Today’s episode we will cover a topic that is very close to my heart: marketing for the construction industry.
As the marketing person for Remontech, I was really excited to talk to Neil Brown, chairman of the Construction Association of America.
Take a listen to this great interview by clicking “play” above or by subscribing to the Construction Industry Podcast on iTunes or RSS by using the links above.
- Construction Marketing Association
- CMA Awards
- CMA Certification Program: CCMP Program
- Construction Marketing Blog
- A/E/C Best practices summary
- Get your free Marketing Report Card from the CMA
Interview (Transcript) with Neil Brown, chairman of the Construction Marketing Association: [spoiler]Cesar: Hello, Neil. How are you?
Neil: Good. How are you, Cesar? Nice to meet you.
Cesar: Nice to meet you too. Thanks for talking to me today. You’re from Chicago, right?
Neil: Correct. Yes, the Construction Marketing Association is based in Naperville, Illinois which is west of Chicago.
Cesar: Well, let’s start with that then. Can you tell me what the CMA is and what’s your role in it?
Neil: Sure, absolutely. Well, the Construction Marketing Association is a non-profit member organization that works with primarily marketing managers and executives that would work either in construction firms and related like architectural and engineering firms or they would work for manufacturers or brands that sell to construction firms or engineering firms.
Marketing managers and executives in the construction industry would be our members and what we do is provide a lot of marketing resources, information and training for that type of manager. There’s probably no other industry like construction that has so many different types of associations whether they’re unions or trade associations, what have you.
I know there’s a lot in management and finances and that kind of thing so we really focus on the marketing aspect of it. To that end, we have a monthly webcast program. Last month was a webcast, A/E/C Marketing Best Practices, and that is in our archive on the website. By the way, the website is ConstructionMarketingAssociation.org.
Neil: There you will find a list of our webcast and training events and then beyond that, we have a monthly marketing e-newsletter. So it is a membership organization and there’s a modest fee for an annual membership and if you become a member, you have access to what we call our databank or our resource databank. That will have a lot of white papers and articles and research in the construction industry and how to market better. Then we’ll also have lists of editors and construction publications at trade shows in the construction industry, all kinds of different lists and such.
So there are a lot of resources from again all marketing with a marketing focus to that and then we have a couple of other things I want to bring to your attention. We have an annual marketing awards program that actually for this year goes through this Friday, today that is, and so today is the deadline.
Neil: Here you can enter your marketing projects and programs whether it’s an advertisement or a brochure or website and all the different functional types of marketing. So we have this annual awards program and so there’s recognition involved as well. We got training, we got the resources, we got the awards and then our other big initiative is a professional certification program. So again, those doing marketing in the construction industry can get certified for their skills and their experience through what’s called the Certified Construction Marketing Professional or CCMP Program and by registering for this.
There’s a handbook study guide and then a web-based examination. If you pass the test which is an 80 percent grade, you are then able to use that designation after your name and be recognized for that as well. So that program is coming live by December 1st and we have a waiting list for that so that’s also available on the website.
Neil: Like your podcast here, we actively engage in social media and we have a blog that has won two awards. It’s called the ConstructionMarketingBlog.org and it’s a very active blog and there are a lot of tips and how-tos on it. We blog about two or three times a week in all different subjects and then we also have a Facebook, a Twitter and YouTube channel, profiles and such. We had to push in some of that blog content into those programs and communicating with this vast construction industry.
Cesar: Yes, I think that’s how I found you. It was through your blog. Very good information there. Yes. As we were talking before the show, I’m interested in social media and how to market in this new world of living now and so I try to read a lot and your blog came up. I was doing some research and there’s very good information. I’ll put a link. All these websites and these links, the URLs that you’re giving me, I’m going to put them on the show notes so the listeners can just go to our website and it’s all going to be there.
The first episode that we did was an introduction to social media for the construction industry and we got a lot of hits on that show. I think people are still trying to figure out how to use all this and obviously there’s a …
Neil: It’s a very hot topic for marketers, how to use it and use it effectively. I think some of the management in my field, they have social media. It’s kind of frivolous or personal, I should say; but we’ve really demonstrated how to use it for business purposes and really ultimately lead generation.
