AEC Marketing

15 A/E/C Marketing Resolutions Your Firm Should Make in 2023

12.15.2022 9 Minutes

As we approach the New Year, A/E/C firms have made (and are still making) plans for where and how to spend their marketing resources in 2023.

Just as people everywhere are making resolutions to improve their lives — both personally and professionally — why not do the same for your firm’s marketing efforts? Doing what matters most, fixing what’s broken and adding what’s missing can make your marketing more effective than ever.

With the goal of improving impact and effectiveness, here are 15 marketing resolutions to consider embracing in 2023.

Evaluate your firm’s marketing with a SWOT analysis

Arguably one of the most underutilized tools in a marketer’s toolbox is the classic and timeless SWOT analysis. Setting aside focused time for a group session to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your marketing organization and activities can be an unbelievable insightful exercise. A SWOT provides a systematic way to evaluate both internal and external factors that affect your marketing and business development. The findings from a SWOT exercise are beneficial to setting goals and milestones for the year, highlighting current and future opportunities, and identifying issues that need to be addressed.

In addition to looking holistically at your marketing organization, you can also perform a SWOT on any individual component or process of your firm’s marketing. Major areas of marketing, such as your brand, website, communications, proposals, and conferences can all benefit from a focused SWOT analysis to evaluate its overall effectiveness. The insights gleaned will ultimately help your team make improvements and optimize your efforts.

Move beyond proposal and project pursuit-centric support

In the A/E/C world, proposals are synonymous with marketing. Outside of the A/E/C world, proposals are a product of the sales department, not the marketing department. But while proposals certainly play a crucial role in generating new business, a firm’s approach to marketing shouldn’t be focused primarily on project pursuits and limited to proposals and interview presentations.

As the A/E/C industry continues to evolve, you should place an increasingly larger emphasis on non-proposal, non-pursuit marketing activities. Keep in mind that the RFP/shortlist/interview process is the final stage in what is often a 1+ year journey. So in 2023, look for ways that marketing can proactively support your firm’s business development efforts by reaching, engaging and nurturing prospects before the RFP is issued (See resolution #9) AND after a client is landed (See resolution #10).

To effectively do this, however, you’ll need to address the structure of your marketing organization. While large firms typically have a more specialized structure, small and mid-size firms typically are set up in a much more generalist structure. The most common approach is to staff marketing teams with marketing coordinator roles that primarily focus on proposal creation and serve as a generalist for everything else. While this is probably inevitable for small firms with a 1–2-person marketing team, as teams grow the generalist structure usually doesn’t. But to support more proactive marketing, brand management and strategic communications, the organization should introduce specialist roles that have no involvement in the proposal and interview process.

NOTE: For more thoughts on this topic, I had the privilege to be invited to speak at length about it earlier this year on the Marketers Take Flight podcast and The Professional Services Marketer Show.

Lose some tactical weight and build strategic muscle

Losing weight, dropping unhealthy habits, and committing to a healthier lifestyle seem to be perennial New Year’s resolutions for many people — and for good reason. A similar approach should be taken with your marketing as well. Many marketing teams are guilty of trying to do too much with too little. Remember, you can do almost anything, but you can’t do everything. And truthfully, some things you shouldn’t be doing in the first place! The new year is a great time to evaluate your firm’s marketing activities and look for tactics that are no longer effective, or not as effective as other tactics you could be investing in instead. You’ll want to identify what things you need to stop doing, even if your firm has been doing it for a long time.

It’s always a good reminder to commit to putting strategy ahead of tactics and execution. A/E/C marketers will always be tempted (and perhaps pressured) to be reactive, but don’t give in! Strategy should drive everything you do. Whether it’s your website, social media, email marketing, tradeshows (virtual and in-person), or general communications, a solid strategy aligned with your firm’s strategic business plan is essential. Your marketing activities and initiatives should not be executed in a silo, rather they should be integrated and singularly focused on achieving your firm’s top strategic objectives. In addition, a “right-sized” marketing plan that contains achievable and realistic strategies and corresponding tactics is essential to avoid stretching your resources thin and falling short of your growth potential.

