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Friday, September 14, 2007

The limits (and strengths) of E-Marketing for the AEC sector

Recently, posters to the SMPS listserve have been discussing the advantages and limits of e-marketing in the construction, architectural and engineering environment. These observations touch close to my heart, of course, because I have been developing this blog for the last eight months and learning the ropes of e-newsletters over the past year.

Marketing consultant Bernie Siben of the Siben Consult, LLC, host of blog posted this observation and granted me permission to reproduce it here:

I have a pretty good website and I maintain a blog about marketing for the A/E/C/Planning/Environmental industry. After making initial mailings of brochures via the US Postal Service, I've sent out hundreds of emails regarding services, helpful information that I find in my Internet research, links to interesting websites, and other things that I hope will bring value to a prospective client.
What I'm finding is that 95 per cent or more of these emails don't even get opened.
They either wind up being filtered out as spam if my email address isn't already in someone's address book, or just ignored/deleted by someone doesn't already know my name. And we're getting so inundated with spam today, that we seem to be OK with missing the occasional piece with value as long as the rest is screened out. So, ultimately, every contact process has to start with a personal touch -- a meeting or a phone call -- or with a recommendation from a colleague or friend who will call someone else, recommend me, and tell them to expect my call.
I think that e-marketing can be very successful when you are marketing to folks already on your list, where your name is already in their electronic address books. Self-produced webinars are great if you have already established your credibility among the folks on your mailing list. If not, getting folks like ZweigWhite to produce/present your webinar is great because THEIR credibility gives credibility to YOU!
But for initial contacts with prospective new clients, we have to find a more personal and interactive way, or we risk getting thrown out with the electronic "trash" just because there's so much of it.

Seiben is absolutely right, as is Tom Merker, Director of Business Development,The Clark Enersen Partners in Kansas City, MO, who observed:

But we have to realize that e-marketing is nothing more than regular direct marketing. It just has a different format. A good response rate for direct marketing is 3-5 percent (unless you're giving away free stuff, then you can count on about 10-15 percent). It is what it is. Nothing will ever replace personal contact as the #1 way of marketing in our industry.

The message here is that e-marketing can support, but not replace, personal relationships. Face-to-face and direct contact are vital, especially in the early going, if you are to build a meaningful business.
Of course, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to realize that while you can do much over the Internet, large scale (or for that matter even much more modest) AEC projects require significant investments in energy and money -- and often intense working relationships, especially as the projects move through the critical stages. You can't achieve these results exclusively, or even primarily, over the Internet.

(However, I also note that online marketing is much like the real world in another sense -- you may dream of instant success, but the story usually takes much longer to gel into something meaningful. Although I consider this blog to be a very productive initiative, I can't trace hard business to it yet -- and that is after eight months. So why continue? Bit by bit, piece by piece, I can see it is improving my reputation and setting the stage for future business relationships.)

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