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Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on Permission Marketing

Seth Godin's Permission Marketing provides insights into the concept of obtaining permission from your clients and prospective clients to receive marketing messages, rather than forcing yourself into their space. He offers four chapters to the book free (as a device, of course, to obtain your permission to receive other materials -- and ultimately to purchase the entire book.)

Here is the Wikipedia definition of Permission Marketing:

Permission marketing is a term used in e-marketing. Marketers will ask permission before they send advertisements to prospective customers. It is used by some Internet marketers, email marketers, and telephone marketers. It requires that people first "opt-in", rather than allowing people to "opt-out" only after the advertisements have been sent.

Marketers feel that this is a more efficient use of their resources because advertisements are only sent to people that are actually interested in the product. This is one technique used by marketers that have a personal marketing orientation. They feel that marketing should be done on a one-to-one basis rather than using broad aggregated concepts like market segment or target market.

In the United Kingdom, opt-in is required for email marketing, under The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. This came into force on the 11 December 2003.

Permission based marketing is believed to have been developed by Seth Godin, a well-established international marketing guru at the turn of the century. A key element of "permission" based marketing is that you are in essence, purchasing someone's time and getting their "attention" which has become increasingly valuable in what may be termed the 90-Second Economy.

Seth Godin offers four free chapters to his book on Permission Marketing here. I'm also participating in (an at present closed) group he started at Triiiibes.com.

Clearly, the highest degree of Permission Marketing occurs when you enjoy great relationships with satisfied clients, who welcome further marketing communications from your organization. This should not be confused with pestering 'follow ups' -- I'm referring to the situations when you treat your clients so well they want to do business with you, and your follow up materials and offers provide real value in themselves, not just as come-ons to purchase more stuff.

Of course Permission Marketing is at the opposite end of the marketing frame of reference from hard-rock cold calling, telemarketing and canvassing, where the prospective client (or not) has no choice but to respond to the marketing inquiry, if only to (in anger) slam the door or phone!

In practice, we find a polarity in marketing between Permission Marketing and the other extreme -- intrusive marketing -- with less room for the other formats, primarily advertising, where you hope to attract attention through paid messages and cause people to contact you. In general, I expect you are in the best position if you can rely on Permission Marketing for virtually all of your marketing initiatives, but respect that in some cases you simply don't have enough stuff in the pipeline -- and you need to reach out and pull the business in. Then, the other, intrusive, alternatives, have a valid place in the picture.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The marketing paradox: The less you 'try', the more you succeed

If there is an irony in marketing, it is this: The greatest results seem to come from the least effort. You pick up your phone, and a former client calls you and invites you to bid on a job -- or even better, you are told a competitor is bidding, and the client really wants you, so could you come in with a proposal of your own, with the expectation that you will win. (In the AEC world, this is called "wired" proposals -- with qualitative as well as quantitative measures, fairness is often in the eyes of the beholder -- and the business that wins (and thinks things are fair) usually has an inside track from the beginning.)

Clearly, you have good reason to feel good about the progress of your business when this sort of thing happens in less-than-buoyant economies. I'm sure it is happening for some of this blog's readers -- others, however, are in a more difficult situation: Their flow of repeat and referral business seems to be drying up; as low-cost competitors and aggressive marketers fight for the smaller pieces of the pie that remain available. "What should we do," they ask, sometimes floundering, sometimes reaching desperately for lead services, or faulty and ill-planned advertising campaigns.

I continue to believe the best approach in marketing, always, is to give value -- to current, former, and potential future clients. In the new environment of Permission Marketing, you need to create resources and services to win and sustain your clients' good-will. But if you have to put food on your table to survive, while you build your package of services and gifts to your marketing community, you may have to get down and dirty -- calling in favours, asking old clients for some special help and, in some cases, engaging in hard-to-do cold calling and canvassing. (In the next few months, I expect to study canvassing closely with canvassing consultant Joseph Needham to gain a better understanding of how to effectively implement this methodology.)

What can you give to your clients that creates value and memories? A simple gift basket on the completion of the work might work wonders (and a hand-written Thank You card is always helpful.) Straightforward and simple to implement do-it-yourself maintenance tips may be worthy; (coupled with marketing where appropriate for maintenance contracts.) Informative, insightful ideas, maybe some humour, maybe contributions to local homeowners associations or business improvement groups; maybe support of relevant trade associations within your commercial marketing community. And of course you can consider the blog and e-letter.

Of course, getting the basics right: Courtesy, respect, and truly competent work will go much further than fancy marketing campaigns. You really win if you connect with centres of influence, community leaders, and others who carry weight beyond their obvious status. But you'll connect with these leaders best if you treat everyone you do business with the same fairness, respect and dignity.

Then, if all goes well, the fun begins. Your phone rings, or your email pings. The caller or emailer is ready to place a huge order, sign on for a major project, or invite you to bid on a job (telling you that you will win it.) It seems just a little too easy and simple -- but of course it isn't -- you've paved the way and prepared yourself for the opportunity. You've found the magic marketing formula.

Instant gratification (maybe)


Steve Flashman's book "Marketing for Construction" is launching Sept. 5. I'm skeptical of orchestrated marketing messages, but agree 100 per cent with the principals he is advocating in his website's "about" box. So maybe this e-book (and other resources) may represent good value.

I sometimes enjoy reading the marketing messages for contractor resources that arrive in my e-box. With well-written copy, they tease, entice, and look, well, like most of the other direct response Internet marketing pieces I've seen before, over and over. They are following the formula for online marketing, they think.

These techniques undoubtedly work, but I wonder how well, really, in the long run. Many times, the material is all tease and no substance -- and you just feel the "you must order this" is around the corner, before you receive any useful information.

But there are exceptions, and these may represent the best in direct marketing techniques, giving ou resources you may wish to emulate for your own business.

Here's an example from Steve Flashman, in the U.K., who started off with a sequential auto generated brief marketing course. The content, I found to be useful and relevant but quite basic. Maybe I "know" too much. So my initial reaction on reading this email which arrived yesterday, was, "oh no, here is the selling message, time to delete."
Dear Mark,

It's really hard to come by good Marketing Consultants that specialise in construction.

