These are exciting and scary times for marketers of architecture, engineering and construction firms. In A/E/C, we have previously competing firms that are now fighting to stay alive, mid-sized firms disappearing and established firms that have plateaued and are seeking growth. What’s a marketer to do? Marketing is fluid in today’s economy. So, dream big, I say!
This was the challenge I faced at this month’s SMPS Southeast Louisiana Marketing Conference, where I spoke on the topic of Planning the Marketing Strategy for A/E/C Firms to a group of marketing and business development professionals. This conference drew attendees from firms in Louisiana, Texas and other surrounding regions. These areas have continued to grow and evolve, post Katrina, but one of their biggest challenges continues to be the influx of “outside” firms that have come in the area. A key question by attendees was “what makes a good positioning strategy?”
For generations, firms in this region have operated from deals sealed with a handshake. Everyone knew the players and with that came intimate knowledge of firms’ strengths and weaknesses. While the disaster eventually brought growth opportunities to these local firms, it also brought greater competition. Nearly a decade later, local firms still struggle with maintaining relevance and highlighting their true differentiators with the goal of regaining their once-solid positioning.
A good positioning strategy starts with understanding the perspectives of your internal staff and external audiences (clients, prospects and got-aways). External research is not for the faint of heart as it forces a firm to suspend its own reality. For more on the role of research, check out our Research Guide. The findings from research can lead to a refined positioning and messaging for the brand.
For companies to compete in the new marketplace dynamics, they need a strong brand that captures a more focused reputation with greater visibility within a target client group. These brand-building essentials generally have not been exercised by the firms in the region, but are now essential to their positioning strategy.
A strong brand, both online and offline, is important to being considered by potential clients. Reputation, visibility and the ability to be found online really do matter when it comes to making the list of potential new firms that buyers consider. We know this from our research on How Buyers Buy A/E/C Services, which presents the high-level findings of a new study of 822 Buyers and 533 Sellers.
For most firms, marketing by the seller-doer has prevailed. However, marketplace shifts are taxing A/E/C firms’ technical and marketing staff. In this new age, marketing demands a more blended skill set. The best skill sets include equal parts of:
- Investigator – Captures and assesses prior marketing, develops strategies, evaluates and adjusts over time.
- Creative – Drives production of valuable content and channel distribution (video, blogs, webinars, social media, emails, etc.).
- Coach – Engages technical professionals on thought-provoking discussions that highlight value and benefit to clients, going beyond the technical dimensions.
Today’s marketers need to be in the driver’s seat to understand where clients look for information. They need to know how to best capture salient nuggets from project details, as well as techniques for developing valuable content. And last but not least, these skills should be supported by an ability to coach technical professionals (seller/doers) on best practices for presenting value and insights to prospects. Whew! And that’s all before working on proposals….
Discussing issues and offering solutions through helpful meetings in combination with creating valuable content is the new way to compete for work – a radical departure from the days of waiting for the phone to ring. As A/E/C firms revisit their positioning strategy, I encourage them to reflect on a quote referenced by one of my fellow conference speakers, “The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change” – Bill Clinton.