One last point, your marketing strategy and the corresponding tactics should be documented in the form of a marketing plan. While marketing plans are fundamental blueprints in other industries, among A/E/C firms, I’ve found them to be the exception, rather than the norm. So let’s change that! In 2023, set out to develop a documented, strategic marketing plan that is aligned with your firm’s top business priorities and objectives.

Demonstrate ROE (return on effort)

A/E/C marketers often face an uphill battle when asked to demonstrate the ROI (return on investment) of any given marketing initiative. The same challenge exists for most business development efforts. The truth is, a new client or project is usually the result of many different touchpoints and activities over an extended period and rarely — if ever — the result of any one thing, thus making ROI a difficult thing to measure. In 2023, replace ROI with ROE (return on effort), as I believe it’s a much more helpful way to measure success and show results in A/E/C marketing and business development.

With ROE, the objective is to connect the dots of the work we do to the bottom line by demonstrate a cause an effect relationship between any marketing or business development initiative’s stated objective, goal, and target.

First, you define the objective by answering the question: How should this add value to the firm? (e.g. raise awareness of higher ed expertise) Next, define the goal of the initiative: What are the desired outcomes? (e.g. engage with key higher ed decision makers) And finally, set the target: What are the metrics for success? (e.g. email opens, clickthrough rate, page visits, downloads, etc.)

You can’t measure success without establishing goals and metrics for defining what success looks like in the first place. As management guru Peter Drucker famously quipped, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” In 2023, aim to ensure that every marketing initiative — both digital and offline — has a specific objective, goals and quantifiable metrics that align with those goals. Establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will play a critical role in demonstrated ROE, while tracking the ongoing performance of your marketing and help you determine what’s working, what’s not working and where best to invest your firm’s resources.

Embrace a digital-first mindset

Digital transformation is underway, and the way business is conducted is fundamentally changing. There’s no longer such a thing as digital marketing — it’s just marketing in a digital world. Marketers must respond to the fact that their clients, prospects, and job candidates have grown accustomed to convenient, seamless digital experiences with retail and B2C brands and increasingly expect that same experience from their A/E/C partners as well.

 A/E/C firms should embrace a digital-first strategy and digital-centric philosophy when it comes to marketing and business development. Digital-first means viewing everything through a digital lens. Even traditional marketing activities, such as conferences, collateral or proposals should be planned and executed looking for a way to enhance the experience or support the effort with digital. Digital-first is a fundamental change, not just of activities and behavior, but also a change in mindset. An A/E/C marketer’s first response to a new opportunity, a new challenge or a new market must be a digital-first strategy. Traditional activities should support digital and not the other way around.

Evaluate and optimize your MarTech stack

In a digital world, a strategic MarTech stack (a “stack” is the nickname given to the grouping of technologies that marketers leverage to perform marketing activities) is absolutely critical. Over the last decade, A/E/C marketing has become increasingly dependent on technology — requiring new skills and processes. While A/E/C marketers continue to empower their efforts with technology solutions, it’s essential to look at MarTech use holistically, to know what tools are being used and how they (should) work together as one cohesive unit to support a firm’s marketing efforts. In 2023, A/E/C marketers should look to evaluate and optimize their MarTech stack.

Audit your MarTech stack by identifying all of the software tools that your firm is using (e.g. HubSpot, MailChimp, Crazy Egg, Semrush, Vimeo, etc.), state the purpose of each tool (e.g. engage with contacts via email), review how each is being utilized (e.g. we use it daily, weekly, or haven’t logged in for six months), and the pros and cons of performance (e.g. easy to use vs clunky interface). There are likely tools in your stack that can be eliminated due to overlap of purpose, ineffectiveness, or underutilization. It’s also possible your stack is missing some key tools that may make your marketing efforts more effective in the coming year.

