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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting it wrong (and right) in construction marketing and business

Tonight, I'm feeling like someone who has gotten it wrong.  Lots of little things are not adding up; glitches, errors, failures to communicate, risking (then dashed) expectations, missteps, blunders, sloppiness and frustration . . .

Wait this sounds like a missive of someone who doesn't have control of the situation.  Not good.

Well, of course, business can be "like that".  After all, every day, we need to juggle all sorts of internal priorities even as the world changes around us.  And, in life, always, some days are much better than others.

Two approaches shape my decisions in these circumstances.  First, I appreciate that things change and generally revert to a balance.  So if things are rough, they will probably get easier, sooner or later.

Second, I appreciate that I need to take responsibility for every thing I do.  If there are glitches, errors, and blunders, it doesn't do me any good to "blame" anyone else, even if I might not have directly caused the problem.

Tomorrow will be better.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A "limited run" on Facebook

This rather intriguing Facebook posting from "Limited Run" raises some rather interesting marketing questions.  The company asserts that 80 per cent of its traffic/clicks from Facebook advertising are from bots, and that the social media service demanded $2,000 in advertising for the company to change its page name to match a new branding identity.

The story has gone viral -- I've found a variation of it with hundreds of comments on my Google+ stream.

Is it true?  Well, I don't doubt the story happened -- the question is whether Facebook would really allow virtually all of its click-throughs to be generated by auto-generators.  My skepticism here is that if one company has reported this sort of abuse, why are there not many more complaints?  Lots of people are getting on the bandwagon to 'dis' Facebook -- all of which is generating publicity for the business, which it probably welcomes.

Nevertheless, even if you don't entirely believe the assertions here, there are difficult and challenging branding and practical perceptions about the worthiness and effectiveness of paid social media advertising.  In theory, the ads should be truly effective, if they are properly targeted and relate closely to the relevant interests of the demographic group.  The real story is somewhat more mixed.  Some people in the construction marketing community certainly have achieved results with Facebook advertising; others say they don't think it is worth the money.

My thoughts:  I would tread carefully, and slowly, and with careful planning and analytics, and test the results.  These points are covered in my construction marketing social media book.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Construction marketing and social media: Save 80% and tell it like it is

In preparation for the August 15 publication of

you can receive the book for .99; that's right, 99 cents, instead of the regular $4.95.

The book can be downloaded in a diversity of formats for virtually any e-reader or computer screen at  (I know...I didn't come up with the name).  

All you need to do in return is review it on when it goes online there (in about two days).  

You'll need this coupon code ZF46H.

If you've already ordered the Construction Marketing Ideas book or are an advertiser in any of the Construction News and Report Publishing Group of publications, you can receive this e-book FREE, simply by emailing with your request.


So you don't want to be a construction marketing guru, do you?

I've had it.

No one gives me a break.  Power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and I'm not one of the few (at least who really have any power).

I read, follow, and try to implement all the wonderful advice of marketing gurus, and what to I get -- a bit fat donut hole.  Nothing.  Nada.  It is hopeless.

I spend money on SEO, marketing consultants, books, tapes, seminars, and all that stuff, and it ends up simply lining the pockets of the marketing gurus, not helping me at all.

Why can't any of this stuff work, ever . . .

(and now you are expecting me to suggest an answer . . . so here it is. . .)

Get blasted drunk.

(Maybe in the middle of Africa.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Construction marketing and journalistic integrity

Late at night on a summer weekend, I'm thrashing through a business and marketing challenge.  Is there a way to employ "sales journalists," that is, individuals with a good sense of journalistic and writing (and videoing and new media) technology, who are not afraid to think about things from a business as well as journalistic perspective?

Our business challenge is content creation:  We have several websites which need frequent updating with solid content.  (We also have print and e-publication media for the architectural, engineering and construction community.)

Plenty of people want to be journalists/writers.  Some have real talent, others not.  Not so many people want to be sales representatives.  This is because, I suppose, to be good at sales, you have to have a rather special personality -- to be confident enough in yourself to work with really senior people; and the strength to combine a sense of what needs to be done with enough thick skin to handle rejection.

Of course, "pure" journalists can be expensive for a media company.  The costs of paying for the writing, plus supporting services, has to be absorbed somehow -- and that is usually from advertising.  However, direct revenue generation from new media is a fraction of what can be earned traditionally.  In other words, you need to be able to generate a lot more content in the web-world at a much lower cost than you would in the old conventional media.

Problems are compounded by the shift in advertising revenues, meaning traditional media is under increasing stress, resulting in job loss and a serious decline in conventional journalistic quality.

Hence, my thinking about the "sales journalist".  A web search for this phrase comes up with some advertorial-type publications in Singapore.  It also suggests there is a slippery slope of integrity issues here.

