Anticipating and leading change in construction marketing: Can you get it right?

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The earliest version of the National Capital FreeNet website (from 1998). I was among the first to sign up for the community service at its start in 1993.

I have plenty of grey hair now. Back in 1993, as I was about to be married (rather late at age 40), I read about some new thing called the Internet, email, and the National Capital FreeNet — which offered something called an “email account.”

I signed up for the community-based service and, it seems (by current definitions) was an early adaptor, with an address, as I recall it, of “an808”. (Addresses were assigned through the?five-digit alphanumeric combination; a few years later, someone having an “A” prefix would be considered among the first. If I’m right, however, I would be somewhere just under the 15,000th person to sign up — hardly the first on the block.)

A couple of years later, in a late-night surfing of the FreeNet account, I saw some other interesting things — the ability to access files from university libraries in South Africa and around the world. Shortly after then, the first easy-to-use web browser appeared (Netscape) and the world caught on to the internet thing — spurring the false dot-com bubble, where everyone thought ecommerce would be the way to the future/fortune (and investors took a bath in the faulty and ill-planned start-ups.)

(Ultimately, like most FreeNet users, I ‘upgraded’ to a commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) to gain more access and services. ?FreeNet continues to be a community service focusing on providing basic internet service to low-income households.)

Of course, out of the early confusion/carnage, a few businesses succeeded. Amazon went from books to everything retail (combined with massive web cloud storage capacities), Google came out of nowhere with a powerful search/advertising algorithm, and Facebook changed the rules for social and personal relationships.

Now it seems the early visionaries who dumped money into startups were right; just a few years too early. Since then, there has been rapid technological evolution in many industries (especially the advertising-supported media business), while visions for major change have been much slower to implement in others. (Medicine for example still relies on paper for many patient records.) I think the AEC industry has a mixed message: Technological change has thrown some elements of the industry into turmoil, while others are living way behind the trend-line. (You won’t find too many pen-and-ink drafting tables these days except in museums; but tradespeople still mostly use their hands rather than robotic controls on jobsites.)

Where does that put us in the marketing story?

Some changes are vitally apparent. If you don’t have a responsive (mobile/desktop/tablet) website with fresh and relevant content tied with active social media accounts, you are living in the dark ages. The costs for building and managing websites has declined so far that they are essentially free, if you have someone on staff who understands the basics, or are willing to learn the processes. (Maybe the ahead-of-the-curve attitudes towards the Internet have done me well here as I’ve learned the mechanics of creating and maintaining WordPress sites and how to find others inexpensively to help out when required.)

Yet many aspects of AEC marketing relate to traditional concepts and you don’t need to relearn the wheel here. In the 1970s and 80s, (and much earlier), you would generally achieve the greatest success through personal relationships and truly satisfied clients. Have these priorities really changed? In professional service fields expertise represented by speaking engagements at relevant client-focused associations/events and positive media recognition continue to be the best ways to achieve recognition and reputation. As well, much of the industry continues its ways, dismissing marketing’s relevance as estimators chase for work by fighting out open-bid competitions where “low bid wins” even if it isn’t profitable.

In a way, this is good news. You don’t need to stress too hard to achieve really good marketing results. And you can succeed without pouring huge sums of money into the project.

Here is my crystal-ball perception of how to succeed in AEC marketing:

  • Remember the root success underlying marketing historically always relates to your underlying business values and relationships. Deliver a great client experience and you’ll never have to struggle with your marketing decisions.
  • Initiatives to connect, improve and enhance your website and social media marketing will generally pay off far better than any other marketing investment you can make.
  • Learning, connecting and relating to current and potential clients — and relevant marketing experts — will almost always pay off with exceptional results. Connect with client focused associations. If you want to build marketing relationships and belong to a relevant community, consider membership and participation in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). You can learn the basics and grow your network there.

Do you have observations of how things have changed (or remained the same) in AEC marketing? ?I welcome your comments to or through the comment link on this post.

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