Partner with HR to win the war for (retaining) talent

Undoubtedly one of the top (if not THE top) priorities for A/E/C firms over the last few years has been attracting and retaining top talent. And it’s no secret that qualified job candidates can practically pick and choose to work for any firm they wish. In the wake of ongoing talent shortages and the impact of the “great resignation,” new approaches to recruitment and retention are necessary. In the wake of ongoing talent wars and the impact of the “great resignation,” finding, attracting, and retaining top talent will remain one of the biggest challenges

In fact, talent acquisition (what recruitment is now called by HR professionals) has evolved to depend much more on a marketing approach than an HR approach. Retention is the new recruitment, so likewise, employee retention initiatives can greatly benefit from marketing’s involvement. Whether it’s helping with employer branding initiatives, talent marketing strategy or internal communication programs, HR teams throughout the industry could greatly benefit from the assistance of their marketing peers. So as firms look to gain a competitive advantage in the employee experience arena, an alignment of HR and marketing is essential to winning the talent war.

Pilot a client experience program

As A/E/C firms everywhere look to avoid commoditization and establish sustainable competitive advantage, client experience (CX) has emerged as a viable (and essential) solution. While budgets and price will always play a role, today’s buyers are increasingly looking for their A/E/C partners to add value and provide them with an exceptional experience, from all phases of the relationship. By focusing on the client’s needs and building a strategy and culture that seeks to consistently elevate the client experience, firms can distinguish themselves from everyone else.

Just like no A/E/C firm can truly prioritize safety without a program (leadership, accountability, coordination, training, etc.), firms can’t prioritize client experience without a program either. And no amount of aspiration is going to drive CX without someone “owning” the end-to-end experience — from prospect to client, and client to advocate. As marketers look to expand their roles, piloting a CX program — which leverages many traditional marketing strengths including strategy, research and communications — would be a wise resolution to make.

Provide more proactive (and less reactive) business development support

For most A/E/C firms, marketing and business development only come together for a client/project pursuit when it involves a proposal. And while BD folks are busy targeting specific accounts, marketing’s non-proposal efforts are largely (if not exclusively) focused on raising general firm awareness — not engaging specific prospects. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has emerged as a marketing approach to assist business development teams with accelerating the business development cycle, closing more deals and penetrating new markets.

By allowing the marketing team to focus on high-priority targets, ABM can make a measurable impact on business development and the bottom line. It’s been described as fishing with a spear, as opposed to fishing with a net. And marketing teams can add tremendous value by developing highly-personalized campaigns (leveraging a myriad of marketing tactics) that target key accounts (and the various stakeholders inside those accounts) proactively.

Launch a client marketing initiative

As marketing teams become more involved in client experience and proactive business development support, client loyalty is a logical next step in the evolution of A/E/C marketing. Client marketing is simply a focus on marketing to existing clients instead of prospects and leads. Here’s what I have found to be true: existing clients often represent up to 80% (or more) of the average firm’s annual revenue. And fully engaged and delighted clients provide a constant stream of repeat business and are often a firm’s best ambassadors.

Client marketing focuses on improving engagement post-selection with the intent of nurturing and growing work with existing clients. There are many ways to engage post-selection. These include (but are not limited to): research (interviews and surveys), co-created success stories, client-only events, client-only educational content, and marketing-led outreach (email, direct mail). So while looking to grow new business and generate qualified leads will remain a marketing priority, in 2023 consider launching a client marketing initiative. As the economy tightens and fears of a possible recession persist, existing clients might offer an A/E/C firm their best chance for growth.

Invest (more) in your brand

Historically, many A/E/C firms haven’t seen the need to invest in their brands the way companies in other industries have. Yes, all firms already have a logo, a tagline, a color palette, apparel, branded-giveaways, etc. But as competition heats up for both clients and talent, firm leaders are starting to realize the great importance of having a distinct, differentiating brand in the marketplace.

