While helping architecture and engineering firms develop their marketing plans, we look at a number of factors that determine the tactics we will use – target audience, budget, business goals, etc. For the record, I always say ‘tactics come last,’ and quite honestly they’re easy to determine if you’re able to do everything else that comes before them.
One topic of discussion that brings a great deal of uncertainty to the conversation is competition. On the surface, most firms know who their competitors are, but have very little idea what that really means. ‘Great, we have a list of people we kind of don’t like that may or may not be poaching our staff…and…then what?’ Well, here are five things to know or pay attention to when it comes to the competition.
They’re probably not your competition.
Just because they’re local, doesn’t make them your competition. Likewise, just because they show up higher than you on Google search rankings doesn’t either. Your competition is based on your target audience and the firms they may have been interested in, not any practicing architect in your state.
They aren’t you.
How is your firm different than every other firm out there? And don’t say your people, because guess what…everybody says that! (and your people leave eventually) Your brand is what makes your firm unique. Look inside to see why what you do is different – your process, your passion, your portfolio, your pricing. There are plenty of ways to distinguish your firm.
They’re the least important people in your business world.
If you’re like every other busy principal, marketer, architect or insert title here…you don’t have a lot of free time. While it’s not a bad idea to know a little bit about your competition, with limited resources available, they are FAR less important than your staff and your clients.
If you’re doing it right, they don’t matter.
I am a firm believer that your competition CAN’T win a contract that was meant for you. (bureaucratic issues aside for public market folks) If they win a project because they were cheaper than you, you would have lost money on the job. For any other reason, the fact of the matter is that you weren’t the right choice or you didn’t understand the client well enough. If it’s the former, move on. If it’s the latter, spend more time understanding the client.
They’re good for something
Superficial metrics used for benchmarking are just about the only thing I would recommend paying much attention to when it comes to your competition. An example might be social media growth. It’s easy to tell if your competitors are getting more action than you on social. Are they growing? Are they engaging? It’s all out there in the open. If you want to know whether or not you’re working hard enough to build awareness and communicate with your target audience, then you can look at your competitors to see how they’ve done.
The moral of the story…spend time understanding your firm, your business goals and your clients. The competition can’t be better at being ‘you’ than you are.
A common theme among most architecture and design firms is the belief that the vast majority of new leads come from word of mouth and referrals. A close second behind this is often the sentiment that marketing efforts therefore can’t make much of an impact. After all, history shows that it’s our past performance that gets us the new leads.
While on the surface these statements may seem easy enough to believe, the truth is that marketing has evolved and the concept of “word of mouth” means something entirely different today than it did twenty or even ten years ago. Clients rarely have only one touch-point before they make a buying decision.
So, since things aren’t as cut and dry, it’s important to look for more subtle clues to let you know what marketing efforts are influencing your clients. Here are some recent statements we’ve heard from clients that let us know that messages are connecting.
“I saw your sign in our neighbor’s yard, so we asked them about you.”
This sounds like a neighborhood referral, but it was initiated by good, old fashioned project signage.
“You all worked with my prior company on a project. I remembered the __ you dropped off after the project was completed. I still use that!”
The project was crucial, but the follow up was what kept your firm at the top-of-mind as they moved on.
“My colleague said they worked with you all, so I checked out your website.”
This is a common one. Referrals today come in many varieties. The first step after receiving a referral for many clients is now research though – not a phone call.
“I feel like I see your firm everywhere.”
Regardless of why the email came in, this statement is a testament to your marketing success.
“I love seeing your updates on ____.”
When past or repeat clients say this, it’s like gold. Your existing relationship is a foundation that marketing builds on. It is a never a guarantee that you’ll get a second project from a client. Staying in touch with valuable info increases your chances though.
What other statements have you heard from new leads lately that let you know your marketing has had an impact?
Each firm is unique and their familiarity, experience, and expectations with social media vary as well. Along with an active social media presence, architecture and engineering firms have disparate goals, with some focused on an increase of followers or likes, while others want to see an increase in post frequency and activity. Either way, marketers within and outside of the AEC industry have finally moved on from the notion that you simply just had to have a Facebook or Twitter account. This is where analytics, and the type of measurements needed, become very important in decision-making for your architecture firm’s management and the marketing team.
Why Analytics Are Important for You As a Marketer
They act as a major driving force behind the creation of a new marketing plan, or simply adjusting a current one.
They drive action by creating benchmarks and allowing you to set goals, regardless of if they are activity-based or interaction-based.
They provide guidance on what has and hasn’t been so successful with regards to achieving those goals, allowing necessary changes to be made.
Why Analytics Are Important for Firm Management
Being able to justify an idea or strategy with concrete data doesn’t just allow your principals to see evidence, but it provides a foundation for communications moving forward.
Analytics allow you to set realistic goals with principals based on reports and even comparisons with competitors. At times, management may expect an unreasonable amount of followers within a given time and good reporting can illustrate what is possible and on par with benchmarks.
The frequency that analytics are run and what specific data is gathered is all relative to your management team – and that’s okay! Run reports and share data at intervals that make sense for your firm’s schedule, ensuring that at least monthly the team is looking at current data.
Social media analytics provide answers and drive well-informed dialogue. They allow a marketing team to see why a certain campaign worked or why some channels were more successful than others, just like Google Analytics does for websites. While their use will vary considerably from firm to firm, their importance cannot be overstated.
One of the biggest struggles that firms seem to have with their website is where to draw the line with the portfolio – specifically, determining how many projects should be included. Designing and building a website should result in a site that can “scale up” easily, allowing firms to add projects as time goes on. That doesn’t always make it easy to decide what gets included at launch, and it also leaves very loose expectations on when/if things should get REMOVED from the site (yes, I said it – you should actually be deleting your older work).
Here are some quick thoughts to help you determine what gets cut.
Was the work done for this firm? If it wasn’t, cut it. The only time it really makes sense to include projects from a prior firm is when you’re first starting out. Otherwise it is too easy to come across as a firm that’s trying to bulk up your portfolio artificially.
Are you creating an “other” category? (Hint: Don’t!) If you have a beautifully organized portfolio of work, divided by your major target industries, and then find yourself adding an “other” tab, you’re doing your work a disservice and diluting your marketing message. How would a potential client feel if they found themselves to be called “other”? Who searches for “other”? Who knows what to expect when navigating to “other”?
Would you want another project just like it? Part of what you’re saying with your portfolio is “I’m/we’re proud to have been involved with this project and I’d/we’d love to do it again.” Be honest with yourself and your potential clients; do you actually want to do another similar project?
If a potential client only saw 4 pages on your website, would it be ok if this was one of them? If you look at your website’s analytics, you’ll probably notice that you average between 2 and 4 pages per session. Ask yourself “Is this project representative enough of the firm that I would spend half of my first impression on it?”
Has this client heard from our firm in a while? Remember how dynamic the web is and how well-connected people are these days. If you show client work and a web user happens to know that client, you can bet they will reach out if they are a serious lead. If you aren’t sure what the client will say, it’s best not to open that door.
Our policy when advising clients is ALWAYS quality over quantity. It’s better to have a streamlined, more valuable portfolio than a huge directory of scattered work!