You have to be able to get your hands dirty - get on the phone, talk to people, build relationships, know your target market, understand lead generation, know how to get through to the "decision makers"...

You may say,"I'm not worried about the current economic downturn because my business is not affected." But you surely believe in discovering new tried and tested ways to grow your business from a specialist marketer with experience in the
industry, don't you?

You don't need to spend mega-bucks marketing your business - but if you do nothing, sooner or later you'll be walking down a dead end street.

I'd really encourage you to take a look at my 50,000 word eBook, Marketing For Construction. It could save you a truck load of money!

Launch date: September 5th 2008

Best regards

Steve Flashman
Hmm, enticing, perhaps, but what is the catch? Who is Steve Flashman? And why should anyone rush to give him money?

Well, my original skepticism is modified by these words on his website in the "About Us" box:

On The Box Marketing was launched in 2008 in response to growing demands for a no nonsense approach to marketing, particularly in the construction industry. We believe that the most successful marketing is built on successful relationships, developing networks and establishing partnerships, joint ventures and framework agreements that bring mutual benefit to all parties involved. Gone are the days when slick marketing "speak" won the contract! We have built our marketing expertise around this basic principle and can show you how to build effective relationships that will open new opportunities and lucrative business deals that will bring growth, integrity and kudos to your business development.

Now that is a selling message that comes close to my heart. So maybe Steve is for real. I'll keep my mind open. And I'm sure he won't mind the link and reference to his website here (though if he does, I'll remove it -- copyright recognition is important around here.)

P.S. I'm also setting a permalink for his Marketing for Construction blog -- not many entries, but useful content, nonetheless, and of course obviously relevant to the theme here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Freedom 55, maybe

This image is from a posting at the SMPS Long Island Chapter promoting Online Onslaught: Social Media and Blogging for the A/E/C Industry on Sept. 17. Ed Hannan of PSMJ Resources Inc. is a panelist. I was invited too, but regretfully couldn't participate. Liz O'Rourke Kupcha at this chapter is one of the pioneers of Facebook.com within SMPS.

A Canadian insurance company advertises its Freedom 55 plan. The idea is, if you sign up with this program, you could retire at age 55 and sail off in the sunset of your dreams.
I'm 55 now, and am not sailing off anywhere. But Ed Hannan at PSMJ Resources Inc., in a blog entry today, reminded me of my age with this impressively valid posting:

..... Let's assume you are a 55-year-old male CEO of a 200-person architecture firm. Now, if you want to market your clients the way your firm marketed itself when you were named CEO at 45, I've got a big bucket of cold water waiting to hit you in the face with a reality check. You can't do it.
He's right. And since you are reading this blog, you know I'm not . . . living in the past. Demographic indicators suggest that many baby boomers (my generation) will need to continue to work well past age 55, or 65 for that matter. And younger people, just arriving in the workplace, will find incredible opportunities as some of my generation actually, truly, want, "Freedom 55."

(Retirement, to me, is a dumb concept. I'll work until I'm 85 if I can -- it is the best way to ensure health in the senior years. As for financial independence, I suppose I have it now, but this will be confirmed within the next decade.)

So, what should we say about the 55 year olds who are trapped sometime in the past, say a decade or two behind? I encounter them quite frequently when they respond to our postings seeking salary-guaranteed associate publishers/sales representatives. We still earn most of our money from the print media, and they think they have the experience and background for the job. (These older candidates often lack good references and recent successful sales experience. I weed them out.) This is not age discrimination, if someone 55 or 65 is really good -- and Bob Kruhm in North Carolina is certainly older than me -- they are welcome to work in this organization. But they had better 'get it' and connect with the values, principals, and marketing methodologies of a much younger generation. (So I am really happy that Bob, on his own initiative, started a blog for the North Carolina construction industry.)

My primary business consultant, Bill Caswell, is also (I think) older than me. Those of us whose chronological age combines with a youthful enjoyment of life and willingness to adapt and introduce new technologies and business models have the best of both worlds -- we have some wisdom and experience, but we are comfortable with blogging, Facebook, and e-letters. Not surprisingly, we also get along quite well with younger people.

And these new-stage marketing models, indeed, work. Today, Chase in St. Catharines sent in close to $13,000 in insertion orders for a project we can, at source, trace to this blog. And I think we found someone who will do very well as a U.S.-based publisher, who is certainly much younger than I am.

The point of this posting is simple: If you discriminate or deny opportunity based on age, you are dumb (and violating human rights and anti-discrimination laws). But if you are 'old' and insist on "acting your age" you will find, indeed, time has passed you by. We are having fun. And I'm happy that I can define Freedom 55 as not meaning retirement.

Builder, consumer (or both) markets

The Fireplace Center and Patio Shop and Advanced Prefabs Ltd. in Ottawa successfully serves both the retail and builder markets. Although the retail and builder-oriented businesses operate under the same roof, the long-established business distinguishes its marketing and procedures for the different markets. Note how the businesses have separate websites.

If you are a sub trade or supplier, should you focus on the direct-to-consumer or builder/trade supply markets, or both? The question isn't that easy to answer because business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets (and marketing) have some fundamental differences, which will affect your choices. Crossing the 'divide' and working both markets creates both opportunities (diversification and greater income security) and risks (you may find yourself overstretched in unfamiliar territory). Theoretically, you can leverage your connections, supply chains and labour force to work both markets simultaneously -- and many large, successful and well-established sub trades and suppliers do just that. But they virtually all have one thing in common: Separate marketing/sales divisions and clearly defined policies establishing the rules of the game for both markets. (Life always is more complex than that, especially if you are a supplier serving, say renovators who may be large organizations or small businesses; in this case, your policies may straddle both sides.)

From the perspective of a business primarily serving the trades or commercial markets, consumer markets offer these advantages:

Pricing power (you can charge more); larger potential client base (less dependence on a single or small number of clients), closer 'connection' to the end-user-market (useful in working and advising the commercial side.)

The disadvantages: Be prepared to spend much more time and resources on marketing -- you need to reach many more, smaller clients, who will need to be satisfied with our work; you will have fussy, finicky clients who waste your time and make you very little margin; you need to keep retail hours and have staff comfortable and qualified in dealing with the general public; your business clients may in some cases see you as a 'competitor' and thus you may adversely affect your commercial accounts.

