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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Craig Galati in his Heart of Business Blog describes a problem he noticed when judging the Society for Marketing Professional Services’ (SMPS) 2008 Marketing Communication Awards."I was one of four people who judged the Firm Brochure category," Galati writes. "There were more than 40 submittals from firms of all sizes and locations."

While the quality of the submittals was high, one of the things that stood out was how similar the brochures were. Some of the submittals had better graphics and copy than others, but the essential messages were identical. The construction firms’ submittals looked similar, the engineering firms’ submittals looked similar and the architectural firms’ submittals looked alike. I imagined that all the firms’ owners dressed the same, talked the same and led in the same manner.
Galati has some fun using a big word -- isomorphous -- to describe this phenomena. It is the opposite of differentiation -- the key element of successful marketing practice: In other words, defining your business in a unique manner to stand out from the crowd.

So why is this happening -- and is it necessarily wrong?

Probably not, if you consider that most AEC professional firms derive 80 per cent or more of their business from existing clients or direct relationships and referrals. In other words, people who are really happy doing business with the company the way it is, and return for more or recommend others to do the same.

But there are always outsiders nipping at the bud, and occasionally, someone scores a home run. For example, a general contractor, active in the environmental movement, sees the trend before everyone else, obtains LEED certification (the first in the area) and committee leadership within the relevant environmental organizations. He achieves truly great recognition as an environmentally sensitive contractor -- and suddenly the universe unfolds and everyone is interested in environmental issues.

He has an undoubted advantage -- but what about everyone else? They can choose to ignore the trend, or adapt/copy it to avoid losing ground. The issue is less finding new clients (or differentiating) than to lose their existing clients because they fail to respond to the trend; the crowd; the new norm.

So, not surprisingly, much of what passes for marketing is actually safe and sound, riskless, and standard -- reflecting the external environment, camouflaging, you might say, the differences.
The challenge is to strategically find and define your differentiation -- and that, of course, is easier said than done.

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