I've never seen these issues as being life-critical, in part because effectively I've been a "sales journalist" for more than 20 years, from the day I started my own publishing business.  I realized quickly enough that writing abilities and journalistic integrity can be combined with the actual leadership and operation of a business, if you own the enterprise.  Yet I know quite well that selling the company's soul for some quick cash and never covering issues of real concern or newsworthiness, without worrying about adverting, is the kiss of death for a publication.

So how does new media compete? Well, consider Facebook and YouTube, for example.  The key is "user generated content."  People upload their own stuff, with minimal if any publisher's editing, and this traffic/audience generates enough eyeballs to interest the advertisers.  (Google has taken things a step further by paying a revenue share of upwards of 70 cents on the dollar to its media contributors -- in essence, sharing the advertising revenue with the contributors who provide the content.)

These concepts work on very large -- and very small -- scales quite effectively.  The challenge is for the business somewhere in the middle.  Can we make it work by setting up some sort of user-generated advertising share reward program within our regional construction publications?  In other words, in place of a fixed, guaranteed hourly pay or freelance fee, the writer/journalist would receive a "cut" of the advertising revenue, much like a sales rep receives a commission.  What would be a fair share, in that case.  And how would we "market" this opportunity to make it appealing and enticing to the potential sales journalists?

Food for thought, I suppose, early on a summer Saturday morning.  If you are a journalist and would like to take a more business-focused approach to the work/life challenge, please communicate with me.  You can also visit our advertising sales site at

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Construction marketing and social media: The winning cover

The popular vote confirms our designer's intuition.  This is the cover we will use for the upcoming social media e-book.

The construction marketing social media book has been formatted for e-publication.  Now we are preparing a final title revision and need to upload it to the appropriate e-book sites, and prepare for the launch on Aug. 15.

Although the cover has been selected, you can still "vote" and thus take advantage of the pre-publication discounts here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Construction marketing: Why does "low bid win"? Surely there is a better way

Michael Stone hits the nail on the head with his blog posting:  "Being the lowest bidder:  Is it really what you want?" when he asks why anyone would built their business on the "lowest bid wins" model.

Of course he is speaking for residential contractors.  In the fixed bid, public tender world in the ICI market, especially for government jobs -- not design build, pure construction -- the "low bid wins" concept seems to be the norm.  Yet, as far as I can tell, this is really among the stupidest business models around in the world, which goes like this:

"Look for publicly bid jobs -- perhaps by paying for leads services. Rush to read the documentation, and then spend time estimating the work.  Find shortcuts and savings, and then bid, low as possible."  

Sheesh.  This is for anyone more familiar with a marketing mentality a really crazy way to do business.

"But that's the way it is?" you may say, and to some point, you are right.  Contractors who survive in this low bid space either retain viability by (a) bidding more complex projects where creative execution can allow them to be profitable , (b) planning "games" with change orders to make up for the losses on the low bid or (c) pushing the price pressure down onto suppliers and sub trades, perhaps through bid peddling/shopping.

Of course, only the (a) option is ethical, and I have had the privilege of knowing some really bright general contractors who do just that.

Is there a better way to do business?  Energies spent on marketing and developing business development (sales) skills will undoubtedly generate far better returns than continuing the "low bid wins" game.  You will still have to compete, but who is better off:

(a) the general contractor or sub-trade chasing the public opportunity and bidding low or

(b) the contractor who has built a solid enough relationship and sales orientation with the client so that the project is "designed" so his business will have the edge, even in an open and fair competition because he knows where the hidden buttons are, and where the savings and variations are possible.

If you are a residential contractor, spend some money on Michael Stone's book.  If you are non-residential (heck, even if you are residential), buy mine.  The cost is a pittance compared to the waste you encounter when you take money-losing jobs just because the low bid wins.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Construction marketing: Partnership perils and potential

We can't do everything ourselves.  Accordingly, we need to structure our business so that important tasks are handled by others.  These can be employees, contractors/suppliers or partners.

Construction marketing partnerships can be wonderful or woeful.  I've written a white paper for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Foundation about Strategic Alliance Best Practices -- and, in the process, learned how challenging it can be to get things right.  Effective alliances and partnerships require a huge amount of trust, but that trust is only achieved if there is enough built-in security to justify it.

I don't have empirical proof of this point, but sense that new partnerships go through a honeymoon stage and then reach a critical point where trust is tested.  In this "middle stage", the partners can question each other's value -- more painfully, they begin to see the warts and problems of their partners that they glossed over during the good times.  Perhaps it is time to break up the arrangement.

But maybe not.  If the partners can build enough friction into the process at the beginning (through mutual agreement, not coercion or misrepresentation) to make a break-up somewhat costly to the partner seeking to end the deal, the partners may discover that, once they've worked things out, they can indeed co-operate for the future.  Of course, this break-up penalty shouldn't be so onerous that it would cause extreme hardship, and the proportional stress, I think, should be equal among the partners.

You can share your thoughts about partnerships as a comment or by email to

Monday, July 23, 2012

Should you judge a construction marketing book by its cover?

