Karl Feldmen in an article in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Marketer Journal reminds us of the basic definition of “branding” — the core of which most marketers spend most of their time trying to achieve or resolve.
He suggests this simple equation:
Branding = Reputation X Visibility
It’s an elegantly simple measurement (assuming you can find specific numbers to quantify “reputation” and “visibility” and it reminds us of the importance of having a solid business foundation before we even think about marketing anything.
After all, unless you are running a rip-off operation, you cannot achieve success without a healthy reputation, and the only way you can earn that reputation is by delivering your services with integrity, quality and value — with that often-overused “great customer service” creating strong bonds and word-of-mouth good-will.
Since reputation is a prerequisite, marketers often focus more on the visibility aspect. That’s rational, though a modest increase in reputation will have outsized impact when you improve your visibility.
But there are plenty of stories of struggling small organizations with great word of mouth, who at best live a “hand to mouth” existence. I can think of one example that comes close to home — at least to our bathroom.
Vivian discovered through a neighbour a great renovation contractor. He has no website, no advertising, nothing but his great reputation and plenty of word of mouth references. And indeed, he delivered the job, at a fair price, with excellent quality.
I suppose we should define success as what a person wants in life, and if someone wishes a modest living standard with a very simple “do it yourself” business, this contractor can consider himself successful. (There are advantages, of course, to staying small. At least in this part of the world, there are some pretty heavy regulations and costs such as mandatory workers compensation insurance, that creep into the equation when the contractor has just a few employees or works outside the residential market. And of course, with no marketing and business development budget, he keeps whatever he earns after taxes and the hard cost expenses of providing his service.)
Now, how would these small operators fare with some thoughtful marketing? They of course would need to be careful to maintain their standards and be careful about their hiring, and they would of course need to budget the additional costs that come with business growth. They of course would need to achieve more visibility.
In my opinion, the best way to achieve visibility beyond simply doing a great job is to take active leadership roles in the community and in relevant client-focused industry associations. Speaking, writing, and media publicity can also provide powerful results; as can winning awards competitions. None of these marketing approaches needs to be expensive if you are prepared to put in some sweat equity.
Finally, there is advertising, which I sell for a living. It has some advantages. You can budget and control it, and you can turn it on and off as you wish. If you can develop an effective advertising strategy that truly converts to worthwhile leads and sales, and you can measure the results, effective advertising gives you the best of all worlds — predictable and manageable lead/work flow.
But alas few people buying advertising in the AEC sector get that type of result, instead wasting money on various “sold” initiatives that hardly work at all. At best the advertising helps indirectly with visibility — and indeed that indirect value can be good if your reputation is truly excellent and you have enough funds to support a meaningful but (in terms of overall business yields) small budget.