How to Take Your Email Campaign to the Next Level

By: Nick Cafferky

So you finally have the robust mailing list that you’ve always wanted. Maybe it was a successful trade show, maybe it was great a social media campaign — but regardless of how it happened, it is a great start. But what now?

While it’s true that having an audience is crucial for your firm, coming up with what kinds of messages you want to send to your mailing list is a very important next step. Email campaigns work more often than you think. In fact, a recent study from YES lifecycle marketing shows that 68 percent of all consumers have made a purchase that stemmed from a brand email in the last three months – and YES, this does include professional services, not just products. That number is likely to continue growing too, as it jumps to 83 percent with Millennials, who are slowly becoming a larger share of the people making purchasing decisions.

There are lots of different angles to take in an email campaign, but none is more effective than a discount. Ninety-two percent of people find some sort of discount as an important driver to making a purchase from an email. How does that translate for us, in the AEC industry though? We don’t run specials on design services. The point is simply to provide an incentive to act NOW. Perhaps that is waiving a small consultation fee or throwing in an additional perk, it still accomplishes the goal of giving your potential customer a sense of urgency and the feeling they’re getting something extra.

Just behind discounts is the reputation of your brand, which is an important factor for 90 percent of people. Have you won any awards for your work recently? Your mailing list should know about that! Finish a kitchen renovation you are particularly proud of? That’s a great way to build up that reputation and brand awareness. But remember, be sure to segment your list. The whole idea of a mailing list is to get a singular message out to a large number of people, but the occasional message to a handful of potential customers with personalized recommendations can be a huge step in gaining that sought after brand loyalty.

Finally, one big way that you can use your email list is, establishing yourself as a thought leader. This is probably the most effective email marketing tactic for B2B firms. Whether you’re sending out a free guide, white paper, or a unique energy use study, it doesn’t matter; anything of value that you can offer will go a long way in building up the idea that you are THE firm  to talk to. Additionally, it makes the people on your list want to open your mail in the first place. After all, you are providing them information that might help their business.

Now, as for WHEN to send your emails, it will depend on your audience and the type of list you have. While past research from sources like mailchimp say open rates are best during the middle of the week and the middle of the day, this data may be shifting. Consider your list and the type of email addresses you likely have. With a heavily personal email list (perhaps of target residential design clients) you should be aiming for early in the morning or sometime in the evening. Because while most people are constantly monitoring email throughout the day, these two times are when people are more likely to open promotional personal messages. The closer to those times you are, the closer you’ll be to the top of their inbox when they are ready to open it. For professional communications going to a list of mostly work email addresses, it’s likely that mailchimp’s data still stands. Timing your emails wisely prevents you from getting lost at the bottom of the inbox, where you will likely never be seen. And after all of the hard work you’ve done just to get that email out, that’s the last thing you want.

Top Five Myths about SEO in the A/E Industry

Long ago, SEO had a mystique. It was new and technical and allowed anybody to take the lead in search results. It sometimes even led to deceptive practices like hidden keywords in the background or in the footer of your web pages. My how times have changed though, and having an optimized website isn’t about chunking a bunch of metadata into your source code any longer. Search engines are smarter and our understanding of SEO has evolved, especially for service firms like those of us in the A/E industry. In order to help clear up some confusion, we pulled together a Top Five Myths about SEO in the A/E Industry for you!

Myth 1 – SEO can be done in a bubble

It can’t, not well anyway. Search Engine Optimization has ties to almost every major question at the foundation of your business and marketing plan when it’s done properly. In order for it to be successful for any sustainable amount of time, there has to be a strategy behind it and that strategy has to rely on other marketing efforts, social media and valuable content. That’s why when firms ask us if we do SEO, our answer is typically a bit complicated.

Myth 2 – SEO requires no effort from staff

This is a great follow up to the point above. Often firms hire an SEO company thinking, “All I want is to be at the top when somebody Googles best architecture firm. Done, send me the bill.” Firm leadership later gets frustrated to find out it isn’t that simple and realistically, that’s not even what they need. At a minimum, significant time should be invested up front to determine what terms are even relevant for the firm. Beyond that, however, the to-do list for firm principals, subject matter experts and marketing staff could continue to grow because if you multiply any number by zero, you still get zero. You can’t optimize what doesn’t exist, so firms with small websites and very little content will always struggle to outperform others who invest time in writing.

Myth 3 – SEO is a silver bullet

Many firms contact us with the hopes that if they achieve the Holy Grail of SEO status – First organic result on Google – that their work is done and the leads will just roll in. Unfortunately, neither of those is true. The work is not done, because rankings change every day. Leads also don’t just roll in because of your Google ranking; potential clients have to find what they’re looking for after they click through to take the next step.

Myth 4 – SEO winning = First place

Who doesn’t want to be number one? But we’re not talking about “also ran” or participation trophies. Increased traffic, improved awareness and eventual conversions are the ACTUAL goals behind any SEO effort. Seeing your A/E firm show up in the number one spot may feel great, but looking at analytics and monitoring your traffic are the only way to know if your efforts are successful. And then what? Increased traffic doesn’t equal a new contract for your firm unless you convert – which isn’t about SEO, it’s about marketing and BD.

