I attended an event recently where a commercial building contractor took an unconventional yet powerful approach to representing his company, which had paid to sponsor a networking event. He appeared at the podium in front of a room packed with architects, engineers, and contractors and proceeded to discuss his passion for the construction industry and the importance of attracting the future workforce instead of promoting his firm.
This unconventional move, regardless of the intent, elevated the firm’s brand in a way that the most convincing sales pitch ever could.
A Valuable Sponsorship Opportunity
Allow me to set the stage to provide some context. The event, known as the South Central AEC Networking Community, is organized by CPA firm Stambaugh Ness. They rotate the free event throughout Central Pennsylvania and it has evolved into a well-attended networking event for AEC firms.
One of the key benefits is that only two firms have the ability to sponsor each event. It’s an opportunity to step into a small spotlight in front of a targeted audience of potential clients, teaming partners, and peers. The sponsors are given a chance to make a short pitch during the event. They tend to get to the point quickly and the crowd is always appreciative.
Leaving Marketing Dollars on the Table?
The approach this contractor took appears on the surface to be a wasted marketing opportunity because the contractor didn’t tell everyone about the firm and its services. Isn’t that what a sponsorship is all about, after all? It was actually quite the contrary for the following reasons. Let’s dig in.
Old School Selflessness
There is a very small segment of self-absorbed sociopaths that walk among us with no concern for the greater good, but the majority construction and design industry generally adheres to old school values. They’re passionate about their industry and profession and want to see them thrive indefinitely.
While avoiding-self-promotion was commonplace in 1940, it is anything but in today’s increasingly self-focused world. Humility still plays well in 2015 and it tends to stand out.
This contractor inadvertently tapped into our love for nostalgia about the way things used to be. More importantly, some of that magic rubbed off on his firm’s brand.
Unleashing the Trending Power of Authenticity
Authenticity is more about your actions and how you say something than what you say. The passion with which this contractor communicated the message conveyed authenticity. If the approach was disingenuous, the audience would have picked up on it. Sincerity is hard to fake.
As the younger generations advance into leadership positions in the workforce, one of their hot buttons is authenticity, and that’s causing structural changes to marketing. This is not limited to Fortune 500 brands being publicly persecuted on social media for corporate indiscretions. It is already having an impact on the AEC sector, although the trend is in its infancy.
Creating Shock & Awe with the Unexpected
It is almost a foregone conclusion that a paid sponsorship will be followed by a promotional message if the opportunity is granted. I intentionally scanned the crowd for reactions that night and saw a wide range of positive expressions, one of which was the raised brow that conveys surprise and impression.
People were really thrown off balance because a pitch, or at least a company description, was anticipated. What better way to engage your audience than to break the mold and do the unexpected?
Creating a winning brand is about being different. If 95 percent of AEC firms default to self-promotion during a paid sponsorship, the 5 percent that do not achieve instant differentiation.
Marketing gurus repeatedly stress the importance of differentiation and most AEC firms shrug their shoulders. This a great example of a how it can be done at the grassroots level.
This was also a strong public relations move because it built good will among at least two industry segments. An off-kilter move like this even has the potential to turn into word-of-mouth marketing.
The Greater Cause
People unite around common causes, not brands. The crowd will listen to your pitch describing your firm and its services because you paid for it, but they will hear a speech about a cause. It creates camaraderie by aligning shared interests with an audience as opposed to trying to sell or self-promote.
No one wants to be sold in today’s world, and this mindset is becoming more prevalent every day. I also know that camaraderie is alive and well in the AEC sector, despite the occurrences of hard-fought lost jobs, poached employees, and stolen clients. This contractor’s public concern for the issue of workforce development, which affected everyone in that room, commanded respect.
Passion Attracts, Promotion Repels
We are attracted to passion and repelled by self-promotion. This contractor expressed his commitment to the construction industry. More importantly, it showed. The fact that he expressed passion for a cause is what really made the difference.
If he would have showed passion for his company we would have expected that. The skeptics among us would secretly question his sincerity. Conveying passion for the cause was powerful because he and/or the firm made a conscious decision to address that cause.
This unusual sponsorship approach to a sponsorship was powerful on so many levels. It’s likely that branding was the last thing on this contractor’s mind. It turns out, however, that the most powerful marketing results are sometimes achieved through unconventional approaches.
Have you taken an unconventional approach to marketing that produced great results? Please share your story.