Marketing Challenges and Opportunities for A/E FirmsI was recently quite surprised when reviewing the Zweig Group 2012 Marketing Survey, to learn that a majority of A&E firms surveyed do not prepare a marketing budget, and another 40% don’t include their marketing staff in their strategic planning process. In preparing for a SMPS speech this week, I decided to try to summarize my observations and advice to marketers in the A&E industry, as they work towards helping their firms grow. My question is, as a marketer today, how can you be successful if your firm does not value your input?

I decided to take good hard look at why this situation exists, and then try to develop some valuable steps that A&E firm marketers can take to have more positive influence in their companies.

Overcoming the firm culture that does not value marketing resources

The first step in understanding the role of marketers in the A&E firm is to look at the culture. Over the years I have seen many patterns where marketing resources are undervalued, this happens for a number of reasons, such as:

First, most A&E firm owners’ lack of expertise in what marketing is, and how it can be successful in helping their firms rise above the competition. This tends to cause misguided decisions such as laying people off and cutting marketing expenses during a recession.

One of these areas is in the failure to value branding, social media, and inbound marketing. Without a good brand, your firm will have a difficult time differentiating, and will end up competing on price. In doing a random survey of our clients recently, I was appalled how many lacked a distinguishable brand – specifically a logo that identified the firm. Many of the Web sites were outdated, lacked valuable information, and gave the image of an older, less successful firm.

Just as surprising was the lack of presence on social media. Many firms do not believe they need to be on Twitter and LinkedIn, and actually discourage their employees from spending time online. But those firms that are actively engaged online are slowly and steadily building a following, and able to get news and publicity about project wins out in cyberspace which increases SEO and drives more traffic to your website.

A lack of understanding about inbound marketing and all that goes along with it is hurting A&E firms, and causing them to miss out on the opportunity to differentiate and demonstrate their expertise. Inbound marketing, or the ability to drive potential buyers to your firm by providing valuable content via a blog is the single most important marketing tool that you need to be adding to your marketing efforts. Those firms that have a good blog are able to build a following online of people who are interested in learning more about their areas of expertise. Today’s buyers are buying differently than they did even a few years ago. More of your clients are researching their options online, and it is critical that you rise above the crowd online and in organic search.

Another major culture issue that is prominent in A&E firms is a lack of understanding about the differences between marketing, business development, and sales. Many firms call all of this marketing. Each of these areas requires a level of expertise and a specific process in order for it to be successful. Marketing is a many-to-one effort that involves getting your firm’s brand and messages out to your target audience. Business development is a one-to-one effort that involves creating strategic relationships in your industry to help you form alliances for referrals and teaming. Sales is pursuing a single opportunity and requires a structured process that includes a good Go/No-Go process, a structured approach to managing the stages of the sale, and fine-tuned proposal processes. Unfortunately, many “marketers” in A&E firms are really doing sales, spending much of their time preparing proposals.

As I referred to above, many A&E firms have a tendency to cut marketing resources and expenses when the economy is bad. In many firms, the marketing team is often not viewed as a strategic resource. Their jobs tend to be more tactical in nature, and they are not involved in strategic analysis or decisions This lack of a strategic focus in hiring and managing marketing staff can have an adverse effect on the firm by putting emphasis on churning out proposals as opposed to helping the firm succeed though differentiation, and online presence.

“Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” – Peter Drucker

In Part 2 – We look at the trends that are shaping the marketing efforts for A&E firm marketers today.

In Part 3 – We look at how technology can help marketers to increase the firm’s win rate

In Part 4 – We discuss the benefits of viewing marketing as a strategic investment

In Part 5 – We look at how to measure the return on investment from marketing efforts

In Part 6 – We give some tips for marketers on how to add more value to their firm’s success.

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