How to Re-Energize Your Green Building Marketing and Sustainability Services Plan
Fall is the perfect time to develop and execute a fourth-quarter green building marketing strategy that can feed into complementary initiatives that will meet the test of market conditions in 2013. As a green building and marketing consultant, I’d like to offer some of the most important ideas that we work with everyday that can help you to formulate an effective marketing strategy, one that you can then push into a Tactical Marketing Plan for the end of 2012 and all of 2013. This high-level advice is good for all kinds of green building and professional services firms (architecture/engineering/construction/planning) as well as green building and sustainability consultancies.
What is a Marketing Strategy?
An effective marketing strategy is about more than just the mundane aspects of marketing because it determines the nature and direction of your business, annunciates while it also fleshes out the specifics of the innovative products and/or services that you plan to bring to market. These products/services must provide appropriate value for your customers and reinforce on your brand image. In turn, brand image identifies the value you want to be known for delivering to your clients AND that your clients perceive represent value to THEM.
Too often, strategy falters in execution because there is a strong disconnect between what an architect, engineer, or builder believes represents value to the client and what the client is most concerned about. As someone once remarked, “For architects, design is a verb (it’s something they do), but for clients it’s a noun (it’s something they get.)” No client wants to buy a design, per se; they want to buy a finished product that will have more value than it costs. Here are some key questions that will help you make sure your green building marketing plan is well-focused:
- Is your firm delivering value to clients sufficient to stand out from the (equally talented, experienced, etc.) competition?
- Is the perceived value greater than the real cost? How will you know? How will the client know?
- When is the last time you surveyed your client base to find out what they really think about your services? That should be the preliminary step to formulating any marketing strategy, painful though it is on occasion.
The STP principles
I have written at length in Marketing Green Building Services: Strategies for Success (Routledge, 2008, Kindle edition available) about the importance of Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning as key strategic steps to take prior to trying to differentiate your services (see graphic). After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, which clients comprise your targets and how you want them to perceive you, your chances of marketing success diminish greatly.
Marketing communications is everything you do to position the business in the minds of the clients and then to differentiate this positioning from that of close competitors. This means you also have to be clear about who your competitors really are. Most architects think the competition is other architects, but with the rise of alternative delivery approaches (think Design/Build or Integrated Project Delivery), this is no longer the case. In suburban office construction, for example, the competitor can even be a general contractor who can deliver a generic office building much cheaper using tilt-up concrete construction than can an architect using a standard “design/bid/build” approach.
Some of the tools of today’s marketing communications that you need to plan for include:
- Website and newsletter
- Social media, including at least Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest, the top four sites
- Events and exhibits
- Press releases
- Video (in which case, you can add YouTube to the social media list above)
- By-lined articles in trade and professional media, especially those read by clients
- Internal communications to staff to reinforce positioning and differentiation
The “STP Highlight Film”
Most professionals are too busy these days to watch and read anything but the highlights. When is the last time, for example, that you watched a complete sporting event on TV? Thus, we all need to consider:
- How are you delivering your firm’s highlights (sustainability, project types, key people, philosophy) to clients?
- Is it piecemeal or is it an organized and coherent whole, available at any time, any platform, in bite-sized pieces?
- How much of it is visual (vs. text), which most decision-makers prefer?
- How much use are you making of infographics to differentiate your offering?
Like it or not, we’ve all become nibblers of information, seldom having time or inclination to sit long enough to eat a full-course meal, even those eight-page “white papers” that large companies find so intriguing to produce.
The Audit and Gap Analysis
You need some outside help to audit your marketing offerings and to identify gaps between what you’re producing for distribution and industry “best practices.” An outside consultant is often the best way to do this. Here’s why:
- If you could (or would) do it yourself, you’d already have done it.
- An outside consultant’s viewpoint is extremely valuable because it’s very hard to be objective about your own work.
- An experienced outsider can often deliver the message about deficiencies much better than an insider whom you see and talk to everyday.
Once you’ve audited what you’re doing now and identified the gaps with “best practices” among competitors, then it’s time to determine what your priorities are going to be to close the gap.
The Budget is the Plan!
In the end, it’s still all about money and time. Among all the things that you can do to improve marketing results, i.e., to sell more stuff (“SMS” for short), you’ll have to assess what resources you have to devote to the effort. Ask yourself:
- How much of people’s time is available?
- Do I have the right people, or do I need to hire a marketing specialist/director/consultant to make this happen?
- How much out-of-pocket cash can the firm make available to improve its positioning and differentiation activities, such as producing video?
- Who is going to be responsible for results, and on what timetable?
If content is king on the web and content development is everyone’s greatest challenge, then your challenge is to assess where your clients want to go (or need to go) and then figure out how you can assert your importance in that process. Some architectural firms are very aggressive in promoting thought leadership; most engineering firms don’t even try. Why do we have “Starchitects” who stand out from the pack and get the most lucrative design commissions, often without much competition, if thought leadership doesn’t have its own dramatic benefits?
It takes a lot of consistent effort, applied over many years to become a recognized thought, especially in the green building industry, yet it can, and has been done! Finally, here are the bottom line questions that every marketer has to ask themselves:
- What are you willing to commit, in terms of time and resources, to advancing your thought leadership to center stage?
- Where are you willing to start from and what are the goals that you want to achieve?
- By when will you achieve these goals?
Feedback is an essential component of any marketing activity. I’d welcome your feedback on the ideas in this article and your contribution to the ongoing discussion. Thanks.