From the perspective of a business primarily serving the retail market, the trade or builder market offers these advantages:

Volume -- you'll sell a lot more, which may be helpful if you have excess capacity; also you will get lower prices from your suppliers, which may increase your margins on the retail side; reputation and referral options for consumer markets (ie show homes, upgrade sales etc); the ability to acquire maintenance and ongoing contracts at source (new home purchaser needs to maintain the furnace you installed).

The risks are real, however:

Cash flow will strain especially if you give any credit to your commercial clients, especially on low margin sales; worse, you may find they fail to pay or delay so much that your own credit is impinged; resource diversion and strain may affect your ability to properly serve retail clients, staffing will be a problem if you have to add new staff/crews for the high volume peaks and valleys.

See this contractortalk.com thread about a retail-oriented contractor thinking about to meet a builder; and read the observations of others who have been there.

If you want to cross between the retail and business-to-business markets, proceed with caution.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Don't stop believing

The IMG Creed

Because the customer has a need, we have a job to do.
Because the customer has a choice, we must be the better choice.
Beacuse the customer has sensibilities, we must be considerate.
Because the customer has urgency, we must be quick.
Because the customer is unique, we must be flexible.
Because the customer has high expectations, we must excel.
Because the customer has influence, we have the hope of more customers.
Because of the customer, we exist.

I really enjoy this motto from the website of Integrity Marketing Group (Roy Zeh). I don't know him or his business, but sense IMG observes the values outlined in this blog entry.

Craig Galati, in his The Heart of Business blog, presents an impressive argument of the essential value of faith in marketing. He writes:
Who would hire someone or buy something from someone who doesn’t believe in himself? One of the most important aspects of developing new business is confidence. You must know and truly believe in the value you are providing to your clients.
Galati's observations ring true -- and, at least informally, are validated by the experiences of others who have lived through good and hard times, yet somehow kept their businesses intact. Deep down, you find in longer-term success, resilience coupled with talent and what seems to be a magical additional ingredient. Dumb people might call it 'luck' but individuals of different religious faiths would link it to the spiritual realm.

I'm certainly not describing here the blind and mindless arguments from The Secret (The Law of Attraction) and other similar sources which advocate seemingly blind (and dumb) faith. And I've seen (and fought against) some con-artists who know how to give false hopes and success visions to sometimes desperate and often unsophisticated suckers. You know you are dealing with these charlatans when they fail to make clear that you should not enter the business journey without real talent in your field, and real perseverance -- the 'luck' or spiritual edge only is valid if the other two ingredients are there.

But you can see the positive side of business success connecting with larger values when you review yesterday's Contractortalk.com thread about the renovator who has battled the cost of his child's illness, and economic setbacks, and is now receiving practical advice and support (which, by the way, is useful for anyone facing inordinately hard times). And I've shared several times my own two business rebound stories. If you are really good at what you do, and your faith is so strong that you will not give up, no matter how the odds seem stacked against you, just at the moment when you let go of your security ropes, and all seems to be failing, you'll receive the answers you are seeking.

How to start all over? Triumph over Tragedy?

This contractortalk.com thread about personal tragedy and the struggle to rebuild is both disturbing and rewarding. Here is the original posting:

Hi,

Not sure I should post this, but here I go....

Over a year 1/2 ago, my 2 year old daughter was diagnosed with a terminal bone marrow disease. Her chance of survival was less than 30% past 3 months without a donor (which she does not have) and yet, to make a long story short, after many transfusions, treatments, etc etc, she is still here with us. This is what matters most.

Financially and professionally, this challenge has devastated us. My wife was forced to quit work, we had another child in hopes that he/she would be a donor match (older son is not, younger one not it either). My business used to do very well, we had a nice house, cars, traveled enough...regular comfortable people with enough money in the bank to see the hard times through....or so we thought....

Needless to say, we lost it all. We have just moved into another home about 2 hours away from where we lived 10 years (which we will probably lose soon), dropped our cars, wasted all money in savings on medical care and expenses while we were in the hospital with our child for 6 months....Perfect credit went to garbage and on top of that...the housing/real estate/construction business collapsed.

Now I commute to work and are forced to stay in the area I work, so I barely see my family (only in the weekends) and of course this is killing me. I dont know what to do, I've never had to advertise, never had problems finding work as I had plenty of referrals, but I am forced to do something now. I've never really had to worry about losing my home to non-payment or having my light turned off and not providing for my family...this is all new to me and yet I'm trying to rise from this situation and move on.

Here's my question to you all....WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO START OVER, in a new area with a limited budget? I have been reading posts on advertising for days now on this site, and am still confused. What gives the best immediate return? At this point, money in advertising spent will be money taken away from bills that need to get paid....so I would like to know which risk is best to take. I don't have much, maybe, maybe, maybe I can take $700 and put it to work somehow. Maybe a couple of hundred a month going forward....

Sorry for the long, boring email. I'm new here, my worries are my own, but I thought if you understand my immediate situation, you can advise me in a more direct way.

Thank you so much!
Sevi
The responses are challenging, inspiring and in many cases, extremely practical. If you really need help from the community, it is usually wise to ask for it. I admire Sevi's courage and determination to forge ahead for the health of his child, and family.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Destroying your brand -- Creating opportunities for your competitors

This image from Apple's advertising campaign rings true to me -- and my computer frustrations -- along with references from friends and contractors -- have pushed me over the edge. I'm buying an Apple laptop today. See this interesting Beyond B1nary blog posting: "Are Apple Ads Hurting Microsoft's Brand?"

I've spent many hours this weekend fighting hardware and software problems on my recently purchased HP Pavilion laptop. Despite the problems, I'm not particularly mad at Hewlett-Packard. Their online technical support has been responsive, and they are honoring their warranty.

My thoughts are not so warm towards Microsoft and Vista. Combined with my own experience, colleagues and friends have complained about the bloated crash-oriented and painful maintenance issues here. Having gone through one harrowing and frustrating experience just trying to hook up the laptop via wireless to the printer network at home and office, I'm simply not prepared to endure the same ordeal once my laptop is returned from warranty repairs.

