(Originally published in Pile Buck Magazine)
ALEX: Brian and I have gotten to know each other over the years. As the managing editor of Pile Buck I’ve worked with him and his architectural, engineering, construction (AEC) focused marketing communications firm on multiple occasions.
We’re often scratching our heads, discussing the lack of marketing emphasis in the construction and engineering industries. We can’t help but wonder: Why do so many construction and engineering firms continue to not market their product?
As we witness the changing of the generational guard, it’s perplexing that the industry continues to cling to an outdated mindset.
We’ve all been subject to heavy marketing of consumer products like iPhones, prescription medications, and cars.
Why is this industry on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to marketing?
Whatever the reason, we decided to sit down and discuss some key marketing techniques, what they mean, and how they can help our industry.
Marketing is for All Firm Sizes
BRIAN: When you look at the construction industry, generally speaking, you will find that the larger firms are more likely to have a marketing strategy. They may be advertising, using social media, and investing in a website. Some even have in-house marketing staff.
My observation has been that there is a correlation between a firm’s resources and its commitment to marketing.
When a business achieves a certain amount of growth, the principals start to feel a need to invest in marketing.
The truth is: firms of all sizes should be marketing.
Marketing is about growing business. I would argue that smaller businesses should be marketing more aggressively because they need to be on a growth path.
Larger firms are often trying to maintain and grow what they have already built.
Our discussion will show you some key marketing tactics that construction and engineering firms can use to lay a solid marketing foundation.
SEE ALSO: Marketing as a Long-Term Investment
ALEX: I couldn’t agree more. Why should the size of the firm determine a commitment to marketing?
I see this all the time, and it is not a pretty picture — a small pile driving contractor does great work in the New England area but the company website is outdated with almost no content. No photos from previous jobs, not to mention testimonials. And no logo!
Take a look at Bellingham Marine, one of our PB advertisers.
They’ve got the basics down:
- A simple, yet a memorable logo.
- A clean website that informs the visitor of everything they need to know.
- A regular print ad in the magazine with a clear call-to-action.
- They also release occasional press releases about their recent projects, which I can’t help but read whenever I receive one in my inbox.
As a result, I notice their projects around California. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
BRIAN: What do you want your customers to think when they hear your name?
That is your brand.
Creating your brand is the true foundation of your marketing efforts. Creating your brand has many dimensions. It defines how your customers experience your firm.
Your brand separates you from other companies offering the same services. It gives you a competitive advantage.
Consistency is key: your logo, slogan, color scheme and type of print font form the public face of your company. All that your customers sees, reads and hears should tell the same story to your target market.
ALEX: Let’s take a look at another PB client, Equipment Corporation of America (ECA). I’ll never forget seeing their ad in an association magazine years ago.
Before I even read the text, their brand was… well, branded on the forefront of mind.
They had this double-page spread with a vintage background that was powerful.
The words “BUILDING A POSITIVE FUTURE TOGETHER” was accompanied by a line drawing of multiple rigs.
A reader browsing through the magazine couldn’t help but stop and read their company information which appeared in the second half of the ad.
To this day, when a client is looking for help, I still reference that ad.
BRIAN: There is currently no more important tool than to be found online. You need an easy-to-find internet address, a professional website that shows who you are, what services you offer and up-to-date information.
Whether your potential customers are trying to find a company that does the work they need or check you out based on a referral, the vast majority will resort first to a Google search.
Not having a good website is akin to lacking a professional company brochure in 1980.
As digital communication eats the lunch of the traditional phone call, can you really afford to take the chance that a prospect won’t pick up the phone or send an e-mail after visiting your website?
An effective website can generate tangible leads. Your content should provide a comprehensive look at your firm and leave prospective customers wanting to learn more.
ALEX: I still can’t comprehend how any company, regardless of budget size, would not have a website. Or, worse yet, have a website that hasn’t been updated since 1995.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes. You’ve placed a rather sizable bid for their project. They visit your website to view photos from previous projects. But there’s nothing there… only “copyright 2008.”
How will they feel about writing a check?
Take a look at IdealFoundationSystems.com, one of my favorite websites. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but has everything the potential customer needs simply laid out for easy access. They even upload project case studies on a consistent basis.
Neglecting your website is like sailing with a hole in the sail.
BRIAN: Advertising effectiveness for construction and engineering firms is alive and well. The challenge is to straddle two marketing worlds: traditional and online.
There is an old school portion of this industry that is nearly impossible to reach online, but they do read print media such as Pile Buck Magazine.
If you ignore online marketing, you risk missing the next generation of decision-makers.
The quality of advertising for construction and design firms has gotten better over the past 20 years, but there is still room for improvement.
Good ads today are professionally-designed ads that feature a human element. People are more interesting than products and services.
Also, there’s an adage which should drive your approach. It is from Theodore Levitt, renowned marketing thought leader: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole.” In other words, promote the solution.
ALEX: A question we get on a regular basis: “What’s better, a print ad or digital ad?” My answer: “Neither. They’re both just as effective.”
Not better or worse but different.
Digital marketing is great and we certainly offer it to our clients at PB by email marketing, web ads, and other services, but I caution people to take it with a grain of salt.
