While many professional services firms have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, for AEC firms working in what has been deemed an essential industry, it’s been (more or less) “business as usual.” In an industry where most employees spend their days out in the field, working off one’s phone or tablet has always been important. But now that the rest of the world has adopted a virtual lifestyle, going digital has taken on new meaning.

In this post, I’ll share key insights from Hinge’s 2021 High Growth Study: Architecture, Engineering, & Construction Edition, which describes, among other things, what the industry’s fastest growing firms do differently from their average-growing peers.

At a time when all our routine, everyday lives have been disrupted by COVID-19, it is fitting that one of the key themes in this study is digital disruption.

This is not a new concept. At Hinge, we’ve been studying a select group of professional services firms that got ahead of the curve and jumped on the digital train years ago. These firms generate 66% or more of their new business through digital channels.

Hinge defines “high-growth firms” as those that reported 20% or more annual growth over a period of at least 3 consecutive years. Hinge’s high-growth study takes a look at what AEC firms are doing to achieve this growth year after year.

High-growth AEC firms expended nearly twice the effort on techniques such as email marketing campaigns, publishing blog posts, promoting thought leadership content in social media, and marketing video. In fact, we found that high-growth AEC firms demonstrated a higher rate of adoption than their no-growth peers on nearly every one of the digital techniques cited by participating firms (see Figure 1).

High-growth firms have adopted more digital techniques because they understand their buyers—almost 70 percent of whom say they use digital channels to research their business problems. We call these firms that prefer digital marketing techniques “digital disruptors.”

Overall, high-growth AEC firms experienced 50% more impact from digital and content marketing tactics compared to the no-growth firms. Let’s take a closer look at what techniques our digital disruptors prefer.

Most Impactful Digital Marketing Techniques of High-Growth AEC Firms

    1. Marketing Video: Online video, as a communication tool or to showcase a firm’s people and/or services, has also been increasing in popularity among all AEC firm segments. Since professional services is all about people, it’s an excellent way to achieve face-to-face interactions and demonstrate expertise. Video allows you to create a more personal connection with your audience. Video also equips you to easily share detailed, highly visual tutorials or demonstrations.
    2. Networking on social media: In 2020 the usual venues to network were put on pause. This of course accelerated professionals turning to channels like LinkedIn as a primary medium to connect and network with peers. On LinkedIn, you can connect with prospects, engage with the content they post and share your own thought leadership.
    3. Podcasts, radio, and other audio: It’s no secret that the popularity of podcasts in people’s personal and professional lives has grown considerably. This is a great opportunity for thought leaders accustomed to presenting at conferences. Speaking on podcasts or webinars hosted by other thought leaders is an excellent way to build visibility among a niche audiences.
    4. Digital Ads: Since the onset of COVID-19, nearly one third of High Growth firms intentionally invested more in digital ad spend. And they saw impact from them too! But beware… One fourth of No Growth firms also invested in digital ads in 2020. Spending doesn’t guarantee results. Each campaign must be optimized and have a clear end goal.
    5. Keyword research and SEO. You can create all the content you want, but if no one can find it, your effort will go to waste. From top to bottom professional services firms need to ensure that their websites meet modern requirements that align with Google’s preferences. Keyword research specifically when combined with your thought leadership efforts will help improve the probability that your content will be discovered on search engines.
    6. Webinars. Webinars help drive engagement with your target audience, as well as leads for your marketing and business development teams. Experts share their expertise with an interested audience and attendees can engage with presenters through chat by participating in polls or by responding to offers. Webinars should be strategically positioned in your buyer’s journey to target buyers who are researching issues or evaluating solutions.
    7. Email Marketing Campaigns: Another staple of modern marketing plans come by way of email marketing. It is an important role! Sending emails with helpful resources and special offers to engage with your firm’s experts can be a powerful tool to engage your prospects. However, effective email marketing campaigns begin before the email is ever sent. Be sure that your list of prospects is being cultivated in a way that brings your target audience onto your list.
    8. Publishing blogs on your website. Blogging is an effective way to educate your audience, demonstrate your expertise and generate a loyal following over time. Recent research shows that more than 50% of buyers read blog posts to learn more about a business topic. Blogs also help increase the authority of your website in the eyes of Google and other search engines. And as you produce more and more fresh content, Google will reward you with a steady flow of high-quality visitors to your blog. And by adding an actionable next step, like the ones you’ll find below, blogs can lead to conversions, too.
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