BY AMY DREW THOMPSON
Looking for new business? You probably need updated marketing strategies, tactics well suited for the wireless age. But don’t toss out all the old dogs for new tricks just yet.
MARKETING STILL DRIVES BUSINESS
Once the realm of billboards and brochures, however, the discipline has become as elastic as our technology. In a wired world turned wireless, the noise follows us everywhere. Cluttered mailboxes have become cluttered inboxes; messages wave their arms frantically for our attention, interrupting even as we read the news online. “Clients are more inundated than ever with marketing ‘clutter,’” says Jeffrey Perelman, senior vice president and growth and strategy officer for Sundt Construction, Inc., a member of multiple AGC chapters. “The challenge all contractors face is how to break through and differentiate themselves while connecting effectively with multiple audiences – customers, architects, subcontractors, suppliers – and potential hires.” So, what’s the road map?
Say the experts: a carefully curated mix of techniques – some old school, some new, some arguably ancient – is the mélange that markets best.
MEASURE. LEARN. USE. REPEAT.
Marketing is something that happens first, before results, says Danielle Feroleto.
Many years in construction marketing led her to co-found Small Giants, a firm dedicated exclusively to business development solutions for the design, construction and commercial real estate industries.
“Architects, engineers, contractors – they’re kinesthetic people. Marketing is something you can’t show them,” she says. And like Perelman above, she believes crowded seas make it easy for messages to drown.
“Nothing stands out unless it’s consistent, memorable and atypical,” she says. The winning combination comes in part via measurable, tech-forward approaches – microsites, for example.
“These can be much more effective than emailing your brochure,” she explains. A small collection of campaign specific pages conveys information creatively while encouraging interaction, “and the benefit is that they’re not only reaching a varied demographic that responds to technology – but they can measure its success. Before, we might send out a $10 brochure and never know if anyone even opened it. Measurement is really the prize.”
But don’t let that information go to waste.
“I am shocked by companies – small and large – that don’t have a client relationship management tool.” These, she says, are necessary to manage the opportunities that marketing campaigns create. “CRM software manages your frequency of contacts, helps you take a lead all the way through the business development steps into a successful win. It is structured specifically to guide you through and remind you of all the steps and touches required to successfully land work.”
Where do you go to source information about something you’re interested in, whether a new car, a recipe or a kitchen and bath renovation specialist?
Online, you say? You’re among the 75 percent, per a recent survey by Yodle, who turn to the Internet for research before selecting a business that meets their needs. Is your company’s site built with a clear goal in mind?
“It should behave as your No. 1 salesperson,” says Scott Froelich, founder of TEMA Digital, a marketing agency with 100 percent construction-industry focus. “To ensure it is, it must be modified over time based on visitor behavior and page performance which allows your company to have a high performing site in less time than a standard website project through continuous learning and improvements that will boost conversions, improve user experience and personalize the website to your audiences. This allows your site to reach peak performance and deliver on your business goals by focusing on real impact.”
Inbound marketing, he says, is among the keys. “You don’t want just any traffic,” Froelich explains. You want the right traffic.
“Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company,” he explains. “By aligning the content you publish with your customers’ interests, you naturally attract traffic that you can then convert, close and delight over time.”
Blogging, he says, is the single best way to bring new visitors to your web site, “as B2B companies that use blogs receive 67 percent more leads than those that do not.”
“Creating educational content that speaks to them and answers their questions is essential,” he says, noting that customers begin their buying process online, usually via search engine. “You need to make sure you’re appearing prominently, choosing keywords to optimize your pages, creating content and building links around the terms your ideal buyers are searching for.”
Calls-to-action, buttons or links that encourage visitors to take action, can help do the job of collecting their contact information. Once cultivated, Froelich, like Feroleto, recommends the use of a CRM tool to keep track of all the details moving through the pipeline.
KNOW WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Let ’s talk about your online rep. Yodle’s research notes that consumers expect to be able to read reviews about companies online. And, says Paul Bascobert, Yodle’s president of local, businesses are missing an opportunity to engage their happy customers as advocates. “Eighty-nine percent of consumers say they would post a review if they had a positive experience – but only 7 percent have been asked.”