Actually, I welcome your judgement about which cover to use for my upcoming new e-book:
Social media and marketing for architectural, engineering and construction companies

What you really need to know to achieve profitable results
First cover choice
Second cover choice
Third cover choice
Designer Raymond Levielle initially came up with seven distinctive cover designs.  That is a pretty huge number for a general survey, so I asked employees and a special group of trusted reviewers to share their opinions.  They narrowed the choices down to these three (and one reviewer suggested a rewording of the title -- not actually reflected in these covers, yet.)
If you wish, upon completing the survey, you can request to be notified about when the book is published, and save $2.00 on the  $5.95 cover price.  If you wish to save even more, you can prepay through PayPal for $1.95 (100 per cent unconditional money back guarantee).  If you have purchased Construction Marketing Ideas: Practical strategies and resources to attract and retain clients for your architectural, engineering or construction business or are an advertiser in one of our publications, the book is free.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How to fend off the construction marketing scammers?

You receive the intrusive calls and emails every week (perhaps every day).  Someone is offering you an opportunity to achieve "Page 1 ranking" on Google.  Or someone is telling you that for a modest fee, you can be introduced to the movers and shakers within your client community at a special invitation-only conference.  I've been "invited" to China several times in the past year.

Now, certainly some offers that you receive are truly worthy of consideration.  And I certainly have some respect (and perhaps pity) for the underpaid minions hired to make the inconvenient marketing calls.  (I can't say so much positive for the scamming spammers, however.)

The telemarketers, canvassers and spammers market with the numbers game.  They figure that if they make enough calls or send enough emails, someone will bite.  The cost per lead influences the strategy, as does sales training for the telemarketers and copy writing skills (and coding abilities) for the spammers -- especially successful ones that are able to evade your spam blocks.

I have a simple solution for these operations and virtually all inbound solicitations.  Ignore them UNLESS they can in their first sentence identify a credible person who you respect as a referring source, and provide a real reason for doing business with them.

Heck, that is a blunt rule, but it has a corollary.  In your marketing, unless you can achieve the same relationship focus with your outbound direct sales calls and messages, you should stop, take a cold, hard look at your priorities, and reset your strategies.  (Unless they are currently working, in which case, well, I suppose you are succeeding at the numbers-game approach to marketing.)

If you rethink the process then you will see how a much more effective direct sales marketing campaign can start -- with your existing, truly satisfied clients.

Ask them for their help in spreading the word.  Obtain referrals, references, and reputation back-up.  Then you can call -- and drop the names which matter the most to your potential clients (outside their own names, of course.)

Does this approach work?  Well, most of our own sales result from phone calls, faxes and emails.  Many are to people with whom we have done business in the past, but at least 25 to 30 per cent a month are brand new potential clients.  However, we always call on reference from someone they know and respect.  You can do the same thing, yourself -- and ignore the others.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Construction marketing: When the search engines change the rules

If you look carefully, you can see me in this picture.  Yes, at Google headquarters.  Click on the image for the back story.
In the last month or so, the rankings of this construction marketing blog have declined somewhat -- from first or second place to somewhat lower.  I checked, and discovered through my internal network of Google gurus that indeed something is up, and it isn't good.  It seems that changes in the search algorithm are giving an "edge" to players who can game the system just a little more than the others -- and sites built sincerely with real value are being knocked off.

Huh.  Isn't the system supposed to improve with time and tweaks?  Maybe.  I won't go into the technical details here, but it seems that your keyword and subhead codings have somehow become much more important than before.  Your "tags" should explicitly state the keywords you wish the bots to discover -- but you had also better be careful that your site really contains the relevant keywords.

There's stuff about Drupal, and W3 compliance, and other enhancements that suggest you need to be a much better coder than blogger or writer.

While great SEO is an important asset for any business, you need to be very careful about who you work with on this sort of stuff.  Virtually everyone who approaches you -- and I received several "approaches" a week even when this site ranked number one or two in the search engines -- is misrepresenting their services, and you will throw good money after bad.  You need to check your SEO consultants carefully, and evaluate their work with a critical eye.  There are good consultants out there -- and I think they could be worth every cent of their fees -- but don't rush to the one who calls you out of the blue on the phone, or sends you a spam email.  Like everything, you will find competent people through qualified referrals and recommendations.

Isn't that what great construction marketing is all about?

(P.S.  In time, probably sooner than later, this site will regain its rank.  I'm patient and persistent and certainly have built a helpful network who can guide me along the path.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Construction marketing in Barrie or Bulawayo

Today, instead of heading on a six-hour road trip from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, I'll head on a six hour road trip from Ottawa to Barrie, Ontario, where we are in the final stages of preparing the second annual Barrie Construction Association magazine.

From a marketing and business perspective, this road trip is much more important than the African adventure last week.  While international travel can be fun, exciting and lead to profitable insights, often our best business results occur when we remember how to serve our construction marketing opportunities much closer to home.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Construction Marketing: Returning home

I'm at London Heathrow now, preparing for the final flight home after the intensive two week journey to Istanbul, Florence and Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  You can read some observations about construction marketing and client service on the other construction marketing ideas blog.  Postings will become more regular in the next week with some insights about marketing psychology, search engine optimisation (including some recent developments affecting how you should co-ordinate your websites) and effective business management.