So, tomorrow, I'm going to the store and buying an Apple. I'll pay a premium for the computer and its operating system. When my HP is returned from warranty, I'll use some free time to make the computer functional again, as a back-up for occasional use. And I'll probably buy the Microsoft Office package for the Mac, simply to avoid the stress of worrying about new processes and procedures. But I certainly won't rush to buy shares of Microsoft, and I am in no rush to 'enjoy' listening to new advertising campaign to build their brand. Apple has it right -- showing clearly the bloated and irritating Vista system for what it is. (Expletives deleted.)

(HP suffers collateral damage, of course, as well, but their losses are mitigated somewhat by the fact they were accessible and responded effectively to my frustrations.)

Why is this important to your construction business? Consider situations where you feel a need to get up and leave -- to break a long-established relationship. These are special competitive opportunities. Sometimes the failing internal dynamics and sloppy business practices of your competition cause their best and most loyal employees to want to leave. More often (and less risky to you), sometimes your best employees arrive at your doorstep because a non-competing business 'blows it' and that businesses' employees are now actively looking for work. (I always think it risky to directly hire people from your direct competitors; outside of potential litigation risks from non-compete employment contracts, they may have absorbed too much of your competitor's culture and values, and thus could poison your own operation.)

Consider your potential clients -- loyal, long-term customers suddenly ready to embrace change. If you are ready, you will be able to do more than put your foot in the door; you can walk right in. (I will, today, when I hand my Amex card and buy the Apple product and its operating system.)

How do you destroy your brand (and business)? Lose touch with your clients; produce inferior quality, act high-and-mighty, be unresponsive, and cause them hardship and inconvenience. (Thanks, Microsoft!)

How do you repair your brand? Forget the advertising campaign, lip-service to cliches, and your own propagandits who tell you how the competitors are really missing the boat. Get out there and fix the problems. You can restore your good name and brand, and rebuild your business.

I know, first hand. We're doing that right now with our own business (just in time!)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The time to advertise

Our ongoing poll shows that most construction businesses find their new business through repeat clients and word-of-mouth. Advertising is right near the bottom at eight per cent. So where, and how, does it make sense to advertise for new business?
First I should distinguish that not all advertising is for new business -- in fact, most of the advertising our own company sells (and we earn almost all of our direct revenue from advertising sales) is to support/maintain and enhance repeat client relationships. This form of advertising correlates more with client service and brand maintenance than directly finding new business. It is valid and worthwhile, but the subject of other postings.
The advertising I'm referring to here is the type that actually causes your phone to ring or email to ping, and someone to say: "I'm interested."
Done right, this type of advertising is the most satisfying lead and business development system possible because you can directly measure the results, compared to the cost, an in some cases adapt and adjust the flow of advertising to your market conditions -- that is, you can decrease or increase it depending on your need for leads.
Usually, but not always, this type of advertising is reflected in seemingly small but repeated impressions -- you see the same Google Adwords listing, or the small print ad, or the routine direct mail piece. And until the Internet changed buying habits and behaviours, the Yellow Pages had lots of this type of advertising. I suppose it still does, and these directories work in some categories, but I expect a lot of money is being wasted from habit and inertia more than true effectiveness here.)
In my life, outside of selling things like cars, I've only had one instance where I succeeded with advertising in this model, and it is a revealing example of the relative value and utility of conventional advertising.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. government announced its first "non preference Immigrant visa lottery". At the time of the original lottery, the government set up some rather odd rules -- you could enter as many times as you wished, but you could only enter by sending an (unsigned) letter to a particular Washington, D.C. post office box. I deduced that I could take orders for these applications and bring them, in bulk, to Washington, for a modest fee per application.
But how could I get the word out? I decided to place a small ad in one publication. The phone rang, a couple of times, but nowhere near enough to justify the project. Then I assessed the results more carefully. Comparing the cost of advertising, the number of responses per ad, and the total potential, I decided I could make some money by advertising in several publications simultaneously. The phone would ring enough, I calculated, to justify the project.
Well, it did, but most of our business came only indirectly from the advertising. News reporters, seeing the ads, also called -- thinking I was running some kind of scam. However, when they checked the story out, they discovered indeed that the idea and concept were legitimate, so publicized the good news that you could truly increase your chances of winning a coveted "Green Card" by calling my little business. At the end, just before I left to Washington with my partner, things were going crazy. (We made some money in the two week project, and several of our clients actually obtained visas -- I received one myself, though I didn't exercise it!)
How can you achieve this type of effective advertising. Here are some suggestions.

  • Look to similar businesses to yours (non competing) in other cities with similar demographics. Call them. And copy.
  • Experiment gently with Google Adwords. Depending on your category and geographic targeting, this can be extremely effective and inexpensive advertising.
  • Be wary of anyone who calls you to sell advertising, cold, unreferred. And look at the nature of the referral if there is one.
Remember, most businesses don't find most of their new business through advertising. Allocate your time, resources and energy to conventional advertising in line with this important consideration.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Marketing generosity -- some further thoughts

Many contractors and suppliers participate in Habitat for Humanity initiatives (The image here is from the National Capital Region (Ottawa area) Habitat for Humanity site, but you will probably find a Habitat for Humanity branch in your region.) Note that the most meaningful contribution you can provide here will be if you put your marketing/promotional visions aside and focus on the real needs of the local Habitat chapter. Strategic generosity, with marketing underlying the initiative, is far more effective when you create or initiate a sponsorship or support an organization within your market area that isn't expecting your contribution. But genuine generosity without worrying about marketing pay-back (the best approach for larger organizations like Habitat) can serve your business well if you just do what is right for your community.


Here is my Publisher's Viewpoint for the September issue of Ontario Construction Report.

By Mark Buckshon
Publisher, Ontario Construction Report

Perhaps the most important lesson in business I’ve learned in the past few years is that, when it comes to marketing, it is not what you take, but what you give, that counts the most.

Generosity – or if you want to be more direct about it – focused or strategic generosity – is perhaps the most effective and under-appreciated marketing resource; excluding the hopefully obvious principal that you must always complete your actual work to the highest quality.

