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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Marketing success -- the essense

Steve Yastrow's books are worth reading. You will also find value in his blog at

Great marketing, in my opinion, starts with great employees delivering the product or service that clients are amazed and entertained as they do business with us. Your marketing resonates when, as Steve Yastrow advocates, employees and clients are in harmony, with each other and the larger community. When this connection is complete, you have the magical strength of exceeded expectations and solid word-of-mouth referrals. Then you can extend your reach with various forms of publicity and sometimes advertising, and see your results skyrocket.

So how do you do this in practice? Here, things get a little tricky, because neither clients nor employees (nor the larger community) are seeking textbook perfection. If you run your business with such a tight ship that employees are systematically forced or coerced into doing the 'right thing' you'll defeat yourself -- people can see really quickly through plastic 'friendliness' and insincere remarks like the famous "Have a nice day!"

And, in any case, the so-called 'wow' factor might be just a little over the top at a typical architectural, engineering or construction office. I mean, you want your calls returned properly and problems fixed or resolved with courtesy and respect,but you aren't expecting a dancing choir of "customer service" every time you send in a proposal for a quotation or invite response through an RFP. You certainly want competence, job site respect, cleanliness, and -- most importantly -- just the right amount of sensitive imagination where you discover you can save a little money or you know in advance that some expensive change-orders may be required, and you can see the general and sub trades are working together in a co-operative approach with the design consultants to minimize their costs or stresses.

The point is all of these things happen sometimes subtly, almost in the background, and when you have it right, your clients almost take them for granted, just confident that you are delivering the goods and that you aren't taking advantage of them. They call you back, then, and are willing to serve as positive references, and your insurance broker and bonding company representative hear this stuff in the background, and they learn you pay your bills and fix problems promptly, so your bonding limits are increased and you can grow, and win more and better projects.

I'll share some examples of how these pieces fit together; they in themselves may seem disjointed but when I'm done you'll get the idea.

  • In Florida, in Absolute Aluminum's supplier-paid magazine, the company includes a page of head shots of its employees who have served in the military, coupled with a brief patriotic thank you message. While I suspect this message would not go over well in parts of Vermont, it is probably perfect in Venice, where many military families live. The employees feel recognized as special, they receive connection and respect from their fellow residents, including the families of military service personnel on active duty. In Venice, would you feel good about doing business with Absolute Aluminum for your sidings, gutters, or pool enclosures (especially since the entire service process is entirely satisfactory)? You bet.

  • In Thunder Bay, Ontario, Finn Way General Contractor Inc. puts together the most comprehensive and well designed responses to RFP documentation I've ever seen. Through tabbed links, all the essential requests and documentation requirements within the RFP are addressed (you can't skimp on the mandatory requirements) but Finn Way goes a step further, with detailed employee descriptions, colour project photos, and piles of testimonial letters carefully selected to reflect the project they are quoting. Virtually every RFP they answer is followed with an invitation to bid -- and of course Finn Way uses common sense and only submits the RFPs where it thinks it has a reasonable chance of success.
  • Finally, a story from our own business. Through an association event, we discovered a fascinating and important project under construction -- and the key decision-makers were in the meeting. We arranged the feature; but unfortunately one of our employees made a serious error --linked to a sudden deterioration in performance. We addressed the employee problem quickly (he left quickly, on good terms, and is now doing work he really enjoys) and the client, initially disturbed, has become an enthusiastic supporter of our business.

Note that just doing fancy RFPs putting veteran's pictures in your marketing materials, or having fast-acting human resources policies will create the marketing chemistry I'm describing here. But I sense the companies which get it right all share in common:

  • Really solid hiring and human resources policies; encouraging the kind of employees with initiative, respect, and community-centredness to apply and stay with the company.
  • Consistent and cohesive marketing materials that connect the competence of their employees to their communities and markets;
  • The ability to resolve problems quickly, best at the front-line employee level, but if anything goes wrong there, with a management that can quickly see and correct the difficulties when they arise.

Note that great marketing, indeed, need not be expensive. Marketing materials can often be supported through supplier co-op funding (and if you get it right, the suppliers who are contributing to your marketing budget also gain from the process -- I can assure readers here that anyone who buys an ad to support their client's advertising feature in one of our publications will be treated with respect and offered free services and resources far in excess of the cost of the advertising.)

You, too, can find your harmony -- and enjoy the success that is possible with great marketing effectiveness.


Anonymous said...

Mark - I appreciate your comments about my ideas, and couldn't agree more with the way you've applied them in the construction world. This is what real marketing is about!

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Steve. thanks for reading and commenting. I discovered Steve Yastrow's work through the late Sonny Lykos, who undestood and applied these principles with incredible effectiveness. Lykos never fought to find business on 'low price' because he understood and applied the Brand Harmony concepts.