If you have any questions, please email

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A moment in memories

Today, I briefly stood outside the Bulawayo Chronicle offices.  Looking into the old building (it was old when I worked there in 1979-80), I could see it hasn't changed much, if at all.  I didn't have a camera, but this is a picture from Flickr.

I briefly thought of walking in the doors, then decided that no tourist would have reason to visit a newspaper office.  Sure, I worked there, then, but I don't now.

I returned to the rental car and headed back to Victoria Falls.  This time, knowing the road and car better, I completed the trip much more rapidly, in about four hours.

Can we return to our memories?  The 32-year-old events which bring me here are seared in my memory; but they are directly relevant only to a small group of peers, some of whom have died and others who have dispersed elsewhere in the world.

Nevertheless, the choices I made then define my life today.  The choices we all make when we are young shape our directions, of course.

Despite change, some things remain the same.  The old Victoria Falls Hotel, which I reported on two days ago, is much like it would have been decades ago.  The Chronicle building looks like it looked when I worked there.

Much is different, though.  Although I recognized some aspects of the streetscapes in both Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, the communities have changed.  There are new buildings and new values.

Of course, the great Victoria Falls remain the way they have been since before recorded human history.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Discovering your way along life's long and winding road

Today, I drove from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  I rather seriously under-calculated the distance and driving time.  The trip that I thought would be about 2.5 hours, turned out to be about 6.  Not to complain -- but I'll need to retrace the route back tomorrow, so I'm certainly getting some intensive driving experiences in Africa.

Of course, driving in Zimbabwe isn't quite like driving at home.  First, the folks here drive on the British side of the road.  The service station attendant laughed as I almost tried to get into the passenger seat to drive away.  Gas is pricey, but not outrageous -- the somewhat battered Avis car I rented burned about $50 U.S. in the tank, not much different than we would pay at home for the same distance.

There are other differences.  Tolls ($2.00 US total), and police stops -- I counted about six of them along the way.  Each time, the officers either waved me through or asked an innocent question; no heavy-handedness, but it seems plenty of make-work for police officers in this country.  Lots of people walking on the side of the roads -- along with oxen and a few baboons.  

I chose Victoria Falls as my "landing" destination because this is a touristic trip, after all.  But it would be folly for me to travel half way around the world and not visit Bulawayo, if only briefly. This is where I discovered my religion 32 years ago.  Then, there were about 1,200 Jewish families in town, and a vibrant community.  Today, the entire Jewish population is 70.  The main synagogue burned down a few years ago but people here don't believe it related to any anti-Semitism and possibly was an accidental fire.  Now the much-reduced congregation meets at what had been a Reform synagogue, and I attended Friday night services.

I will only have a few hours here tomorrow before I need to return to Victoria Falls for my last night in Africa.  While I gathered a few photos here, I'll save these for later (and the scenic and amazing drive is something  I could not capture digitally -- without risking my life driving on the Zimbabwean highway.

I count my blessings.  Decisions made when I was 25 and 26 years old in this part of the world shaped and defined my life, and made possible this brief but wonderfully challenging African adventure.  Life is good when you are prepared to take creative and rational risks.  

(And not a word about construction marketing in today's posting, I realize. . . . seems kind of irrelevant when you are finding your way through Western Zimbabwe.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Travelling down memory lane in Zimbabwe

Some 32 years ago, I discovered many life answers living through the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.  Now, in the Victoria Falls Hotel, I'm reliving memories from a different perspective, observing the consistencies in tradition and experience despite time and change.

The hotel, for example, is largely what it was in the early years of the 20th century.  White patrons are served by black waiters, the thundering falls in the near distance.

When I last visited Victoria Falls in January 1979, I had managed to finesse a work permit marked "journalist" so, instead of heading to view the falls and other tourist facilities here, I focused on the human condition and wartime challenges.  This visit is purely touristic -- I won't discuss politics or even think of critical journalism -- so I paid the $30US fee and visited the falls.

This is truly a magnificent wonder of the world; intense, powerful nature at its most dramatic and intense level.  I shot a video of the falls, walking for a few minutes with a 25-year-old Zimbabwean electrician, on leave from his job; himself enjoying the tourist site.  (Ironically, I was 25 years old when I last lived in Zimbabwe).

Obviously, very few blog readers will have reason to travel to central Africa to view waterfalls.  And I doubt many of you would even visualize yourself driving for three hours in a rented car (British driving side) to Bulawayo.  Hardly much to do with construction marketing.