By generosity, I don’t mean the overworked (and potentially damaging) cliches about ‘free estimates’ or making a big deal about a small contribution for some community charity. I’m referring to a form of generosity more subtle yet at times more ‘in your face’ than the conventional model. The highest and most successful application of this principal is pro-actively creating a positive image for yourself within your target market/community.
As an example, I know of an insurance broker who offered to sponsor the General Contractors Association of Ottawa Ethics Award. Out of respect for insurance broker’s competitors, I won’t name the business here – but I’m sure that the GCAO members – the market the broker is targeting – know who the broker is!

Last night, I saw another example: A U.S. company that sells marketing materials teamed up with a well-known marketing guru, to offer a free Webinar on construction marketing. Undoubtedly, the presenter offered solid and useful advice. Of course, viewers also knew who offered the advice, and which website/phone number to visit after the program.

So how can you implement your generosity program? Think about your ideal clients; which organizations, events, and hobbies reflect their passion, and then find ways to visibly support, contribute and be a part of these passions. You’ll of course want the generosity to be consistent yet creative. This takes some work and effort, but will contribute to your success in business.

* * *
Progress is continuing in the chartering of Canada’s first chapter of the Society for Professional Marketing Services (SMPS). I recently attended the U.S. national SMPS conference in Denver, Colorado. The organization – dedicated to marketing issues for the architectural, engineering and construction industries – has more than 7,000 members, with chapters in most major U.S. cities. If your responsibilities relate to marketing and you are reading this article, you should consider joining the Ontario chapter when it is established. You can visit the SMPS website at http://www.smps.org/ and if you would like to be ‘connected’ to the Ontario chapter organizers, please feel free to email me at Buckshon@cnrgp.com

Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies. He publishes a daily blog at http://www.constructionmarketingideas.blogspot.com, and can be reached at 888-432-3555 ext 224.

The communications balance

Michael Stone in a recent blog posting says "Deal with issues face to face" when you encounter a dissatisfied or hostile client. Thursday night, one of our suppliers sent me what seemed to be a highly insensitive and irrational email -- and copied it to all my employees. We quickly sorted out the problems by phone yesterday.
So when should we use email, and when should we get on the phone, or meet face-to-face? These are actually vitally important marketing questions, but I'll hold my pen (or more accurately, keyboard) on this until a special "synchoblog" initiated by Ford Harding, with Brian Carroll and Tom Kane, scheduled for September 22. You'll see some advance details next week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Should you put your phone number on company clothing?

This contractortalk.com thread, Phone Number or Not, starts out with a seemingly simple question:

Hi, will be getting some polo t-shirts printed with my name on them, but the sales guy reckons I should not put the phone number on them, he says they look more professional without it.I would still like to put it on. Will have shirts for working day to day and some others for going to price jobs.

All comments appreciated on phone number or not.

The responses are interesting, with a majority agreeing: The phone number doesn't belong here.

Bathroom renovator Mike Finley (Rocky Mountain Bathrooms) of Littleton CO writes:

Familiar is referring to branding. Seeing your company name on a shirt is branding.

The phone number is about information used to contact you. The two are completely unrelated.

Number on a truck makes sense because it's pretty hard for somebody to catch up to you, flag you down and have you give them your number.

Number on a shirt? If somebody is close enough to see your logo on your shirt they are close enough to start a conversation.

Possibility and probability are completely different but sometimes we forget that. There is a possibility of winning the lottery, the probability is astronomically low. There is a possibility of somebody calling you solely based on you phone number on a shirt, the probability is astronomically low.

Marketing is not about directing your efforts at the exceptions, not at the one in a million returns. If somebody wants to put their phone number on their company shirt, go for it. You're not harming anyone, but you certainly are wasting your time if you think you are doing it to bring in business.

Company shirts' #1 purpose is to display a professional, unified (as in uniform) appearance. Secondary is to market your company by coincidence being in a potential prospects face who is in the market for services your company provides, however as mentioned if they are close enough to read your shirt they are close enough to start a conversation. Believing that prospect is going to whip out a note pad and shyly write down your phone number and spirit it home till he gets up the courage to call you is like believing the lottery is a valid retirement program.

But like I said you aren't hurting anybody by putting your phone number on your shirt. You aren't doing anything productive either. The pros and cons are like splitting hairs.

I like this response. And here is another one, a little off topic, but insightful nonetheless, from Concretemasonry in Minnesota:

Give aways make the person receiving happy, but does not really sell anything.

I had ordered 1,500 traditional caps and my boss asked what they would look like. He said cancel the order and take off the company name and logo, make them white and add "Good Guy" to them instead. Follows the old saying "the Good Guys Always Wear White Hats". I did as suggested and it was the best thing we could do. Everyone in the local industry wanted them and people buying elsewhere were looking for our salesmen. We had to re-order several times.

Only the important people (contractor/buyer customers) knew where they came from. We even got requests from architects and other groups organizing golf or fishing events. There are also ways to handle the guys who are a year late in copying.

This concept does not apply if you are trying to create a company image, unless you require your employees to wear a clean one every day.

The best give-away advertising does not need a name of it if the person getting it remembers where it came from.


I think the most useful lesson here is that you will find real advantages in making use of company apparel and clothing give-aways. The advantage of an informal, but comfortable, "company uniform" (but not one so uniform that individuality is stifled and employees feel like they are corporate cogs) cannot be understated, when it comes to building and managing your business image and brand. The distinctions and subtleties of what you actually say on these clothing items is of course the topic of this thread, and here I agree with Finlay that, for clothing items, the number really isn't essential but it is a detail -- and concretemasonry suggests how, by making the clothing item generic, you can achieve a form of viral marketing within your community (yes, people who see the cap here don't know where it comes from, but the people who count indeed know.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The North Carolina Roofer's solution

Bob Kruhm reports in his North Carolina Construction News blog a great story of how a Charlotte, NC roofer adapted and refocused his business to overcome the sudden recessionary downturn in his business. The solution for Edward “Ned” Arthur's H & S Roofing, is networking and effective publicity, including this story in the Charlotte Observer.

