Construction Marketing: Audacity, courage, finesse and acting bigger than you are

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Act bigger than you are -- harvard business reviewRosabeth Moss Kanter writes in the Harvard Business Review blog network about an originally tiny Brazilian marketing agency which has become a player on the world stage (and the 18th largest agency internationally) by acting bigger than it was.  Audacious initiatives, such as trademarking the entire (Portuguese) alphabet, renting an entire hotel and re-branding it at an international marketing conference and attracting the attention of international luminaries such as Bill Clinton have taken  Brazilian entrepreneur Nizan Guanaess Groupo ABC from virtual obscurity to a significant leadership role in the media business.

Kanter suggests others can play the same game, with a combination of courage, extending beyond the obvious, and creative and highly effective giving before receiving.

Can these approaches be applied for construction marketing and that for architectural and engineering practices?  And, if you wish to go down this route, when does assertiveness and bigger-picture thinking stretch beyond the bounds to the areas of recklessness, arrogance and failure.

Kanter suggests the answers are in part by focusing on giving rather than taking and being rational about your bigger-than-life initiatives.  For example, if you wish to make a splash by renting out bigger office space than you need, you would rent the surplus space to others — perhaps ideally collaborative enterprises who can help and share in your growth.  You need to aim high — but also have real purpose and create genuine value in your initiative.  Name dropping for celebrities is one thing; actually doing something of great value to your community is quite another.

Give before you get. Entrepreneurs who emerge as leaders on a bigger stage often spend more time offering favors than seeking them. They contribute ahead of being recognized for it. This builds credibility as well as goodwill. A medium-sized Brazilian marketing firm couldn’t entice the former President of the United States to visit if it hadn’t already done impressive work to reduce teen pregnancy.

I believe this strategy can be framed with some common-sense guidelines to prevent disaster:

  • Think “other” rather than “me” in your initiatives.
  • Create genuine value — share and lead in truly useful initiatives.
  • Use your sweat rather than your cash in your “thinking big” initiatives — unless you really are confident that you are ready to roll the dice and take truly out-sized risks.  (Can be done, some of the biggest successes in business have stretched all cash and business practice rules to the limit; but the failures who thought they could do the same thing, alas, receive much less publicity.)

Kanter’s Act Bigger than You Are article reflects some of the thinking behind an initiative of Marjanne Pearson and Nancy Egan to promote the concept of “Preactive Strategy” among architectural, engineering and construction practices.  I have been asked to help in researching a follow-up article on the topic for an upcoming issue of the  SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services) Marketer.

(My initiative several years ago in proposing and writing stories for the national  publication, the SMPS Marketer, is probably a good preactive strategy example..  I didn’t have any connections or relationships with anyone in the organization, but my writing connected me quickly enough with its leaders and has led to several mutually positive friendships and contributions.  Earlier in life, my decision to head to Africa, finesse my way through the then-Rhodesian immigration system, and end up as a journalist living through the transition of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, probably fits the model. Can you think the same way.)

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