But we are shaped by our choices, experiences and decisions when we are young, and undoubtedly my experiences in Africa have defined my life.  Accordingly, I'm celebrating the results, and remembering the amazing adventures that brought me here in the first place.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Geography, history and construction marketing

When you spend a day in a place like Florence Italy (after some time in Istanbul/Constantinople) you become aware of how big and how small the world is. I'm sure these feelings will magnify tomorrow as I head to Zimbabwe.

Of course it is unlikely you will have reason to provide your services in any of these countries.  While the architectural, engineering and construction community is truly international, most designers and contractors work within rather narrow geographical areas.  Sure, some multinational companies bid on huge jobs and consortiums link international firms with local businesses -- and some services, especially in the design area -- can be outsourced.  However, the costs and complexities of serving diverse international markets scare off most but the well-organized and capitalized businesses.

Yet geography and history certainly play a role in business and construction marketing, even at the local level.  As I crossed through tourist sections of central Florence, I could see how merchants congregated in groups, with the most expensive, high ticket items sold in the most concentrated natural marketing point:  A central, historical bridge.  (The idea of using bridges for retail commerce hasn't caught on much in Canada or the U.S. but it works well in Europe an Turkey where pedestrians funnel through small areas -- and bridges act as perfect funnels.)

History undoubtedly is important as well.  Traditions, values, stories, memories and even the geographical landscape of the communities we serve are often influenced by decisions made long ago.  Knowing something about these decisions can be important, even if it is to be aware of potential archaeological dig issues.  (Under-water ancient artifacts have gummed up a rapid transit tunnel in Istanbul.)

We live in the present, in our actual location, but we live in a world shaped by events in the past, in a diversity of locations.  No marketer should dwell too much on distant things -- but every construction marketer should be aware of the bigger picture of history and geography, and the possible consequences of distant decisions on current realities.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Consumer ratings services, tourism and construction marketing

In Istanbul's spice market:  No Yelp here
We made our way today to Florence, Italy, from Istanbul.  An "old" (actually opened in 1997) hotel in an old neighbourhood, but it doesn't seem quite as old as our place in Istanbul.  Of course, even though Italy has centuries of history, it can't quite beat that of a place formerly known as Constantinople.

Nevertheless, most of our "stay" decisions have been made with, a consumer rating system for tourist destinations around the world.  Tripadvisor's power of course is the ability of real people to describe their experiences and rate them -- the more positive ratings by the more enthusiastic guests, the higher the tourist site ranks.

I'm quite sure some operators try to game the system but the biggest problem could be the concept of consistency -- that is, if many people rate a place highly, even if someone has a less-than-perfect experience, he might be less-than-eager to share it for fear of not belonging to the crowd.  Of course, there are mavericks, and ironically, a perfectly positive ranking by hundreds of people without even a single negative comment would appear to be staged, even if it is true.

I can't say how much really high Tripadvisor ratings affect businesses, but imagine small operators with minuscule marketing budgets who manage to receive really high ratings do quite well from the experience.  Certainly some commercial tour operators use their high rankings in their other marketing materials.

Fair enough.  Contractors aren't in the tourism business but we have Yelp and similar services.  And the issue here is, can contractors encourage clients to give positive rankings and can Yelp, perhaps hoping to sell advertising or (if you wish to see things from a more honorable level), seeking to avoid gaming the system, filter the positive reviews that don't seem to be quite right?  (The problem with Yelp, I'm afraid, is the implicit link between advertising and ratings, which merchants and contractors may perceive, whether it be true or not.)

I don't have a simple answer to the best way to approach and use ratings services in marketing our businesses, but certainly they need to be regarded with respect and care, especially if you serve consumer-focused markets.  You can add your own comments here.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The tourism ecosystem: Fraud and fairness

Tonight is our last night in Istanbul.  With my wife, we did the "tourist" thing today -- taking an organized tour of the key historic sites here for 70 Euros each; that's more than $170 total.  Did we receive value for money?  That is always a question when you are taking the tourist experience.  It is a somewhat artificial place, with systems, rules, trade-offs and side deals between hotels, tour operators and merchants.  After all, the consumers are not generally terribly astute about local prices, values and options and they have money to spend.  Of course, ripping people off generally doesn't help in the long run -- because with the Internet negative word-of-mouth can certainly spread quickly.   These days, there is little reason or excuse for anyone to be caught in the traditional "tourist trap".

Nevertheless, as the morning part of our tour ended, we were escorted into a carpet store.  The merchant apparently gave a good explanation of carpets and traditions, while serving some free tea.  (I missed that part of the action in part because i had more urgent biological needs.)  When I joined the rest of the group about 10 minutes later, the hard selling part had commenced.

I enjoyed the artful tactics of the Turkish carpet merchants, trying to extract some business from a captive, but very temporary, tourist group audience.  Prices magically dropped as the merchants sought to find the key hot spot that would convince the tourist to part with money.  This is the world of "high pressure sales", though of course everyone on the selling side denied they were up to anything that bad.  Nevertheless, our tourist counterparts demurred.  No one was going to spend any money here, no way.  After we left, one of the tour members, who had expressed some interest in the carpets, said she decided that the clerk were "harassing" her and, with that, she made the firm decision not to buy anything.