Participating in community and trade organizations, and reaching out for positive publicity, are highly effective marketing methodologies -- and they won't break your bank account. It helps, of course, if you have a healthy business to start with; one founded on solid service and great client relationships.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Public Private Partnerships -- The new frontier (2)

Today, as I finished work on The SMPS Marketer article about Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects, I appreciated more than ever the magic of effective marketing. Though our business won't earn a cent for the voluntary writing of this story, and there is no immediate business pay-back from the initiative, I know every minute on the project has been worthwhile. I learned about an important topic and most importantly set positive relationships and connections with at least five people/organizations, while helping them and many others find new business in the challenging economy.
Once the story is published, SMPS provides a PDF which I will post on the blog and make available online, though this will be several weeks from now. In the meantime, you may find value in checking out the National Council for Public Private Partnerships based in Arlington, VA.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The real world of AEC marketing -- a success story


(Caption copy from USA Today/AP with input from JMWA Architects) This computer generated image provided by JMWA Architects, shows the lobby from one of the five new immigration facilities scheduled to open in South Florida this summer. Designed by Rodolfo Acevedo, a new U.S. citizen from Argentina, the offices will have big, comfortable waiting areas, indoor playgrounds and Internet cafes, and do away with the current unfriendly or unwelcoming facilities.

In my research for the story about Public Private Partnerships for the SMPS Marketer, Diane Valentini, Director of Marketing and Business Development at JMWA Architects in Boca Raton, FL, communicated with me the story about her company's success in designing under tight schedule five Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS) building projects in South Florida under federal PPP guidelines.

She initially told me she didn't know if her story represented a marketing success because, in many ways, the opportunity almost fell into JMWA's lap. But , to me, this story represents the essence of successful AEC marketing -- you do the work with existing clients so well that they call you for assistance in a crunch, and then, without giving away the store (JMWA received assurances their direct costs would be covered), you pull out the stops in a crunch, and do a great job to win the big opportunity. Here are some further notes from my Marketer article.

JMWA Principal and Project Architect James Williams says the General Services Administration (GSA) posted a Solicitation for Offers for the new buildings, with points awarded for price, location of the site, quality of working relationships between the project proponents, and (most importantly) the actual building design. He said one of his clients, a local developer, had an unused in the declining Florida real estate market. A Washington, DC based developer, knowing about the GSA proposal, saw the site, and encouraged JMWA’s client to submit a proposal.

“We had just two weeks to meet the deadline,” he said. “The developer asked if we would prepare our design proposal at cost, which was reasonable to us . . . we aren’t interested in working with people who expect us to do the design work for free in hopes of winning the job but accepted that we wouldn’t make a profit on the initial design if it failed to go further.”

When Citizenship and Immigration officials saw the design, “they loved it”, so much they encouraged the developer to scout out the other sites in South Florida to build similar buildings. In the end, within an intense and shortened time-frame, JMWA designed five LEED Silver certified buildings; with a time frame from initial design to completion of less than two years.
Note this success required no outbound calling, pushing, irritating sales calls, or for that matter, any selling at all. Just great work, and intelligent, rapid and creative response to client requests and the opportunity.

In Africa

Periodically in this blog I refer to my youthful experiences in Rhodesia turning to Zimbabwe. My 18 months in Bulawayo working as a sub-editor at the Chronicle at age 25-26 unlocked fundamental answers and set my life course. So, when I'm not thinking or being with my family or business, or blogging about Construction Marketing Ideas, I surf the Internet, reading with interest the daily online versions of the Chronicle and (Harare) Herald and occasionally finding other gems that clarify or enhance my perspective of the situation there.
Right now, the country is a mess, with hyperinflation of more than 11 million a year, giving rise to the crazy economics of daily (or more than once daily) price increases, along with starvation, brutality, and political violence. In a 'lapse' for an autocratic government, Robert Mugabe's governing ZANU-PF allowed somewhat free elections in March. This gave them a surprise: Two opposition parties, the largest, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won a majority in Parliament. (A breakaway MDC won a few seats, enough to deny either Tsvangari's party or Mugabe's a majority). Under the Zimbabwean constitution, a run-off election in June occurred, but this could hardly be seen a sfree or fair; with extreme violence, detentions, and other tricks so severe that Tsvangari withdrew at the last minute, giving Mugabe the 'victory'. Negotiations to find a solution led by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa have failed to resolve the conflict; Tsvangari believes he should have executive authority with Mugabe perhaps remaining as a largely ceremonial president; Mugabe wants something of the reverse. And so the impasse continues, as the inflation escalates.
Morgan Tsvangirai.
In the midst of this mess, I discovered a blog by Eddie Cross of Bulawayo. Cross is a white Zimbabwean. As a young adult in the era of Ian Smith, he reports in his blog of a meeting between himself, other young entrepreneurs/business people and Smith in the early 1970s when he warned the then leader of the white regime that things would come to 'bad' if Smith didn't gracefully hand over power to the blacks. Most of the white population then thought Rhodesia was invincible; they had defied international sanctions for a decade and built a prosperous if 'outlaw' nation.
Cross still lives in Bulawayo, is a successful businessperson, and has significant relationships with MDC. So I wrote him an email last week. Here is the exchange.

I’ve enjoyed reading your observations and insights – a refreshing level of intelligence and commitment for a better future in Zimbabwe.

In late 1978, at age 25, I ‘faked’ my way through Rhodesian immigration and found employment in Jan 79 on the sub editor’s desk at the Bulawayo Chronicle. (Journalist friends told me if I went in as a journalist, I would be put on the next plane out – so I entered as a student, then applied for work at the Chronicle, and when offered the job, told the immigration officials they had hired me as a trainee: Voila, an immigration/work permit stamped “journalist”.)

The 18 months in Zimbabwe (I left shortly after Mugabe took office in April 80)
shaped my life. The young white people I hung around with of course cited the standard clich├ęs, but your observations about your meeting with Ian Smith in 73show that not everyone had such narrow and unthinking perspectives.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to revisit Zimbabwe in the next two or three years with my (to be) teenage son and wife; to a prosperous and thriving country. It appears from what I read here that you will be making a major contribution to that process.\

Cross responded a few days later with this brief note:

What a great story Mark - the Chonic is not what it was today! When you come - look me up.

Eddie

I'm afraid there will be additional turmoil, chaos, hardship and pain in Zimbabwe before the current mess is resolved, but think indeed the story will come to a positive conclusion within two or three years.
Does this posting have anything to do with Construction Marketing. Only in a limited (but important way) if you are not interested in building in Zimbabwe, probably unlikely to most readers here. The importance is simply this: when we enter into business, and participate in community activities, when we sell or develop our products, services, specialties and the like, we are dealing, always, with individuals, people with their own stories, experiences and dreams. In my case, some of my heart and soul remain under the jacaranda trees of Bulawayo. Do you know your own place; or that of your current or potential clients?

