The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry is fueled by competition, especially in today’s increasingly crowded marketplace. Our inclination to protect trade secrets, clients, rates, key staff, new technologies, etc. is stronger than ever. A heightened level of competition for a relatively static amount of work also prods us to more closely evaluate the competition. This creates a strange dichotomy because we want our website content to promote our firms, but we don’t want to divulge sensitive information to competing firms. The accessibility of information on the Internet has fanned the flames, leaving us to ponder a critical question: “what content should I include on my website.”
As we approach 2015, there are design and construction firms with no website. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The reasons vary, but one of the resounding concerns I’ve heard is the fear of exposing information the competition can use to sharpen its competitive edge. It’s a fair concern that we all share regardless of our online presence. So what can you safely reveal and why?
It’s okay to reveal the names of your clients. But what if my competition finds out who I work for and pursues those clients? News flash: It’s likely your client is already pursuing them. The odds increase if you have a smaller service radius with fewer potential clients. Not to mention, we’re slowly emerging from a depressed economy that drove firms to diversify in a way that most of us haven’t witnessed for decades. I heard stories of homebuilders that ventured into building wastewater treatment plants. What can your competition really glean from the knowledge that you work for a client? They have no details. If you have loyal clients, you’ll know when someone knocks on their door.
This is an area that probably sends your paranoia readings off the chart and it should. It’s a judgment call that should be based on the identity of the mystery person behind door number 1. You should be less inclined to reveal a name if this individual is generally unknown or difficult to identify. This is often the case at smaller firms where the client’s website doesn’t list the decision maker, or large corporations where they’re wrapped within layers of departments, and therefore, difficult to identify and access.
You might want to reveal the name when you’re dealing with a high-profile decision-maker because it adds prestige to your firm. Solicit a testimonial for maximum impact. The fact that this person is well-known means that your competition already knows of them and is hot on the trail. Public officials such as county commissioners and local municipal officials are prime examples of high-profile folks with lots of friends.
The answer here is an obvious no, but I want to address it because I’ve seen Architecture and Engineering firms including rates on their websites. The competition’s rate schedule is the Holy Grail for A/E firms. This coveted information is discoverable, although often difficult to access. Don’t make your competition’s market research easier. The picture gets more complicated for suppliers of construction equipment, quarries, etc. Generally, speaking you should mimic the competition. Revealing this information gets complicated in this arena since the potential exists for Intellectual Property theft by overseas competition. Proceed with caution.
Include the names of key staff because the pros of doing so outweigh the cons. You don’t want the competition to cherry pick them. That’s a valid concern. But remember that they are leaders so they are already visible. LinkedIn has exacerbated the problem by making these key players even more accessible. Include them because they are leaders and you want to showcase them to prospective clients. You can hide your Indians, but you can’t hide your chiefs.
Assuming you have the permission of your client, always feature your best and most relevant projects on your website. But do think carefully about what details you reveal. Including scope of work and material quantities, for example, is typically harmless. But you may want to think twice about using project value, client contacts, secret construction or design techniques, or anything else that would benefit your competition.
Your website is your most valuable piece of marketing real estate because you own and have full control of it. It has, to some extent, replaced the extensive printed corporate brochure of years past. It’s the place where your clients turn to identify and learn about your firm and its capabilities so it must be taken very seriously.
When it comes to competition, remember this. Your competition has always watched you. They used to research you through magazines, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and gossip amongst peers. We still engage in these activities, but the Internet has changed everything. Google your firm and you may be surprised how much information you find. One thing that’s always been the case is that you must use discretion when it comes to what you make public. Your website requires that same discretion.
Do you share these concerns? How have you addressed them on your own website? Please share your thoughts below, or send connect with us through the website with any specific comments or questions.