I suppose in certain conditions and at certain times, high pressure selling works.  It is probably necessary if your market is among transitory tourists.  You really only have one kick at the can, so you had better find some, any, way to extract the cash.  However, I think for most of our businesses in Canada or the U.S., these tactics are almost certain to backfire.  When it comes to construction marketing, I think in general it is far wiser to build your relationships and be patient, rather than push for the quick sale.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

What North American construction marketing lessons we can learn from an Istanbul fish restaurant

Consider the business challenge.  You need to attract well-healed clients who would have absolutely no knowledge about your business beforehand for what, in most cases, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  They have money to spend, now, but you don't know them and they certainly don't know you.

Hos Seda restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey
Does this sound like a classic construction marketing challenge -- and an impossible one at that? Surely, in a world of word-of-mouth recommendations, you will have trouble discovering the "hungry fish" as Jon Goldman describes in his incredibly effective weekly e-letter.

Well, Hos Seda, a fish restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey pulled it off.  At the end of the meal, we peeled off enough Euros (we didn't have enough Turkish Lira on us) to spend more than $100 for a couple of appetizers, a piece of Black Sea fish, desert, a bottle of Turkish wine and some Turkish coffee and crepes for desert.  Hardly the most inexpensive meal out there -- in fact, the day before I discovered a clean and efficient place in a shopping mall which provide me with a pretty good tasting piece of fish for about the equivalent of $15.00.  (No desert and wine, and of course, I was alone.)

How did we choose this place?  The desk clerk at our hotel, largely selected through ratings, recommended it.  He made clear that he has nothing to gain by pushing something bad on us. Most ratings were effusive in praise.  So, even with little knowledge of the place, we felt safe in considering it.

Then the clincher.  The restaurant would provide at no extra cost a car and driver to bring us there.  I realize most of us have experienced travel gridlock, but driving around downtown Istanbul is not for the faint-of-heart -- and figuring out how to give directions to a taxi driver would test our will.

The restaurant, with the free driving service, indeed, made it easy for us to say "yes".  However, just offering the free ride would not work -- we would see a con in the works -- and so the references on public media and referral from a hotel clerk were absolutely vital in validating our opinions.

Would i give Hos Seda five stars, like many of the others on  No.  The black sea fish tasted reasonably good but was certainly not a bargain.  When we expressed some shock at the bill, the proprietor reduced the bill by 15 Turkish lira or about $10.00.  A nice gesture, indeed, and one that took the sting out of the experience.  Our conclusion as the driver returned us promptly to our hotel:  Not a rip-off but not the best value around.  I would give it three stars.

Does this experience count?  Well, the reviews are generally extremely positive (and we truly enjoyed the experience) but this blog has reasonably high search engine rankings and so this review might pop up in strange places where the restaraunt would rather not to see it.  On the other hand, a single somewhat critical blog posting is hardly likely to dent the this place's reputation much.

Nevertheless, we can all learn some lessons from this story.

Experience counts.  Each person or organization using our services remembers the details; the overall sensation of how they were treated, the "value for money," the surprises, and the surrounding ambience.  The highest priority of course relates to the core business -- in this case the food's taste.  I just didn't like the fish that much.  Maybe it should have tasted that way; and my tastes don't match -- but I ended up spending $100 for the experience.

The experiences of others count.  How can you know whether to take a risk on a new business of which you have no experience without knowing what other trusted people say.  This can be the human face of the hotel desk clerk. or the observations of strangers on Internet forums. Yes, to some extent, these recommendations can be gamed.  Hotel clerks can be paid referral fees; and positive reviews planted in social media sites.  But these strategies only work to a limited extent if they are not backed by real substance.  If you game things too far, you will be fair game for an outing.

Make it easy to say "yes".  In the fish restaraunt's case, the free driver and ride service certainly helped make the decision.  Of course, in hindsight, I realize I could have paid for a taxi, or even less expensive, taken a local ferry for about the equivalent of $1.50, and had a much tastier fish meal.

Accordingly, this story comes full circle.  Great positive experiences and client reviews steered us to a specific fish restaraunt in a country far from home.  But our experience, while pleasant, wasn't quite as wildly wonderful as the extremely positive reviews we read.  So, now, we add to the story, with this review, and these observations, and we are reminded again that the most important element in marketing is to create the positive experience and then find ways to encourage your clients to share it with others.

Searching for the (construction marketing) truth

Yesterday, I spent several hours in search of the 14th century Istanbul synagogue still in operation today.  I took a local tram, then a city bus, discovering a bit more how the local people travel.  A passenger next to me, looking at my tour map on my lap, suggested I get off the bus.  I had gone too far, he said, in very broken English -- this bus would take me much further into the suburbs.

So I left the bus and started walking, seeking relevant landmarks and (much to my male-centred direction-seeking discomfort) asked a few people for guidelines.  As expected, one guy offered to take me there for a price -- on his boat.  I declined.