Myth 5 – SEO firms are a rip-off

I’ve honestly lost count of how many clients and potential clients have called us to say they paid an SEO firm for nothing, zero results. This post may sound a little anti-SEO, but that’s not at all the intention. The point is, you wouldn’t take your car to the shop to get the brakes fixed then be upset with the mechanic for not putting gas in your car every week or two afterwards. Search Engine Optimization is a task you can take care of on your own or pay for (one-time fee or ongoing retainer), but it should only be one portion of your architecture firm’s marketing strategy and without putting a little gas in the tank yourself, your car is only going to get so far.

How Marketing Delivers Loyalty

In a recent marketing presentation on metrics, I opened with a slide titled “We Don’t Deliver Pizza, But We Do Deliver Loyalty.” Coupled with a few bullet points and a screengrab of a popular pizza delivery app, the slide drew some chuckles and it began an important dialogue. The purpose of the slide was to say, that while A/E marketers can’t offer coupons and BOGO specials, we have much more in common with consumer marketers than many people think. This may be hard to imagine, but let me explain.

It is incredibly common in our industry to assume that repeat business and referrals have nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with great service, top-notch design…pretty much anything on the billable side. I like to call it the Word of Mouth Myth. This myth basically says that word of mouth is not related to marketing and therefore cannot be influenced by marketing efforts. Either people will refer you or they won’t, and it’s solely based on performance. I’d like to use the pizza delivery industry as an example to show why this is wrong.

My family likes pizza. We have ordered it more than once of course, and when we do there are a number of options for us to choose from. Now, if I apply the thinking that many people in the A/E industry use regarding marketing, I would only order based on my prior experience and the advice of my friends. No amount of marketing from a new pizza company would change my mind. Additionally, and more importantly, no amount of marketing from my current, favorite pizza company would make a bit of difference either.

However, we know this isn’t true. Brand awareness, repetition and ongoing marketing campaigns are all incredibly powerful drivers for our decisions. Email marketing, branded boxes, mailings, commercials, car signs and more are not just ways for us to learn about other pizza places, they are ways to keep us thinking about our favorite one, over and over and over again. Every ad or flyer aren’t intended to get me to order right away, but they are intended to for me to make the right choice when I’m ready to order!

There are a few reasons why it is difficult to see marketing in the A/E industry in this same light. One of them is time. The buying cycle is far, far longer for an architecture client than it is for a hungry family. Therefore, it’s easy to dismiss marketing efforts as ineffective in driving action when in actuality what’s really happening is that firms are not keeping up the campaigns long enough. What may seem to be a failure was actually just ended too soon.

Another reason is a lack of comprehensive metrics. Consumer marketers kind of “have it easy” in that way. If they run a BOGO deal, they can tell quickly if people start buying. In the A/E world, we have to develop more ways to track success throughout the sales funnel because we don’t have many opportunities for a direct response and purchase to occur simultaneously. Simple calls to action to download, read more or join our list need to not only be measured individually, but also tied together so that the overall interaction with a particular client is captured over years instead of one email or event at a time. It is great that John Q. Client opened our last email, but effective marketing metrics should let me know that John opened three of our last six emails, showed up to both of our events and downloaded our whitepaper on IPD. Is this realistic to keep up with for every client? No, but that’s why strategic direction comes into play when it is time to prioritize our efforts!

When we start viewing A/E marketing from this perspective, one where our efforts aren’t just designed to drive new contracts but to engage all audiences and build loyalty, we start to see just how important marketing is. Marketing then becomes a complementary activity to project work, because the entire firm becomes responsible (and gets credit) for repeat business and referral generation.

The Two Times Marketing Should Be a Priority for Your Firm

Throughout the years, I’ve had countless conversations with A/E firms about the right times to market. I don’t mean on the micro level like, “What time of day is the best time to tweet?” I mean on the macro level like, “We are a little slow right now so we figured we should market our firm a bit.”

So, I thought a brief post about the best times to market would be helpful. Below are the two absolute best times to market your architecture, engineering or construction firm.

  1. When you’re busy.
  2. When you’re not busy.

Yep, pretty much always. Marketing should be a priority year-round for your firm. Your campaign direction may change, your media may change, but a focus on marketing isn’t something that should come and go when you get the free time. Marketing is a long-term business process that builds a foundation of awareness for your firm, your team, your expertise…it isn’t just a one-time lead generation exercise when work is slow. (Lead generation is a part of marketing, but it’s more like the end result of successfully doing a number of marketing and communications activities.)

Do you pay employees every once in a while, when you have the free time? Or do you process payroll regularly as a part of managing your firm?

Marketing is just as necessary as paying bills to run a successful firm, but may not happen if you don’t get it on the schedule and build your expectations around the time that has to be dedicated to it – time from yourself, your billable employees, or even your marketing team that may spend the bulk of their time responding to RFPs.