What is the most pressing challenge facing Civil engineering firms today? Some would say it is the economy or lack of stimulus funds for infrastructure projects. But the reality is the changing nature of branding and how the industry is adapting. Marketing has become conversations that are initiated in the client universe and your challenge is to become part of the conversation.
Remember the classic McGraw Hill advertisement with a man sitting on a chair in an otherwise empty room, with this text, “I don’t know your company, your name or your product. Now what were you trying to sell me.” This represented traditional marketing through the channel of print advertising. Engineering firms have traditionally used print advertising, direct mail, and cold calling to build business.
Traditional branding is a top down approach with companies defining their brand. Today brands are being defined by conversations. Brands are defined by what people say about the firm. Is this how your firm is engaging clients?
If the brand for any civil engineering firm consists of a set of promises, isn’t it the company that decides the promises? Yes, core values of a firm are created internally, but the branding of the promise happens outside. In an environment where every firm offers “quality services, on time and under budget,” it is difficult to differentiate. Difficult unless you have built trust and relationships in the market place. Look at it this way: Traditional marketing was like taking a sledge hammer and hitting your prospects and clients over the head with it. It was almost like, “Believe me, or else.”
Branding today is like a magnet that draws clients to the company. This is the real value and purpose of social media in a business context.
Your firm might be filled with Gen Y employees who Twitter, blog and post on Facebook. This is not a fad, or something that young people do when they aren’t playing video games. Social media is the place where you cultivate your brand in the new economy.
In the traditional sales funnel you have the project universe at the top and as the funnel shrinks prospects are turned into clients. Today’s funnel has website visitors at the top who develop into leads and eventually clients. Before we go any further, it is important to point out that social media is not replacing the need for business development people or departments. Leads in the funnel don’t magically become clients because they heard about your blog or follow you on Twitter. But social media does act as trust agents. Unlike the businessman in the McGraw Hill advertisement, they trust what you are about to sell to them. Therefore the new tools of social media add power to traditional marketing.
Social media is where the conversation begins. When people are drawn to your firm, you are in a unique position to listen to their needs. This process enables your firm to build trust and create relationships before business development takes over the sales process.
For example, Linkedin is an excellent site to build your reputation as an industry expert. Expert status is a powerful way to differentiate a firm from the competition.
Differentiation isn’t easy because there isn’t a silver bullet in branding. Your competitors might also have expert status. Therefore, civil engineers must be intentional in embracing social media. The important part of cultivating the brand conversation is the transparency of your company. The end game of social networks is to drive people to your website. Therefore, your website has to be interactive instead of a yellow page ad. This means you need to have interesting content like a blog, videos, and articles. Marketing departments must be actively linking this information to their social networks. If you don’t have a blog, it is easy to start. Your marketing department is probably filled with ideas. For starters, why not interview clients for your blog? Another idea is to share lessons that you have learned. How about shooting videos at events? If you have a community outreach commitment, a video shot at an event could go viral after linking it to your social networks. Helping others in the new economy is good for business. It goes back to the concept of trust.
Finally, the most important thing about your transparency is the requirement to allow every staff person to participate. It makes sense based on pure numbers and possible connections, but it also makes sense in building trust and growing relationships. When more people in the client universe understand your brand (your promises), there is greater potential for additional work. This is a reality that is not shaped by economic conditions, but by your flexibility and desire to embrace change.