The AEC industry is known for its inward-looking professionals. When it comes to marketing your firm to the outside world, that’s not a good thing.
I’m sure everyone has heard the old joke: How do you tell the difference between an architect and an engineer? Answer: An architect will look at your shoes when he’s talking to you, while an engineer will look at his own shoes.
If I’m going to stereotype, both engineers and architects tend to be more introverted than people who work in other professions, like teaching, banking, nursing, law, marriage counseling, dentistry, or retail. A large part of the job is working on highly detailed plans. Alone. Even if you work on marquee projects, it isn’t typically a job that will put you in the spotlight.
The New Oxford American dictionary defines introvert as “a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person.”
Self-centered? What? When I think of a self-centered person, I typically think of people who thrive off the attention of others and are willing to go to great lengths to achieve that attention. While that’s a definition that doesn’t fit the engineer stereotype, most people in the AEC industry are still self-centered to some degree.
It’s a common issue. You spend a lot of time working on projects, focusing inward, and it’s very hard for you to accurately ascertain how your firm is viewed from the perspective of a client, potential client, or the general public. A lot of firm leaders make big choices based on assumptions (that may be quite false) about outside viewpoints, or without considering how the rest of the world views what they are creating.
This self-centeredness is both dangerous and prevalent in marketing. Some examples include using internal acronyms in outside communications, forgetting to clearly display contact information or calls to action, or using highly technical descriptions on projects without the benefit of a broader context.
Here are a few things you can do to work on being less self-centered and consequently improve your firm’s marketing:
- Client perception studies. A client perception study can be the most valuable marketing tool your firm can employ, but it’s worthless unless you ask the right questions; get honest, unbiased feedback; and listen to feedback and take action. In order to have truly valuable feedback, you can’t just ask clients to talk to the project manager about their experience. People do not like to give negative feedback to people they have worked with. Furthermore, clients are less likely to get asked the hard questions, and you’re less likely to gain an understanding of how your firm is viewed in the rest of the market.
The most important part of this is sharing the feedback with the right people and not filtering it through your personal viewpoint. If every negative statement made by a client has you saying, “We’re not really seen as over-priced slowpokes, that’s just XYZ’s unrealistic expectations,” then you need to stop. Chances are if more than one person says the same thing, there’s some degree of truth in it.
- Employee surveys. You know who can be ruthless? Employees armed with a place to voice frustrations anonymously. But just like client perception studies, the right questions need to be asked. If you find yourself looking at a lot of employee feedback and saying, “Oh well, they don’t really know what goes on or why this is this way,” then those are the statements that need to be paid attention to the most. If your employees think management isn’t doing enough – work to at least try to change that perception. Your employees are your strongest brand ambassadors to the rest of the general public. Their opinions are extremely important.
- Website/marketing audits. There’s a service that will review your website for free and record a completely random stranger’s reaction to it. If a person who can read at an eighth grade level cannot understand the basics of what your firm does after spending five minutes on your website, you have a major problem. The same thing goes for marketing brochures or PDF downloads. Highly specific and technical descriptions are great – but make sure there’s still an overall context.
The perception of your firm and brand are extremely important! Doing good work is not enough if no one knows about it, or can understand it. Stop being a self-centered introvert and start understanding how you might be seen by others.
Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.