever you provide, make it easy—whether a click to send an email or a simple form to complete (name, company, and email). It’s often the first step AEC services buyers take in establishing a relationship with your firm. And while they can help you collect valuable data, complicated and extensive contact forms can drive away prospects who might otherwise want to contact you.

2. Educational content

Establish your credibility and expertise online by featuring a variety of informational content on your website. Posting a project update or firm award is one thing, but sharing educational content that is both helpful and of interest to your target audiences is what really aids your business development efforts. Search engines love content too, and can help steer visitors to your website when they search for specific keywords and phrases. You can also look for opportunities to share your content (as a guest contributor) on relevant industry blogs and online news sources—and vice versa. These mutually beneficial exchanges increase exposure to a wider audience and help extend professional networks.

Here are a few kinds of content to leverage:

Blogs.

These short, fairly informal posts should offer your insights on your industry. Provide case stories of past work and discuss current AEC industry trends. Attract prospects by addressing issues that they face daily, showing high-level solutions (but avoiding the hard sell).

Guides, white papers and books.

These longer pieces help further prospect engagement. Because visitors interested in this content tend to be farther along in the buying process, it’s a good idea to “gate” them behind a registration wall that requires contact information before a download is permitted. It’s win-win. The individual gets free, informative content, and you receive valuable demographic and contact details to inform your firm’s marketing efforts.

Video.

Think pictures provide an impact online? Combine that with the storytelling power of a short case study or overview video, and you’ve got a great opportunity to really connect with prospects.

3. Social Media

Take another look at the figure above. About 57% of buyers check out your AEC firm on social media before committing to a particular provider. If you’re conspicuously absent, you’re losing the opportunity to connect with a sea of potential buyers within your target audience. Even if you can’t swing buy-in with relation to your firm’s Facebook or Twitter presence, urge employees to have complete profiles and then share your firm’s content on LinkedIn. It’s a powerful way to disseminate thought leadership across diverse professional networks.

When in doubt—test it out

It may take a bit of trial and error to make a real splash in online marketing. Luckily, the Internet facilitates the accumulation, management, and analysis of data. Use simple (yet powerful) tools like Google Analytics to monitor website traffic and referral sources. A/B test—changing the colors on call-to-action buttons across a specific period of time, for example—and refine your online marketing approach based on the results.

So, AEC, let’s take the art out of online marketing and truly use it—in conjunction with more traditional techniques—to get real, quantifiable results. You’ve got nothing to lose. Well, aside from those potentially viable leads that already ruled your firm out before giving you a chance.

Additional Resources:

How Hinge Can Help Download the Online Marketing for Professional Services book

Author: Kristin Keen In her more than 12 years in the A/E/C industry, she has held nearly every marketing and business development role imaginable and has helped her firms traverse tenuous acquisitions, build stalwart brands, and expand their market share. She honed her strategic marketing and client service skills at some of Engineering News Record’s top construction companies and eventually led firm-wide marketing and business development efforts at a top-ranked construction law boutique in Northern Virginia.

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