While 2021 showed many Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) firms learning to adapt to the chaos caused by the Covid pandemic, many were hesitant to celebrate, pointing to ongoing labor and supply chain constraints and the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. infrastructure legislation. And while some AEC firms have thrived, introducing new tools and techniques to address an increasingly digital marketplace, others continue to struggle, searching for the perfect recipe for high growth.
Amid the turbulence, one thing has become clear: Change happens quickly and those AEC firms that are slow to adapt will be left behind. The Hinge Research Institute’s newly released High Growth Study 2022: AEC Edition paints this picture.
About the Study
The analysis covers 141 AEC firms, representing a combined revenue of nearly $40 billion and more than 60,000 employees. Firms of all sizes, global regions and key executive roles were represented in the study, with the vast majority of firms doing business in the United States.
This year’s study showed that while marketing budgets have stabilized after a rapid ascent last year, high growth AEC firms are introducing new digital techniques into their repertoire to help stimulate growth. Furthermore, AEC firms are becoming increasingly more interested in popular topics such as workflow/process automation, customer experience and digital transformation.
In this article, I’ll explain how these fast-growing firms have built their competitive edge with their pursuits, project delivery, recruiting and retention in mind, through four key areas: technology, talent, strategy, and marketing.
Simply put, high growth AEC firms are utilizing marketing and business development technologies more than their no growth peers—20 percent more, to be exact—and especially when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation and artificial intelligence (AI). They also use technology to track their marketing and business development activities more frequently than their counterparts.
Almost half the high growth AEC firms surveyed used data from their website or other digital sources to score leads and were 30 percent more profitable than the no growth firms. Forty percent use metrics and ROI to report on and analyze the impact of their marketing efforts. These are the AEC firms to watch because they have the data and analytics with which to make more informed business decisions.
As the war for top talent, fueled by the pandemic and “The Great Resignation,” rages on across all professional services industries, AEC firms have been looking for ways to attract the highly skilled professionals they need. This year’s study found that high growth AEC firms are more likely to consult with outside agencies and freelancers to ensure their marketing needs are met and they can cover any critical skills gaps (e.g., graphic design, copywriting.)
Interestingly, despite outsourcing the work, the study showed that high growth AEC firms have the greatest skills advantage in some of these exact marketing activities, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
How do high growth AEC firms and no growth firms differ as they look toward the future? While mergers and acquisitions (M&A) will likely still play a part in high growth AEC firms’ future growth strategies, their focus is turning elsewhere. While AI is top of mind for most AEC firms, the high growth firms are more interested in learning about VR/AR, innovation topics and cyber security trends than their no growth counterparts.
The Hinge Research Institute also looked at what challenges high growth AEC firms were anticipating down the road which proved to differ from their no growth peers. While most AEC firms have become accustomed to a remote work environment, managing that remote workforce is still top of mind for many high growth firms. And as digital transformation takes hold, the fastest growing AEC firms are more concerned with changes in how their buyers are buying their services in the coming years.
It comes as no surprise that high growth AEC firms are investing more in marketing than their no growth peers in order to drive their growth and profitability, but where do they see the most bang for their buck? The HGS report provides a full list of the most impactful marketing techniques but what is particularly noteworthy is that seven out of the 10 are digital techniques such as podcasts (#1), webinars (#2), video blogging (#4) and keyword research/SEO (#10).
And when we take a closer look, we can see that high growth AEC firms are receiving much greater impact from presenting in educational webinars and keyword research/SEO, two critical, digital techniques that have been overlooked by the no growth firms. The study also found that higher SEO maturity (the more you invest in SEO for your firm) translates to more digital leads.
Perhaps one of the greatest learnings from this year’s study is where high growth AEC firms are prioritizing their time next, because after all, they must be doing something right! Social media marketing, a low-cost, low-effort digital technique, was identified as their top priority for 2022 by almost three times as many high growth AEC firms as no growth firms. This focus comes as the industry continues to deal with the effects from the pandemic and limits networking at in-person events.
The fastest growing AEC firms are also prioritizing creating content, SEO and analyzing the performance of their marketing efforts, among others that you can find in the full report. Maybe the time is now to compare your priorities for the coming year to those of the high growth AEC firms.
A final thought
While uncertainty about labor shortages, supply chain and legislation linger on, the past year saw many AEC firms finding ways to manage the constraints. Joining the bandwagon that is the digital transformation has never been more important.
Those AEC firms that use more digital marketing platforms and techniques, and that also use them more proficiently, are experiencing more growth and at a faster pace. The greater sophistication of a firm’s marketing efforts, the greater their competitive advantage will be.