Is your AEC firm interested in selling its services? Or is it looking to solve clients’ biggest problems?

If you answered the latter, then you understand that knowing your clients’ perspective is critical in building a reputation that generates referrals. In fact, our research indicates that a significant number of referrals are driven by a company’s general reputation. And arguably the most effectively way to boost your reputation is through thought leadership marketing.

Thought leaders are seen as experts in their industry. They are recognized authorities that can answer the big questions within their niche. These firms aren’t simply selling services, but creating solutions—and in doing so, gaining a significant competitive advantage.

Displays of thought leadership can play a key role in generating referrals. In fact, according to our research on referral marketing, 81.5 percent of firms receive referrals from people they have not worked with directly. These referrals aren’t made in the dark. They are based on experiences of your firm other than a direct vendor or client relationship.

How Your Visible Expertise Drives Referrals

Our research indicates that many brand-based referrals are driven by industry expertise. So what drives expertise-based referrals?

A recent survey we conducted of 523 professional services firms found that most of these referrals come from experts who have shared their knowledge with the public. Here are the most common places prospects are exposed to this kind of expertise:

  • Speaking engagements (30 percent of respondents).
  • Blog posts and articles (20 percent of respondents).
  • Social media engagement (17 percent of respondents).
  • Books (15 percent of respondents).

One takeaway is to encourage experts at your firm to solicit speaking engagements at leading industry functions. That’s a great long-term strategy, but one that can take time, especially if your experts don’t already have a portfolio of speaking experience. Blogging, however, can be put into place sooner and put you on the fast track to thought leadership success. Both of these approaches can be important components of an overall content strategy.

3 Well-Executed Examples of Thought Leadershipblogoffer-middle-visibleexpert-book

Not sure where to get started with your thought leadership marketing? Each of the following design firms is an industry leader. Each freely dispenses its knowledge in a blog that supports the firm’s position as an industry expert.

  1. Array Architects is one of the country’s leaders in the design of healthcare facilities. The firm says it offers a full complement of knowledge-based services including planning, architecture, interior design and advisory services from its seven office locations. The firm describes itself as a team of architects and designers who share a strong desire to use their expertise and knowledge to design solutions “that will help people in moments that matter most.”

 On its website, the firm doesn’t simply promote a blog or news forum—it has created a knowledge community. Here site visitors will find a blog, the firm’s latest tweets and a place to subscribe to new articles. Describing this forum as a community immediately sets the firm’s social marketing apart from competitors. This becomes a place for discussion, where visitors can respond to tweets or reach out directly to partners. The firm also promotes design books, case studies, videos, webinars and podcasts—examples of thought leadership marketing that can engage any potential client.

  1. Arup is a design and consulting firm that covers a wide range of markets with its services. The company describes itself as an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services. Its self-described goal is to make a positive difference in the world through its work. That may sound like a grand claim, but Arup backs it up with a global reputation and hundreds of examples on its blog that describe how team members contribute to this goal.

In addition to displaying company news and projects on its homepage, visitors can also find there a number of examples of thought leadership, including publications, videos and a blog broadly labeled as “Thoughts.” On the blog, readers can learn more about the individuals who make up Arup as they share their thoughts on the themes of cities, connectivity, health and resources. Not only do these thoughts demonstrate the range of services the company offers, but it exemplifies how design and engineering truly can make the world a better place.

  1. Freeman White is a design and consulting firm focused on solving complex healthcare facility issues. In fact, the company shares example of its work providing design, engineering, improvement and planning services for many types of healthcare buildings in case studies labeled as “outcomes.” The company positions itself as a solution finder, establishing its competitive advantage.

Its thought leadership section, called Insights, includes articles published in leading industry magazines, as well as on its own blog. Like its outcomes, the blog aims to answer specific questions and demonstrate to readers the firm’s strength at solving problems. Whether it’s determining the least expensive way to solve chiller issues or how to improve operating room efficiency, the firm demonstrates that it is a knowledgeable resource where healthcare facilities can turn for expert advice.

Creating a Multi-Pronged Approach for Demonstrating Expertise

Each of these three firms also exhibits thought leadership beyond their websites. Each contributes to leading industry publications and encourages members to speak at industry events, among other displays of visible expertise. Combined, these examples of thought leadership marketing give these firms a strong competitive advantage in landing new clients and projects.

Not sure where to get started? It may be simpler than you think. Each of the firms mentioned above have enhanced their reputations by creating valuable educational content. The lesson is clear: you don’t have to be something you aren’t. Just focus on what you already know.

Additional Resources:

How Hinge Can Help:

Hinge, a global leader in professional services branding and marketing, helps firms grow faster and become more profitable. We offer a comprehensive range of research, marketing and strategy services. This expertise comes together in our high performance website services.