Unfortunately, these days digital marketing seems to be pitched as a deus ex machina, or a marketing ploy that is going to save your entire business… for the right price of course.
I want to be clear: Digital advertising is an invaluable tool. I encourage you to invest in it.
But don’t underestimate a print ad. An email blast to thousands of recipients often produces fast and reliable leads. This is the case with plenty of our clients. But, on the flip side, we have clients who still receive more leads from their print ad.
Last week, an excited client informed me that they received a lead from their magazine ad for a drill. I reminded him that he had been placing an ad in each issue for over a year. Pile Buck magazines land on the desk of CEOs, sales representatives, DOTs and others. They’re picked up at conventions. Not to mention, the digital edition is promoted through email blasts and social media. It’s only a matter of time.
Consistency is key. Whether it’s a print or digital advertisement, an ad that runs for a long period of time produces better results than the ad placed once.
BRIAN: The Internet has redefined public relations, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to consistently seek and distribute news from your company.
The trade publications your audience reads are always looking for good content, especially from subscribers and advertisers.
Write a basic press release, volunteer to be a source, or pitch your project to an editor.
Make sure to distribute that content across your own channels as well including your website, social media, and email. And make sure to have a plan in place among your staff to respond to unexpected situations such as accidents, environmental issues, or incidents.
Social Media Marketing
BRIAN: If someone had told you 30 years ago that you would be able to influence thousands on a free platform, would you have believed it?
And yet that is exactly what social media has allowed.
The construction and engineering industry is fairly well represented, yet too many profiles are as inactive as a job site where fossils have been uncovered.
Being successful on social media requires time, patience, focus on your niche, creativity, and willingness to learn best practices.
Do your homework on the nuances of each platform or run the risk of damaging your brand. And don’t dilute your potency by trying to be everywhere.
Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome and focus on the handful of platforms where your target audience participates. Most importantly, avoid broadcasting, focus on engagement, and measure your results.
ALEX: I have to admit, since the beginning, I tried to avoid social media and may still be reluctant to indulge in its various forms. But it works.
When you buff away the dirt — SPAM posts in a foreign language, shameless promotion of products, bickering of irrelevant matters — a valuable communication tool takes shape.
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, there are audiences who want to know about your latest marine project, latest hammer, or new promotion within the company.
I want to reiterate what Brian said: Be careful about spreading everywhere. Quality before quantity. Be sure your company website, Facebook and Twitter pages are stable before exploring more outlets.
BRIAN: The power of email marketing is your ability to fully-own the content, distribution and mailing list.
You don’t have that luxury on social media.
So what qualifies as good content? You might consider a monthly eNewsletter, company news, a recent project, a blog, or perhaps tasteful promotion of a product or service.
Limit your distribution to no more than twice monthly and avoid blatant promotion, or your subscribers will quickly unsubscribe.
ALEX: Email marketing can be extremely effective, but approach with caution.
Out of all marketing methods, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your homework on this one. As Brian mentioned, limit your distribution frequency. Email marketing platforms are stricter than ever — too many complaints and your account will most likely be shutdown, not to mention damaging your reputation with clients.
Use this tool wisely. Remember, if one tool could do all, there would be no need for a toolbox.
BRIAN: There is a pendulum shift underway and it’s been formally labeled content marketing.
We are moving from an interruption-based promotional approach to generating business by being helpful.
It’s important to note that this is a mindset that should flavor many of the marketing tactics discussed above. In a market crowded with options, it’s easy to see how customers started to demand more than just a product or service.
Educate your clients on how they can get the most out of your product or service and you will be well served.
ALEX: As a magazine editor, I’m obviously a strong proponent of content marketing.
Despite its effectiveness, it’s another marketing tool that is usually ignored. Too often I see a contracting company miss out on an opportunity to showcase their project to the world, even when they express a strong desire to do so.
It’s the same with products. Most product developers have a great new product and they think a photo on their website will suffice. They show no interest in contributing a press release.
Why? I believe in a lot of cases, most firms don’t want to put in the time, even when it’s free.
They lose interest. Stop calling. The emails are forwarded around the office(s) until it fades into the abyss.
Marketing takes time to learn and, some could argue, years to master. It’s not a bad idea to hire a firm for assistance. Whatever you decide, we can’t encourage you enough to pick up some of these tools yourself. And feel free to contact us with any specific questions.
Alex Smoot has served as the managing editor of Pile Buck magazine for over five years. Prior to that he served as a freelance journalist for ten. In addition to producing the magazine, from concept to completion, Alex also shares marketing duties with the Pile Buck marketing team.
Brian M. Fraley is the owner and chief strategist for Fraley AEC Solutions, LLC, a marketing communications consultancy that builds solutions on a foundation of industry understanding for the construction and design marketplace. He has served this niche market for more than 20 years. Brian also authored the eBook, “Designing an A/E Brand that Drives Selections.” He can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and regularly contributes to the AEC Marketing InSITE Newsletter, The AEC Straight Talker Blog, and various industry publications.
About Pile Buck Magazine: For over 30 years, Pile Buck has been the leading source of news, tips, and stories for the deep foundations and marine construction industries. With a circulation of 11,000+, it is published bimonthly and reaches all corners of the globe.
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