Does your firm have a 2010 marketing budget yet?

The past year has been a brutal one for the AEC industry, to put it mildly. Overall, as a response to the tough times of 2009, cutting marketing expenditures probably made good sense for a lot of firms.

However, as many firms look towards the new year with the clear goal of “we need to do better than last year,” it’s crucial that they prepare a detailed marketing budget. Marketing planning often falls by the wayside because of the high level of uncertainty, but at a minimum, a budget should be prepared to help guide spending decisions in 2010.

Why is a budget important?
Every project that you undertake as architects, engineers or contractors has a budget. Clients demand it so that they can plan, set aside funding and measure the project’s success. Marketing efforts should be no different.

Developing a budget ensures consistent activity. Relationships rarely develop from one call, one ad, one conference or one mailing. A budget, accompanied by a marketing plan, allows firms to outline multiple touch points with the same audience. A budget also provides a figure to measure effectiveness against. ROI is not the end-all-be-all of metrics, but it is one important yardstick to use when evaluating and planning your firm’s marketing efforts.

What do we base a budget on?
Depending on how detailed your firm’s business or financial planning process is, you should develop a marketing budget as a percentage of revenue, not just assign a dollar amount. Industry averages range from 5-10% of net service revenue. Those vary based on which survey you use or region you work in. You also have the choice of basing your budget on next year’s projected revenue or historical revenue numbers.

What should go into 2010’s budget?
Marketing next year will be mission critical, whether you believe that the market will have a drastic upswing or times will continue to be difficult. Coming out of a year like 2009, clients will have a built-up need for your services and funding will eventually come, so a detailed budget will help you make the most of tight marketing dollars.

Know When To Say When – Research Responsibly

When it comes to market research, there is no shortage of information that would be helpful for your architecture, engineering or construction firm. Let’s face it…there is ALWAYS another competitor popping up, plenty more clients to chase, elusive funding streams, etc.

Who has time for all of that? Even with a dedicated marketing team in-house, there are deadlines to meet and proposals to submit.

I had a discussion with a colleague this week about just when to stop. How do you know when you have dug deep enough? If market research efforts can be contained and defined, they can be a lot easier to tackle quickly. Here are a few pointers that help me know when to say when.

1. Set time limits – Research is often about past performance. Digging back farther than two to three years for most things is a waste of time. Some government contracting info might be worth a deeper dig, if you’re looking at 5 year IDIQ’s for example.

2. Constantly ask yourself what question you are answering – It is easy to get mired down in everything that is out there. If all you set out to do was review info on your top five competitors, don’t get roped into looking up the top ten.

3. Think lowest common denominator – Only record info that you will be able to capture about all of your research subjects (whether they be competitors or potential clients). Research is most useful when you can compare it to other subjects. Set out to find the same ten pieces of info about all of your subjects, instead of just blindly recording everything you uncover.

4. Use other resources – If you are a busy principal, Marketing Director or Business Developer, you likely have a long list of questions you wished you knew the answer to…but just don’t have the time to find out. Hiring a third party to do market research makes a lot of sense – they have the procedures in place and often have paid-for-services that grant them access to information faster and easier. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

The point of market research is to enhance your business’ decision making. It’s important to know when you have enough info to make an informed decision so that you can make it quickly and move on to the next task at hand.

The Lumenhaus and Marketing

Being a Hokie Architecture alum, I couldn’t help but follow the story of the Lumenhaus as Virginia Tech’s team traveled to DC for the Solar Decathlon.

The marketing part of me, Pamplin MBA at Tech as well, found a whole new take on the story when reading the alumni magazine. “Bringing Lumenhaus into the Light” provided a great flipside to the coin. I found several aspects of the article, and the competition overall, worth posting.

1. It is fantastic to see “communications” as its own category for the Solar Decathlon. This is a great testament to the competition, as it truly is about more than just design. Even though the category was worth less than 10% of the overall score, it still emphasizes to teams that branding, marketing and communications is important regardless of how strong your design is.

2. I still stand by the importance of students in fields such as architecture, engineering, building construction, etc. taking courses in business, marketing and management (just as I mentioned in this older post). Quotes like this one from the marketing professor really stand out:

“my branding talk probably sounded like something from an alien planet to them.”

3. For a US DoE contest, international teams showed very well.
• 4 out of 20 teams were from the non-continental US
• 2 of the 4 captured top 5 honors
• The only European team to enter captured the top spot

4. The differences of opinion between marketing and architecture seem to start even before the professional world! Although, I can’t give the marketers credit on this one…Lumen Home sounds a little clunky.

The latter was key, as it resolved a major difference of opinion among the students. “The marketing majors wanted to call it ‘Lumen Home’—because consumers go home at the end of the day, not to their house. The architecture majors felt that ‘home’ was too, well, homely! Not at all capturing the modern, technical advances the house offers. ‘Haus’ was the perfect compromise.”

Overall, I’m of course proud of my Hokies even though this wasn’t their best showing. Most importantly, I’m glad to read about a mesh of the marketing and architecture world to make a project better though.

For more info on the Solar Decathlon, visit: http://www.solardecathlon.org/

The 25th Hour of My Day, I’ll Use for Marketing

I don’t think I can name a single client that has said to me “I have more than enough time to ‘do marketing’ but…”

Regardless of ample resources, a full in-house marketing staff, or even an incredibly slow time around the office, it always seems that AEC firms just don’t have enough time to get everything done that they would like to when it comes to marketing. There are any number of reasons for this problem.

For starters, there is ALWAYS somebody that you could be marketing to. This pretty much makes it a never-ending task and therefore it is one that you can never exactly finish. How frustrating right? Why can’t we just check marketing off the list and move on to the next item?

Additionally, marketing is often something that falls into the important but not urgent category. That is unless we’re talking about conferences and proposals, the two most deadline driven marketing activities for firms usually. Consequently, that is why most marketing departments spend a huge percentage of their time on those things.

But, in the spirit of not bringing up a problem without a solution, I’ve prepared the following list of ways to help you and your firm find more time to market.

Make it urgent
Your marketing efforts must be time sensitive. Set deadlines for even the small tasks, and publicize them to the whole team. Rely on the pressure of a looming deadline and a team full of managers with expectations to drive you to get things done without letting extra days and weeks go by.

Invest time up front
A big difference between the pros and the amateurs in any field is preparation. The carpenter that reviews an entire job and gets their materials list together at the beginning of the job is the most efficient and most profitable in the long run. The same is true for marketing. Marketing efforts should begin with a clear scope and deliverables. Investing the time up front to capture those things saves time in the long run.

Delegate…no REALLY delegate
Delegating is the most difficult at two times 1. When roles aren’t clearly communicated. 2. When specialties are confused with everyday skills. The last one seems to come up pretty often and here’s one example. Professional copywriting is a skill. However, almost everyone has a copy of MS Word and can hammer out a few paragraphs. Being able to let the writers write saves managers countless hours on things that may not come naturally or aren’t their strong suit.

Automate
There are certain things that should be done every day, every week, every month, etc. One example may be monitoring contracting opportunities (for firms that focus on the public sector). Automating tasks and/or doing them in a regular rhythm makes you more efficient and makes them easier to digest. Five minutes reviewing opportunities reports pushed to your email every morning takes less time than combing through weeks of them at once or searching online databases after the fact.

Everybody has thought to themselves that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, and marketing is often the first thing pushed off until tomorrow. With a little luck (and maybe some process changes), the above may make the days seem a little longer…in a good way.