A look inside the Construction Marketing Association

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Neil brown
Neil Brown

On my last full day in Chicago (and the only business day not focused on the Society for Marketing Professional Services conference), I rented a car and headed to the suburbs, to the offices of Neil Brown and the Construction Marketing Association.

Clearly, the CMA, operated as a part-time organization from Brown’s Naperville, IL, marketing enterprise, is not the same as SMPS, with about 7,000 members and dozens of lively, active chapters.  The CMA shares offices with “FUSION b2b  . . . a full-service integrated marketing communications (IMC) agency serving primarily business-to-business (BtoB) markets,” according to the business’s Manta listing.  Brown’s Construction Marketing Advisors (constructionmarketingadvisors.com) also operates from the same address.

Obviously, this association is truly different from SMPS, founded at a grass-roots level in the 1970s by a group of architects who struggled with the lack of resources for marketing services for their profession.  However, give it time.  The CMA has already shown its potential and Brown makes clear that while it has generated perhaps three actual clients for his marketing business, it is far more a labor of love than a money-making program.

Brown says the inspiration for the association is “the brand side . . the manufacturers and suppliers that are targetting to the AEC community.”  He says the framework of membership is that “you are marketing to another construction firm.”

This focus, of course, to some extent overlaps with SMPS and other groups, but it is quite distinct.  The correlation may be that the ideal CMA members may be those trying to sell to SMPS members or, more broadly, to move their manufactured products or technologies through the supply channel, which has a diversity of challenges.

The construction market is unique, Brown indicates, and suppliers and service providers for this community really need to understand and appreciate the nuances and special adaptations of marketing practices to the industry.  Manufacturers, for example, might move their products through the specification/contractor market, but the rules are different when they wish to sell through building supply retailers, which of course, have their own dualities — individual “Do it yourself” consumers, and contractors seeking convenient sources of supplies.

Fair enough.  The association currently has about 130 members, paying dues of $169.00 a year (lower rates are available for corporate/group memberships).  Brown has developed a database of members-only resources, (free) webinars, an awards program, and is building a certification/training program and preparing to write a book on the basics for marketing to the construction community.

He would like to see the association grow to 1,000 to 2,000 members.

The biggest challenge is that, while the association’s focus is quite clear, the numbers skewer the results.  There are many more contractors (including very small businesses) than there are manufacturers.  As a result, membership applications are trending from what Brown would have originally conceived as the organizations to which members were hoping to sell their products and services.  (In other words, membership applications are arising from the clients, not the association’s original target market.)

He says the association is truly non-profit.  If the goal is to generate business for his marketing business, the effort has been marginally successful.  “I’ve attracted three clients,” Brown says — two contractors and one manufacturer.  However, Brown has lost count of the hours he has spent on association business without return and that while some activities might seem to serve his business interests, they are hardly profitable in their own right.

As an example, Brown cites the Construction Marketing Report Card, which provides you a grade on your marketing success/progress.  You will need to put some effort into answering the questions required to complete the project — but Brown’s staff needs to spend even more time reviewing the results to suggest specific areas for improvement.  I suppose you could see this report card as a lead funnel for his marketing business, but you certainly don’t need to use his services once you receive the report.

Will the association grow, catch fire, and deepen and broaden support and participation? Time will tell.  It has only been around less than two years.  Brown has attracted an impressive board of directors who, he says, meets quarterly.

Should you join?  For most of us, the $169 investment is insignificant.  Just one gem of an idea from the association’s members-only database will probably recover the costs.   Brown hopes the association will be successful and grow with strong, local chapters.

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