Three interesting posts on the blogs I monitor closely demonstrate the challenges and opportunities in construction marketing.
In the first, Tim Klabunde answers a question from a fellow SMPS chapter co-ordinator trying to get more people out to local chapter meetings. He says the most effective approaches are building on word of mouth, and "viral marketing". The latter approach worked for the Design and Construction Network, an initiative founded on online sources such as linkedin.com. "I have not yet been able to make it happen for our SMPS lunch programs," he writes. More effective, in this case, is encouraging and enhancing word-of-mouth promotion.
Instead of just sending out blast e-mails about an event (which you should still do) build a group of people that are responsible to invite people during the course of regular conversations. So, if you send an e-mail to a friend that might benefit from attending ask if they are going to be at the program and let them know that you are going to be there.Meanwhile, Michael Stone reported that while attendance overall at the Journal of Light Construction conference held up well despite the recession-induced stress in the housing market, he says he was surprised that few younger contractors attended the event.
JLC Shows have an interesting mix of attendees, with younger business owners (20’s and 30’s), as well as those in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even beyond. This show had a serious lack of business owners in their 20’s and 30’s. I have been a speaker at JLC Live shows for many years now, and this was by far the oldest group of attendees that I have seen.
So the question begs to be asked, “Why?” Let me offer my theories, and I’d like to hear yours.
Many older business owners have been through one or more of the housing downturns that we are now experiencing. They even remember the last really tough market, the late 70’s and early 80’s, with mortgage rates in the teens and twenties. They know from experience that we always come out of these downturns and move on to better things, more business, a brighter future. When things are slow, they know that investing in their education will pay off in the long run.
For many young business owners, it is their first business setback or downturn. They have never experienced a lack of phone calls and business, especially when the market was so easy so recently. Many are pushing the panic button and giving their work away, and are working on the jobs themselves. They associate activity with accomplishment. They don’t have time to visit a trade show, they have too much to do.
Stone, of course, says this is unwise. When times get tough, you need to get out and learn how to run your business more effectively. He's right, to a degree. But when the wolf is at your door, and you don't have experience otherwise (and lack capital), you might find it strange to spend time away from clients and spend money on hotels and attendance fees for a conference.
Finally, look at Mel Lester's posting in his E-Quip blog:
As many of you know, I’ve long maintained that superior client service is the best differentiation strategy in our industry. Last week I stumbled across still more evidence to support my claim. The consulting firm Morrissey Goodale recently published the A/E Industry Customer Service Report Card which summarizes their survey of project owners.Notable in the report is the paucity of high marks for several key service areas. Following are some highlights from the report:Only 16% of clients gave their A/E service providers an A grade for overall satisfaction. A fourth of respondents gave firms they worked with a C. Sixty percent gave their firms a grade of B.The lowest scores were largely related to the direct interaction with the client. Only 14% of firms got an A for communications. Project managers received the highest score only 12% of the time. Project management earned the lowest score of all--7%.
- Nothing beats interaction and communication with your clients and prospects. You can do this at conferences and events (Stone, as a consultant, is right to be at the JLC conference, but if you are building business within your markets, I would advocate you attend conferences where your clients are attending, more than your peers.) You can also connect by email, or supplement emails and phone conversations, depending on the nature of your relationship and situation. (Someone who had communicated with us on Internet forums sent an email to me yesterday, I responded with a phone call, and obtained some valuable business from that conversation.)
- Your biggest marketing "hits" and "wow" success stories have an aspect of unpredictability about them. Tim Klabunde could not have known ahead of time how the Design and Construction Network would catch on, online. I certainly didn't expect that the postings on "Change order boat" would result in more Google searches to this blog other than the obvious Construction Marketing topic.
- However, in assessing the unpredictability of really successful marketing events, you can learn from others' experience and of course ride the wave when it happens. Media publicity, like viral marketing, can achieve dramatic and surprising results, but there are ways to encourage and manage them. While you have to be careful about budgeting for a hit, you certainly can respond effectively and if appropriate stoke the fires.
- Finally, you are most likely to be successful if you apply several complementary approaches at the same time. The Design and Construction Network Happy Hour marketing in part achieved viral status because rarely can online interactions lead to face-to-face communication in short order. Likewise, this blog and other online resources allow me to maintain relationships with current, former, and future clients in an unobtrusive environment -- the key is to make closer, more personal and immediate connections when appropriate. (And of course the blog and reference to other bloggers enhances lateral relationships -- the fellow bloggers have their own networks, influence, and connections, so the circle grows wider even as marketing depth and effectiveness increases.)