Did you hear the one about the firm chasing the big project? It seems that they had a request for proposal (RFP) in-house – one that had a very short timeframe. The client loaded the RFP with lots of specific requirements, particularly in relation to past project experience and personnel experience. Unfortunately, the firm pursuing the opportunity didn’t have a lot of the information readily available, so there was a mad scramble to write a responsive proposal. Ultimately, they submitted a proposal with missing information.

Have you heard that one? Or have you lived it yourself? Perhaps in the past month – or even week!

This last-minute sprint is a common occurrence in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and environmental industry. AEC firms are simply poor at collecting project information and storing it in a centralized database. Sure, there are tools available, like Deltek Vision, Cosential, and Knowledge Architecture, but many firms utilizing those products are ineffective at incorporating all the features.

For many of us, pieces of the data reside in myriad places – Word files, In Design files, past proposals, emails, old resumes, archived project folders, etc. And the lack of a single source of “truth” for this content is just part of the problem.

Jeffery Lynch, regional vice president of Poole Anderson Construction, has been sounding the alarm for more than a decade! Located in central Pennsylvania, his firm is surrounded by Amish Country and Coal Country, which he uses as a metaphor for collecting marketing content.

“Farmers and coal miners work in the natural resource industry, often using techniques that have not changed in decades. But farmers are harvesters, getting the crop while it is fresh. Coal, on the other hand, comes from plants that existed thousand or even millions of years ago. So farmers work in active resources, while coal miners must go digging to find the resources from long, long ago.”

Jeffery believes the analogy is highly relevant to marketing content. “Would you rather harvest information while it is living and fresh, or try to uncover it years later?”

Far too often, AEC marketers are acting like coal miners, not farmers, searching for buried knowledge from long, long ago. And when they find the information, they are disappointed that it is coal and not diamonds! 

Furthermore, much of the knowledge that once existed may be gone forever. While it may be possible to get facts and figures (square footage, construction cost, type of systems used, project delivery approach, design fees, change orders), much of the real value resides in the heads of the project team members. They have the real knowledge, the stories, the challenges overcome, the lessons learned. But in a world where the average tenure for an employee is just over four years (US BLS), what are the odds that those team members are even still with your firm? Even if they are, how much specific information do they recall about a given project, and how many of their anecdotes are perhaps a conflation of multiple projects? 

Science tells us that people forget as much as 60% of what they hear or learn within two months, and as much as 90% in two or three years. So should you really trust people’s memories for project experiences more than two years in the past?

On top of these challenges, many times the memory of an organization resides with its marketing and business development staff, and turnover in these professions is a regular occurrence. When they leave, a lot of marketing content walks out the door with them. They move on to something else, and their memories begin to fade. 

So what’s a marketing content audit? This shouldn’t be confused with content marketing, which is a proactive approach to sharing information of value, like thought leadership pieces (think blogs, articles, presentations, white papers). This is certainly a component of it, but marketing content is far broader. Marketing content can include:

  • Project data (square footage, type of project delivery, services provided, fees and construction costs, estimates vs. actuals, change orders, etc.)
  • Project narratives (scope of work) – long format and short format
  • Project proposals
  • Project studies and reports
  • Project challenges and solutions
  • Project team members (companies and personnel – along with their roles)
  • Client contacts and references
  • Testimonial letters, quotes, and other client feedback
  • Project media coverage (newspaper, magazine, business journal, broadcast, digital)
  • Project photos and videos
  • Project graphics, floorplans, building models, schedules
  • Project stories (less-tangible anecdotes that bring the rest of this marketing content to life)
  • Project-specific lessons learned

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of potential marketing content but is a good starting point. Do you have a centralized location for this information at your firm? 

Do you even have a mechanism for collecting and storing this data?

A marketing content audit delves into the information you have readily available, identifies the gaps in what the firm truly needs, and determines where and how to find this information. This can be foundational for developing a strategy to proactively gather this knowledge.

If you are like most AEC firms, the answer is probably a resounding “No!” This means that your marketing team must mine for coal every time you pursue a new project opportunity. I’ve been there! 

But why should you even care?

Marketing within the AEC industry continues to undergo massive changes. Clients have become far more sophisticated, and in the process are expecting a higher level of meaningful information from the design and construction firms they are considering. And yet, clients continue to report that most firms “look the same,” making it very difficult to differentiate between companies. When this happens, the only choice is to differentiate by cost.

Your firm’s marketing content, if effectively collected, can hold the key to differentiation from your competitors. People rarely remember facts and figures, but they do remember stories. Unfortunately, most project descriptions don’t include stories – they only include data.

But it is these stories that can be used as a foundation for so much new marketing content:

  • Blogs
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Proposals
  • Presentations
  • Value messages

Value messages are a top-level driver for differentiation. And what constitutes an effective value message has changed greatly over the years. It used to be a simple feature-benefit demonstration. “Company A offers X and Y, helping clients to achieve Z.” In this case X and Y are the features, and Z is the benefit.

But X and Y must be highly-relevant to the challenges the client or prospect is facing, otherwise the benefit is irrelevant. And even if they are relevant, they are meaningless unless you can offer some sort of proof that the features can create the value they need. 

This proof lies in effectively capturing project information and stories, particularly if you can harvest it when it is fresh!

There is probably not a single AEC marketer or business developer that wouldn’t want a robust database with this type of information at their fingertips. It makes their job so much easier, whether they are a proposal writer, marketer, business developer, or seller-doer. And the more information they have, the better the odds of them being able to share stories of relevance to their audience (prospect, client, industry partner, etc.).

So how is your marketing content? Do you have this information collected and easily accessible? 

Or must your marketing team go mining every time they’re knee-deep in a pursuit, robbing them of valuable time (who has ever complained that they have too much time to create a proposal?) and resulting in questionable or incomplete data?

Perhaps it is time to leave the coal mining in the past and instead focus on farming!

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