The advantages of sharing

Chase, in his recent blog entry, describes how he connected at the Niagara Construction Association Golf Tournament.

Sometimes the universe lines up and a whole bunch of good intentions or kind gestures get noticed. Events or ideas you sent in motion suddenly collide in the best type of situation where you get to showcase yourself and the company you work for. . . Sometimes the best way to sell yourself or service is by not doing any sales at all. I like my job!
Absolutely -- if there is any lesson I've learned in the past three years, it is that you achieve the highest results by forgoing selfishness and contributing and sharing from the best of your heart. Of course, it helps if you contribute in co-operation and with visibility of your current and potential clients; but the contributions must be sincere and without expectation of reward/recognition.

Increasingly, I'm encouraging our employees to spend at least a quarter of their time contributing to the community; and we allocate marketing/advertising resources for these initiatives.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Public Private Partnerships -- The new frontier

The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships holds events often in co-operation with public agencies to expand the scope and awareness of PPP opportunities.

This morning, I will be writing a comprehensive article for The SMPS Marketer about the marketing challenges in winning participation in Public-Private Partnerships. PPPs offer AEC businesses some exciting opportunities -- and truly significant challenges -- as they change the dynamics of how you achieve and win work. Notably, I've learned, in U.S. states where PPPs are actively encouraged, contractors, developers, professional consultants, and financiers can essentially design their own projects and, if they are approved by the relevant public authorities, create their own opportunities.

The obvious advantage of this process is that the marketing process becomes proactive rather than reactive -- instead of hoping for a project to materialize, and then (like lemmings) rushing to bid the work and hoping you are the 'lucky' low bidder, you can actually go about creating value and business for your business.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that you can risk significant resources and time in bid preparation and project development -- perhaps $25,000 or more per project -- before finding that you aren't going to get anywhere. And the rules of the game for PPP vary from encouraging the process (in Virginia) to virtually banning it (in Arkansas).

Richard Norment, Executive Director of the National Council of Public Private Partnerships told me yesterday that PPPs have been around for eons, but the recent explosion in interest relates to the fact that, in some markets and states, accessibility and opportunity for PPP initiatives have increased at the same time as the other model for local/regional public project financing --tax exempt bonds -- has become more difficult. I've talked as well with several SMPS members who have discovered the opportunities and challenges of PPP initiatives -- these will be reported in the upcoming article.

Norment told me there is no simple, one size fits all model for PPP participation, and no centralized database or resource service outlining where and how to access PPP information. He suggested if you are interested in PPP opportunities, you should check with your local governing authorities. The consensus is, even where unsolicited PPPs are possible and even encouraged, it is helpful to have your ear to the ground and healthy relationships with local governing officials, as they can disapprove your proposal or, in many cases, post it publicly and you will find a competitor 'steals' your initiative -- one which had the good relationships with the local authorities in the first place.

Blogging for business -- a case study


The top image is a royalty free image from istockphotos.com (I am certainly not messing around with copyright for this blog entry.) Left is Keith Bloemendaal of Raleigh Fence Contractors LLC (from his linkedin.com profile) and right is Ken Plain at The Raleigh Fence Company (from his website). The Raleigh Fence Company appears to have top billing in search engine rankings for the Research Triangle in North Carolina, although Keith is maintaining/observing best practices regarding blogging -- and earns a permalink here as a result.

Oh, for the virtues of local competition -- it brings out the best of everyone and advances the state of the art, whether it be fence contracting, or blogging!

Yesterday, our North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm (if you are in NC you will want to read his own blog) referred me to Keith Bloemendaalof Raleigh Fence Contractors LLC for his excellent fencing blog, RFC Blog. I like what I see here -- and suggested I meet Keith during a planned visit to Raleigh in early September. Last night, Keith invited me to join his linkedin.com network (impressive) and I noticed this worthy posting on contractortalk.com:

I have found Wordpress to be awesome! Had my site professionally designed, but I manage it myself. To me, blogging is what separates me from my competition and of course the built in SEO is what originally attracted me to it to begin with. The downside, is it can be a huge time hogger! It has been the deciding factor for many of my customers recently, as it establishes your "expertise" in your field.
If you look at his blog, you will notice how Keith combines opinion, factual discourse, and relevant keyword usage to help his business status on the search engines. He also draws relevant traffic and links through referencing, observations and postings through forums, relevant social networking sites, and A-list experts. All of this serves to attract more traffic and visibility.

Fair enough. I decided as part of the final checking before posting this blog to conduct a Google keyword search for variations relevant to "Raleigh Fencing", and discovered that top spot for local fencing on the search engine (at least when searched from Ottawa, Canada) belongs to The Raleigh Fence Company, which has its own blog, with this most recent interesting posting dated August 11, 2008.

I was referred to you by a friend from work. When I was searching through the Internet for your company, I came upon a myriad of fence companies. Several of which seemed to be knock offs of your web site. I even found one who uses Raleigh fence company more often then you do. I guess they must be envious of you, because their site has many similar things on it. . . . ( the posting goes on to observe things about deposits, which is beyond this blog's scope.)

Ken Plain responds in a comment:

Thanks for your letter. I will be happy to answer your questions. First and foremost, yes there are a couple of companies in the Raleigh area who have decided to blur the lines as much as they legally can to confuse potential customers. When I began my company web site I purchased the domain www.raleighfences.com. Within a couple of months a competitor went out and purchased raleigh-fences.com. A coincidence? I think not, particularly when a month or so later he purchased the domain raleigh-fence-company.com. Prior to this he had not one time mentioned the words Raleigh Fence Company or Raleigh Fences on his web site he has had for over two years prior to my site coming online. I can easily understand how someone could get confused. They even added a personal picture on their front page within a few days of when I did.
Intriguing. What can we read into this stuff? I note that the Raleigh Fence Company Blog, while well established, hasn't been maintained or updated with any frequency -- thus, it cannot (as yet) be included in my bloglinks under the criteria I use. However, Keith Bloemendaal's Raleigh Fence Contractors LLC blog is updated on a frequent and regular schedule, provides independent and relevant information, and so is worthy of a permalink. (Raleigh Fence Company can earn the same treatment if I see consistent updating for several weeks -- this will require more than one posting every few months.)

