Beyond commodity: How do you (really) add — and earn — value with marketing?


There’s nothing wrong with commodities. Sugar in the grocery store, gasoline, iron ore . . . they all have value and prices which fluctuate with market conditions.

You (and your business) most likely are not commodity businesses. However, if you are an architect, engineer, contractor, or building products manufacturer, you most likely use commodities on the supply side. You want your commodities to be delivered on time, priced fairly, and function as specified. While you’ll pay a premium to the vendor/supplier to ensure these conditions are met, it won’t be a large sum. Commodities vendors make their money on volume and sometimes as traffic draws. Certainly it is possible to succeed in a commodity business, but do you want your current and potential clients to see your offerings in the same light?

Here, we come to the big challenge that AEC enterprises face when it comes to marketing. They present external cliche-laden messages that, frankly, are?nothing more than commodity pitches. “We have great customer service” for example says nothing that anyone would expect as something of extra value. (It is an interesting thought, but what would be the market’s reaction to the message: Our customer service is terrible. Really bad — but?(and you assert something where you truly excel.)

The way most AEC businesses get around the commodity problem is to deliver the goods — including the “excellent customer service” to their customers, so they return for more, and refer other clients. You don’t need to spend very much (if anything) on marketing if you do that, your service is in some level of common need, and your price is a bit lower than the competitors.

(We’re having our bathroom renovated by a no-name contractor who operates as a sole operator with a bit of help from his wife. This allows him to keep below the insurance/workers compensation thresholds in our province. He isn’t getting rich. He’s doing a great job, as recommended by others, and is complying with code requirements including contracting with electricians and plumbers for tasks that require the work of certified trades. But his business will never be more than a ‘survival’ one-man band enterprise.)

Marketing enters the picture when you want to go beyond the pure word-of-mouth repeat/referral growth. It requires you to be something different, to have a story (or stories) that resonate with your potential clients’ emotions. It requires effort, skill, patience, and expense, and because it takes time to be effective, can seem to be a costly money drain. (And it is, if you jump from one thing to another, and fail to learn the underlying processes that result in success.)

The choice is yours. It isn’t wrong to ignore the marketing and focus on the client experience/value — you’ll generally do okay, though once you refine your marketing systems, you can enhance the value/volume of good new clients, and ultimately collect more-than-commodity prices for your services. Indeed, marketing is a really good investment if you plan things correctly.

Do you have your own stories of marketing successes or (more likely) failures. ?I welcome them to help guide others. You can email or post a comment.

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