Eventually I discovered the correct neighbourhood; then faced the challenge of navigating some strangely-named cobblestone streets.  Ancient history here, clearly.  I crossed paths with a tour group where the leader described the synagogue's history.  But he wasn't speaking from the actual location.

An Australian woman approached me.  Was I looking for the Ahrida Synagogue, she asked.  We started searching together, asking some more locals, then rounded the bend, and discovered this almost invisible modest entry-way.  As we approached, we bumped into a couple from Florida also seeking the same place.

No way could we enter -- you need to request access (available only in the mornings) at least three business days in advance, with a detailed form requiring a copy of your passport.  Security is important here.  While Istanbul is truly a tolerant city, Islamic extremists a few years ago attacked a local synagogue.  My guidebook says the synagogue is actively functioning, with about 100 members attending weekly Sabbath services.

So, after all that searching and research, all I have to show (visibly) for the experience is a single photo of me standing at the door way.

If we conducted our construction marketing with the same direct results for effort, I think we would be bankrupt, quickly.  Pouring energy and research into a fleeting experience that could not be completed properly (we couldn't even get into the building) is hardly wise business planning and marketing.  I don't regret the search, of course.  Along the way I had time to see much unplanned about Istanbul, learn a lot, and soak in the history.  And I met some cool people along the way.

However, in business (and marketing) we need to be much more rational in our searching and emotions.  We should carefully consider our go/no go rules (which can and I think should take into account our passions and interests -- allowing us to "go" for things we might not rationally try because we really care).

Obviously specialized interest and relevance also count for much in this story.  Unless you are Jewish or interested in religious history, you won't find much value in seeking out a 14th century synagogue.  However, specialized interests allow you the opportunity to dig deeper and further into places where relatively few others travel, and along the way you will likely meet fellow voyagers with the same interests.

Finally, we have the choice of traveling on our own, with a guidebook, an organized tour, or a paid coach/guide.  Each type of experience has its advantage and costs.  I would advocate in marketing to mix things up a bit and try different things.  Eventually you will build your knowledge and network to the level where you know who to ask for support, where to obtain the information you need, and when you should pay for the information, and when you can discover it for free.

(So today, now that my wife has arrived, a day late but safe and sound travelling business class for economy fare prices, I'll spend more on a three hour organized tour than I have allocated for virtually any activity on this trip -- and this isn't the most expensive tour available.)

Thursday, July 05, 2012

"Come from behind" construction marketing wins

In recent weeks, I've become far more aware of how it is possible to dislodge a leader and achieve construction marketing success even when an incumbent seems to have it sowed up.  While some examples of this process I know about are highly relevant, they are also a bit too close for comfort.  So we'll go outside the industry to discern some insights.

Consider how Apple and Samsung (with a little help from Google) managed to dislodge the original leaders in cellular/smart phone technology -- Research in Motion (Blackberry) and Nokia (conventional cellular handsets).

Apple's success can be explained largely by innovation.  Its products, carefully crafted and trend-breaking, were under Steve Job's leadership so powerfully effective that they created the same sort of 'wow' that Blackberry achieved when it invented the original smart phone.  In both cases, I received my introduction when an early adaptor enthusiastically showed off his new toy to me, describing its features, flexibility and effectiveness.

The Samsung/Android story is somewhat more complex.  Samsung saw the trends -- and Apple's success, and moved adroitly to discover an alternative operating system that could do many of the nifty things possible only with the IPhone (this of course leads the way for some really expensive patent litigation).  With enough foresight and speed, it licensed Android and set out to move the new phones to market quickly -- at price points at a level shell-shocked consumers not ready or able to pay Apple's price could accept.

So what went wrong at RIM and Nokia.  They had the lead; they presumably had the resources to see the new forces arriving, but they could not respond in time to recapture their place.  The answer is the danger of complacency within incumbency.  When you are the market leader, and the outliers seem just that, you are tempted (and in fact rationally may think) you can simply weather the storm with incremental improvements.  Big mistake.

I've seen some examples of this process -- and success where I hadn't expected it to occur -- in my own neck of the woods.  Complacently, I thought the newcomers were simply banging their heads against a big and expensive wall.  I studied them, in some cases even met them personally, but didn't take them nearly as seriously as I should.  And they "won" -- well, sort of.

The story is not over until it is over.  Learning, innovation, growth and maturity are complex, continuous things.  We all tend to revert to the norm, and fall back into our habits (good or bad).  Real change is difficult and sustaining change when it is easier to hold back and enjoy the status quo can be difficult, indeed.

But I don't give up.  As I prepare to spend another day alone in Istanbul, wandering through eons of history, I'll remember the priorities and forces which need to be observed.  Don't be complacent.