For many firms, investing in a brand refresh should start with core branding concepts such as brand purpose and brand promise — establishing them for the first time or revisiting with more intentionality. This foundation should be augmented with greater reliance on brand research, client perception studies and competitive analysis. Ultimately, firms will want to craft more differentiating and compelling value propositions and messaging complete with a brand identity refresh that raises the bar from previous iterations. Assuming your firm already has a solid, impactful brand identity, creating consistency across all touch points by developing brand standards to protect your firm’s brand identity is essential. Once they’re established, it’s imperative that all employees (even/especially firm principals) understand and uphold them.

Make your website a top priority

With so much emphasis on emerging trends, many firms have neglected their most valuable marketing asset — their website! But in 2023, your website should become a top priority and continue to play a larger role in the business development and talent acquisition process. Prospects, clients, teaming partners and job candidates alike visit your website to answer questions, perform due diligence, understand your capabilities and experience and inform selection decisions. Is your website up for the task?

To capitalize on growth opportunities, websites must serve as platforms for differentiation, thought leadership, business development and talent acquisition. Growth-focused websites are planned, designed, and developed with the audience — not the firm — in mind. They are effective at attracting, engaging and delighting visitors by delivering a remarkable user experience (UX) that allows users to find what they are looking for as quickly and as easily as possible.

Put “leadership” in your thought leadership

Most A/E/C firms aspire to be thought leaders, and content marketing (see resolution #14) is often used a conduit for that. But many firms fall short in the leadership aspect of thought leadership. Thought leadership — by definition — is about leading in your industry, not following what everyone else is saying and doing. It requires a firm to guide and direct the conversation, while everyone else follows your lead. It’s about originality.

Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your firm’s thoughts and opinions will always be counter to everyone else, nor does it mean that everything you say and do will always be completely new. But it does mean that your ideas, opinions, and content are uniquely yours and “ownable,” not just a slight variation of what everyone else is saying and publishing. So in 2023, commit to ensuring that all of your firm’s thought leadership efforts include having an ownable and unique perspective — truly seeking to establish a position of authority and leadership in your industry using content marketing as a primary means.

Level up your content marketing

Speaking of content marketing, it’s all about sharing knowledge and best practices — not selling or talking about your firm — to attract prospects and build trust. This philosophy should be applied to virtually every piece of content a firm creates, whether that’s emails, blog articles, social media updates or even proposals. Most A/E/C firms are starting to figure out (or already have) how to do content marketing successfully and create a sustainable program. In 2023, it’s time to take your content marketing efforts to the next level as it relates to leveling up your content marketing, here are some suggested resolutions:

  • Share more, sell less — Resist the urge (or the principal’s urging) to sell your firm in any way, shape, or form in your content marketing
  • Create content more frequently and consistently — Commit to creating high-quality, thought-leadership-oriented content more frequently and consistently.
  • Optimize your existing content — Evaluate, analyze, and tweak each content piece to ensure that it has the best possible chance of achieving its intended purpose and goal.
  • Create more interactive storytelling — Try combining multiple formats such as text, video, audio, maps, polls, and other elements to create more interactive experiences.
  • Add new channels and formats to the mix — Expand your content offerings with things like virtual events, webisodes and episodic content, influencer marketing, short-form video (Instagram Reels and Stories, YouTube Shorts and TikTok), and online courses.

Look outside the A/E/C industry for inspiration and ideas

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer A/E/C marketers to elevate their firm’s marketing is to look outside of the industry for inspiration and new ideas. While it’s true that B2C marketing is not an apples-to-apples comparison, there is a lot that can be gleaned from the strategies, tactics and creative that you find in consumer marketing. Pay attention to the brands, marketing and advertising that stands out to you.

What is it that grabs your attention? What tactics are incredibly effective? What brand experiences are most impressive? The key is to take the general concept and then look for how that might translate to the A/E/C industry. If you want to break out of the comfortable and expected, look beyond your peers, and take a cue from out-of-industry brands for inspiration.

Out with the old, in with the new

The start of a new year provides the opportunity to start fresh, and correct shortcomings from the previous year. Hopefully these 15 resolutions will provide some ideas on how to tweak your A/E/C marketing in 2023.

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