The pendulum is swinging from traditional interruption-based marketing toward content marketing, and many architectural and engineering firms are losing ground and business. The good news is that content marketing offers incredible opportunities for A/E firms; the challenge is that it presents a learning curve in the billable-hour business model.
What is Content Marketing?
Trying to explain marketing concepts to A/E professionals is like trying to talk macroeconomics with your uncle after Thanksgiving dinner. I often try to explain concepts like content marketing to design and construction clients in general terms to curtail the tryptophan rush.
The Content Marketing Institute – arguably the authority on the subject – offers this definition: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Though not included in this definition, usefulness is the mortar holding the content marketing structure together. Good A/E firms have always strived to be useful, but now the option is a requirement.
Free Information Versus Billable Hours
When I discuss the importance of creating and sharing useful content, the knee-jerk reaction is: “Why would we give away free information?” It’s a fair question that results from decades of working in a billable-hours environment, where marketing is a necessary evil.
There was a time when internalizing useful information was standard at A/E firms. Sharing your expertise was justification for sending out an invoice or billing to a project. Your clients paid willingly, because they had no other choice.
Then the Internet came along. Clients had access within seconds to volumes of information, even on complex fields such as architecture and engineering.
Your clients are not quite as dependent as they once were. Those that have the time and inclination can now answer some of their questions without contacting you. The search engine has begun to trump the phone call. Obviously, your client will not be serving as an expert witness or signing off on plans any time soon, but a quick Google search can uncover answers to some of the more trivial issues that once plagued them.
Opportunities and Challenges
There is an elephant in the room that must be addressed: Architecture and engineering are technical professions, and their content can be a bit dry for outsiders. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge.
The opportunity is that much of your audience does not understand your profession, so their minds are open to being educated. An uninformed audience is ideal, because it gives you a lot of flexibility when creating relevant content and endless possibilities for topics.
The challenge, as we have already established, is that the content can be dry. This forces A/E firms to bring life to their content and make it enticing to their audience. This is not a new challenge. A/E firms get practice in this area when creating proposals and statements of qualifications for selection committees largely comprised of laypeople.
Start with Strategy, Finish with Tactics
Like traditional marketing, you must start with a strategy: What do you hope to accomplish by sharing content with your audience? You might specify dates, revenue, or leads, for example. Otherwise, you will be shooting clay pigeons while blindfolded. It is also wise to go in with a content strategy designed to achieve your objectives. Your content strategy will determine what types of information you will share and when.
For example, a firm that offers aerial survey can share related content in the spring before trees leaf out. Engaging your audience with the right content at the right time allows you to hit the sweet spot when demand is peaking.
The avenues for your content marketing efforts must be based on where your audience’s eyeballs are gazing and how they consume information. Some possibilities include blogging, social media, email marketing, digital or print newsletters, public speaking, and contributing to industry publications. Make sure to address this part of your strategy before investing time in content creation.
Who Cares About Stormwater Basins?
Identifying relevant content is a stumbling block for A/E firms considering content marketing. Who cares about how a stormwater basin is designed, right? The possibilities, in reality, are endless.
Start by defining your audience. Though it is true that there are people serving on selection committees that have never heard of a bridge parapet, much of your audience has a general understanding of your profession. Most A/E firms work for facility managers, contractors, and various government agencies.
Content marketing is often rightfully compared to traditional journalism. Proponents of content marketing, in fact, advocate for hiring editors and writers. While your firm doesn’t necessarily need to hire an editor, you should have a good writer producing content and even leading your content marketing efforts.
Know Thy Audience
Knowing your audience is critical. This is one of the reasons editors and writers are so coveted. The content you crank out will never get traction if you don’t understand and properly address the audience’s needs. Start developing your plan by answering these questions:
- What are the most common questions our clients ask?
- What issues continue to surface on our projects?
- What are the most important factors our clients should consider before hiring a firm like ours?
- Where are our customers’ knowledge gaps before, during, and after the project?
- What type of support do our customers request once the project is completed?
A/E firms must adopt content marketing to stay relevant. Carve out your niche, build a following, share your expertise, and become the trusted source for your audience, and you will remain not only relevant, but indispensable. Do this, and the free information you provide now will produce countless billable hours later.
Are you practicing content marketing? If so, are you getting the results you expected?