You can make it easy with an email, he says, asking clients to write a review about their experience with instructions and a direct link. Simple enough, but what contractors may not realize is that technology can simplify the process via an online marketing platform that’s set up to send such communiques as soon as a well-done job is completed.
If you’ve got a wallet full of 10th one’s-free cards, this won’t surprise you, but loyalty programs, says Bascobert, are still important with customers. What has changed, however, is how consumers want to interact with local businesses. Most prefer email or social media.
“This means that contractors don’t need to completely rethink everything that has worked in the past, but should reevaluate how they get these messages in front of their customers.”
It’s funny, notes Feroleto, that at a time when tech use by professionals out in the field is at an all-time high, many companies leave their social media marketing to interns or hires just out of school.
Despite their youth, and thusly their connection to and comfort with social media platforms, “they’re not the best people to push out the information,” she says. “You don’t want a 22-year-old graduate responding to someone’s Twitter request for a quote. You want the president of the company.”
Companies need to embrace technology in marketing as enthusiastically as they have done on the jobsite. There may be a learning curve in some cases, but money that allows your team to embrace and run with the power of social is money well spent.
“You can’t hire someone who doesn’t know anything about your company, or what makes you unique or best qualified for the client handle the social media simply because they are well versed in the various platforms. If nothing else, the person who is the subject matter expert in the firm should stay close to whoever is pushing out the messages.”
Some people argue that construction has become commoditized.
“Not true!” says Sundt’s Perelman. “While sometimes we feel like we face too many competitors, every construction project is still unique and every owner has its own unique criteria,” he explains, “so while marketing communications has evolved significantly during the past few years – particularly with the introduction of social media – nothing will replace the need for face-to-face interaction with owners.” The bulk of Sundt’s clients, actual and potential, still get their information via more traditional sources: trade publications, contractor websites and the like. “As our client base becomes younger (and older clients retire), we will expand our reliance on ‘new’ media channels as appropriate.”
Much of the construction industry, he notes, did little hiring during the recession. “Hence, the resulting age gap in our industry.” But it’s still all about making connections, forging relationships – in real time, in real life.
Feroleto adds that in the wake of the tech explosion, interesting opportunities are to be had in what some might consider a fossil technique: direct mail.
“People get 75 emails a day, but they don’t get that much mail anymore. It has to be consistent and compelling. It has to stand out. But done right, direct mail can garner a lot of exposure.”
“At the end of the day,” says Perelman, “marketing in this industry revolves around instilling a sense of trust in your capabilities with your owners and developing a deep understanding of what they seek within each project.”
Traditional markets already know Sundt, says Perelman. They work steadily to reinforce that. “For emerging marketing, we focus on making potential clients aware of who we are and what we stand for. To achieve both of these objectives, we employ a balance of old and new campaigns.”
Traditional, in-person tactics create new relationships, while newer, tech based means are an economical way of supporting the message.
“The new world of digital marketing certainly has a role to play, but it’s about reinforcement and reminders of a broader marketing message. You can’t effectively convey your company’s depth of experience, expertise, commitment and core values without having timely, direct dialogue with key decision makers.”
LARGER COMPANIES: AN INSIDE JOB
Sure, everyone wants more customers, but sometimes getting the message to leads means making sure your employees have it first. Larger companies, says Feroleto, are the ones who face this issue most often.
“They have so many people they could send out into the world,” she explains, “dedicated, loyal employees who are passionate about the company – and they’re not using them as their best salespeople. They need to do a better job of internal marketing.”
Whether due to multiple locations or simply their immense size, “people in the field could be drumming up new work, expressing some of the great things the company is doing – but they have no idea what is going on outside of their own jobsite. They don’t know new initiatives. They don’t know new offices. One division begins to silo itself from the others….”
Feroleto cautions large firms to catch themselves from behaving like separate companies when they aren’t. “They should be leveraging the compounding effect they could have precisely as a large company.” By putting their dollars into internal marketing – compelling newsletters, town hall meetings, incentives for bringing in leads and new work, leader ship training – large contractors build their own brand. “Large-sized companies almost certainly have very robust strategic marketing plans.” Feroleto says. “How far down the line are those being pushed?”
Keeping everyone in the game is essential for the best results. “When a company is united in understanding what the marketing goals are, the goals happen much, much faster.”