However, I also sense that Keith is playing a catch up game here -- in a technologically savvy market (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill is known as the "Research Triangle" for good reason!) --and this process is resulting in the use of Search Engine Optimization and blogging approaches more sophisticated than found in many other areas of the U.S. or Canada. So, if you are a local contractor outside of this region, you might want to look at these websites and blogs to determine your own best practices; and adapt their approaches to your own business model. You'll probably achieve impressive market results, rapidly.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I obtained this image from istockphoto.com; a great resource for inexpensive royalty-free (but copyright valid) graphics.


This intriguing and important blog posting by Bruce Lynch at the PSMJ Resources Blog, Solid Hiring Advice in Any Industry, raises some important yet complex questions. I'll stretch copyright here and repeat the post for clarity:

For the past 20 years, my wife has worked for a firm that provides financial software products to the structured finance industry. It’s a great story – a couple of MIT guys working out of modest digs in 1985 are in 2008 the undisputed leaders in the cashflow modeling industry – managing a firm of over 100 people on three continents.

So what’s their secret? I’ll let a long-time employee tell it:

When we hire people, we try to bring in candidates that have some connection to the company – a friend, former co-worker, colleague in a client firm, etc. – and see if they are what we are looking for. A few years ago, I had a friend-of-a-friend who was an assistant to a fixed income money manager before he was laid off so I had him come in for an interview. Our hiring manager told me that he totally bombed on the problem solving questions so they didn't bring him back for a second round. The candidate called me a couple weeks later for a postmortem but was completely baffled about why the fact that he couldn't answer a question about how to efficiently weight 9 pennies had anything to do with whether he was a good bond analyst or not. I tried to explain that our philosophy in hiring is that we're looking for good generic problem solvers and finance knowledge coming in the door isn't important. I knew that he still didn't get it when we hung up and the next couple times I talked to our mutual friend, she pressed me on it and couldn't get her to understand that one of the keys to our long-term success over the years has been our hiring process. We haven't hired that much dead wood and while we've probably passed on a lot of people who ultimately would have turned into great employees, we've minimized the number of people on board who are useless. She didn't get it and still doesn't.

Makes sense to me, what do you think?

Intriguing, indeed, because this hiring policy seems to have two apparently contradictory elements: You need to know someone in the organization to 'get in' -- but your pass or fail will depend less on your technical knowledge than on your ability to answer a seemingly irrelevant (to the job) question (and I would expect they have more than one of that sort of problem-solving question to get around the problem of interview prepping.

Nevertheless, I can see the approach working well here for businesses with a critical mass and size of employees -- if you have a hundred or so people, the network is large enough that good employees will know others who are potentially suitable; and the base of candidates worthy of consideration is large enough that enough people will present themselves ready to work for the business (knowing it is viable, profitable and a good place to work). And a person working at a healthy organization will generally only recommend people who would seem good at first sight, because you wouldn't want to bring in deadwood or irritating people to work with you just because they are friends or family.

I've spent much of my mental energy in the past couple of years developing and 'tweaking' our own hiring system because effective and successful hiring is, I believe, your most effective marketing resource. With the right people, the business will operate in harmony, and current clients will be served well -- creating the ambiance and spirit that attracts new business and high quality relationships.

We'll certainly invite current employees to suggest people for opportunities and will give referred candidates a plus on the evaluation matrix. For other considerations, we rely on a combination of evaluation tests, the most important being the short-term working assignment, perhaps more accurately described as the working interview. We want to see how well people handle the work -- and the relationships within the organization -- before we rush to hire anyone.

For salespeople, we've relied on salestestonline.com for our preliminary screening. A poor score on this test meant you were 'out' even if other indicators suggested you should be given a chance. Last week, I changed the policy (actually in line with the test organizer's own recommendations) and decided that while the test is important, it should be seen in context of other variables. For example, if a person has an exceptional track record of experience, or specific qualifications relevant to our business, or a highly qualified recommendation from someone within the company, we can proceed to the (paid) working evaluation regardless of the test results. But if the person lacks experience, or we aren't sure of the relevance of the individual's experience, a good score on the test is essential. But we won't hire anyone, no matter how well they score on the test, or how eager they are to work with us, unless they complete the working assignment satisfactorily.

I continue to believe that a systematic, fair, and disciplined hiring policy is essential for any business which wishes to grow to greatness. But we must constantly review, revise, and adapt the policy -- it is a working process, not a static structure.

The good, the bad and the ugly


Chevrolet gave the 'tools' to the public to create web-based viral ad campaigns for their Tahoe SUV. If they were expecting warm and fuzzy conventional commercial messages, they were doomed -- instead, creators used the opportunity to reflect their own values, not quite what GM had hoped!

First, the good. From The Womma Word, a resource I first discovered from the late Sonny Lykos, this list of the "Top 100 Advertising, Media and PR blogs." Alas, Construction Marketing Ideas isn't on the list, but you know about this blog anyways, so it doesn't really need to be there.
Now the bad. The same Womma Word e-letter has stuff that shows you just how bad marketing can really be. Like inviting young, environmentally sensitive Youtube viewers to "make their own commercials" about a gas guzzling and expensive SUV. Duh....
Oh, the ugly. My bad. Not looking around my own business close enough for signs of stress and overwork among our employees. As I traveled to Denver for the SMPS Conference and observed sales reports at our regular meetings, something in my mind didn't catch the (should be obvious) signal that things were getting awfully busy. Why is this ugly? Because there comes a point when hard working and dedicated employees get overloaded -- too busy to seek out assistance but far too stressed for fairness and reasonable workload. And since our hiring process must be thorough, careful and thoughtful, the solution isn't as simple as picking up the phone, hiring a temp, and saying "we're done."
I constantly observe that great marketing involves great relationships between our employees and our clients; here, even though the indicators were right under my nose, I failed to see this in a timely manner. Fortunately, this problem can be fixed, and will be, as I learn from my mistakes.