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:

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.

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.

The Electronic Holiday Card

‘Tis the Season.

I just had a fantastic networking/brainstorming meeting last week with an excellent group of AEC marketing folks in DC. Interestingly enough, the topic of holiday cards came up and I was surprised how many firms were not doing anything at all, and even more surprised with how many were taking the path of the electronic holiday greeting.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to touch on the e-version of this annual project…after all, most folks are probably in the middle of it right now.

My personal opinion of the electronic holiday card is that it’s a no-no, and in some cases may actually do more harm than doing nothing at all. In my experience, many firms try it once to save money, but feel it was a mistake the next year. While technology is dominating communications on so many levels right now, the tradition of holiday cards is still just that…a tradition. And although the concept of a personalized card coming from a firm is a step away from the typical family to family greetings over the season, it is very much about opening a warm wish in the mail. (I promise that the USPS is not paying me for this post).

So, what to do instead? Here are a few tips to save a little money if you decide to spread holiday cheer in hard copy.

  • Pare down your list…significantly. Top 100 people (or maybe top 1,000 if you’re with a larger firm) and that’s it. Regardless of your bottom line you should be able to afford a nice card to the top 10% of your contacts.
  • Send the cards out with bulk rate stamps instead of first class. It saves a lot when you have a large mailing list.
  • Allow each department or program area to take responsibility for their own holiday card expenses (not their own messaging or cards, just the size of their list).
  • Scale down your project. If you usually send gifts, send a custom designed card. If you usually send a custom designed card, order some this year.
  • Cut down on labor costs with tight project management. Set deadlines with principal buy-in, broadcast them to all stakeholders (in this case people signing the cards) and then stick to the schedule.

There are several ways to cut marketing expenses, but cutting holiday greetings shouldn’t be one of them. If your firm is considering an electronic option this year, be sure to track all expenses accurately for comparison to the print option and consider pitching the idea of moving the holiday card to an Operations budget, since there really shouldn’t be much of a sales/marketing slant to the piece anyways.