If you have any gnawing issue, frustration, or marketing challenge, please email me at  It can be a little thing or big problem, doesn't matter. Allowing for time zones and travel, I'll get back to you within two business days.  If you wish, consider also requesting the Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter at

The istanbul experience

Travel brings challenges.  While the world is much more connected now than ever before, we can still run into snags.  Take the Internet connection, for example, from Istanbul.  I can post here -- but can't on the blog.  It seems, as part of our efforts to control spam and malware, we put a block on visitors from Turkey.  This means that I can't access my own blog to update things.

Add to the fun the fact that my wife, who should have in our original plans, joined me about two hours ago, is still in Ottawa.  She showed up at the airport last night and Air Canada denied to board her because her name didn't match the reservation.  We had noticed the error before, advised our travel agent, and the agent suggested a work-around that he said should have worked, but obviously didn't.

(In fairness, the travel agent, on discovering the problem in late night panicked calls, agreed to make good -- and contacted the issuing airline at their office opening time, that is 3 a.m. where he lived.  He arranged for new tickets, and she'll arrive late tomorrow night.)

So what does any of this have to do with construction marketing?  Not much, I suppose, though I kept my eyes open for construction activity in Istanbul.  At least in the central historic areas, things are quite quiet, though crews are maintaining the cobblestone streets, there is a bit of new construction and I discovered what appears to be the street that could loosely be described as the tool market.  You could buy all kinds of hardware and tools from an assortment of shops here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The journey begins -- Ottawa to Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey (from Wikipedia
At the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in Ottawa, waiting for the first flight -- a short haul to Toronto.  Then, there is a quick connection to Frankfurt, Germany and on to Istanbul, Turkey.

Travel is both enlightening and challenging; heading half-way around the world, staying briefly in three very different nations in a two-week voyage is the sort of experience that creates and brings back memories.

When the plane lands in Istanbul, I'll look out the window as we drive into town to the hotel where we are staying.  Mixed with the skyline will be the construction cranes; the question is, how will my days in Turkey influence my thinking about construction marketing.

(If you wish to read a more substantive and useful post about construction marketing, you can certainly visit

Monday, July 02, 2012

Turkish delight and construction marketing

Tomorrow evening, I'll be on a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, the first stage of a two-week trip that will also take me to Florence, Italy and Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  It is an unusual itinerary, explained in part by the preferences of my wife, the rules for business class airline points awards redemption, and my desire to travel three decades down memory lane. See this earlier blog posting for an explanation about the Zimbabwe interest.

There will be some business along the way, especially in understanding the booming Turkish construction economy.  If you are involved in the Turkish architectural, engineering or construction industry, please email

Blog entries here will be a little sporadic during the travels, while they will be maintained if possible daily at

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Getting customer service right in construction marketing

These days, businesses and consumers cite the mantra:  "Great customer service," but it seems only a few (businesses or consumers) get it right.  Far too many customers regard "great customer service" an entitlement that has no correlating obligations.  I'm afraid many businesses also use the words but don't really practice great service on the front lines, where it matters the most.

There are exceptions.  Luxury brands build systems and processes to correlate consistent great customer service.  They can do this, in part, because their margins allow them to provide greater staffing depth and higher training.  

Meanwhile, some customers really appreciate their need to observe their end of the bargain, treating their vendors/suppliers (and front-line employees) with courtesy, respect and fairness -- creating an oasis of warmth in an often-hostile environment, and therefore receiving in return some positive reciprocation from employees who are more familiar with hostility than friendliness.

I agree that, to some extent, you can systematize these processes.  You can build into your systems performance rules and standards and guidelines for how you treat customers.  Some routine customer service training, incentives for good performance and the like will obviously help.

However, the leadership for this process I think needs to come from the top.  Are your owners/managers respectful of your employees; do they provide them with enough autonomy and power to resolve complaints and will "management" take the right stand in correcting any customer service failures?

In our case, our business had a couple of rather serious service flaws.  We did not have a responsive phone system for clients calling to pay their bills or complain about them.  And our invoices were confusing, causing customers to question the charges.  (This created a double whammy -- when customers would phone, they would receive voice mail -- and often no return calls -- so their concerns grew and their frustration increased.)

We solved these problems creatively.  Instead of simply moving the "accounts receivable" phone line to a more convenient location, I proposed that anyone in the office could collect a $5.00 bonus just for answering the AR phone.  Now virtually all calls are answered instantly -- and we know right away that the call probably relates to the bills.

Then we redesigned our invoices, included stuffers to explain them, and fixed up the gaps and discrepancies in our communications.  Result:  Complaints have decline and bills are paid more promptly (great for cash flow, of course).

I think in business you need systems which encourage reporting of client complaints (and their resolution, if possible) directly to senior management, without recrimination or hostility to the employees receiving the complaints, unless there is serious at-fault behaviour. (In one case, a former employee forged client signatures on documents; this sort of behaviour is grounds for dismissal, of course.)

Meanwhile, I think we can all learn something by doing what we can to treat our employees, vendors and suppliers as much as possible like our best customers.  We may be surprised by the positive pay-off.

If you have great customer service (or horror) stories please comment.