Cesar: Now, the professional certification program that you’re rolling out, on the exam for example, does that cover this new media?
Neil: Yes, absolutely.
Neil: It’s based on the handbook that I’ve been working on throughout the year and so it covers that handbook. It has three modules: strategic marketing, functional marketing and specialized marketing. Strategic marketing covers things like how to develop a marketing plan and how to do market research and then some strategic things like positioning strategy, segmentation and that kind of thing.
Then the functional marketing ends up covering all the traditional like advertising, PR and then goes deep into internet marketing, search engine optimization and then of course social media.
Neil: So yes, there’s plenty of content on that and I think the construction industry is a bit slow to adapt compared to maybe some other industries and yes, you’re chuckling about that.
Neil: It’s not a silver bullet but it’s part of the puzzle. We talked about your audience being in the construction industry or owners of construction projects and what have you and so we all have to market our business that’s running. How do you do it most effectively? So at the very foundation of that, maybe today versus 10 years ago or longer is really your website.
Neil: The website ends up being kind of the foundation of a program but then how you get potentially customers and the prospects to come to that website is really all about search marketing and coming up in searches. This is where social media can assist in that regard. Your podcasts here, our blog and those types of activities definitely have built that kind of search authority.
Cesar: I’ll tell you, this certification program, I think it’s going to be very useful to let’s say people who have a construction business, looking for a company to market their services. There are so many people out there selling themselves as marketing experts or social media experts. To have somebody who has been through the certification process, who has taken an exam and is familiar with the construction industry and the new media and the more traditional marketing models.
Cesar: To have that certification I think is just going to be very useful for people hiring them. So we know what this guy is about and he has been there. He knows what he’s talking about.
Neil: Yes, that’s a good point. It’s hard to find qualified vendors. There is a lot of people who say they’re experts and they end up [0:11:12] [Indiscernible] and if you’re running a construction firm or you’re in the construction industry, marketing is not your primary role so you’re not working on it day to day. So how do you know how to select someone that’s skilled? I think that’s part of the puzzle and marketing ends up being expensive so you don’t really want to experiment.
Neil: And take chances. So certification is part of that and how do you hire qualified vendors and partners to help you in some of these activities. Again, the hot topic is social media and our employer, our members and the clients that I work with too, the real leverage is when you integrate traditional with some of the new media. That’s when you really get powerful results and I think you’ve experienced that as well.
Cesar: Yes. You were talking about how the construction industry is sometimes a little slow to pick up on new things and to me, I see that as an opportunity because it means that it’s easier for you to stand out if you’re marketing yourself or your business because you can easily do things that other people are not doing. As you said, it can be found on searches and that’s how I found you. That’s how a lot of people find me.
I do these podcasts and I provide the transcription of the interview on our website and all the text becomes indexable by Google, Bing and other search engines and so people are finding us from there. Nobody is doing what we’re doing this way. I’m doing a lot of it myself. I’m not a marketing professional. It would be really, really nice to have the help of a marketing professional that is familiar with the construction industry and to direct their effort on standing out.
Cesar: So you’re standing out the right way and not the wrong way.
Neil: Right, and the association can provide some information, tips, resources and training programs to support those that are getting into marketing. Then we have an agency affiliate so we a group that we partner with the association that can provide some marketing services. So I’ve got a couple of assets I want to share with your listeners and your folks that are participating in this.
Neil: We talked about one of them. We’ve got this great white paper and construction lead services. Then when we read about it, we are hard-pressed to find kind of a comparison of many different construction lead services out there. Most people know about the big ones like Dodge Reports from McGraw-Hill and reconstruction data but there are also a lot of regional ones.
There are lead services that specialize just in the government projects as well. So there’s a whole realm and if you are a trade contractor or a general contractor or a construction project owner, the lead services end up being a good very key aspect to what could be your marketing program. So that white paper is available to members in the association website and then if you’re not a member you can get it for a modest fee.
To let you know, just last week, we did a webcast on A/E/C Marketing Best Practices, architectural, engineering, construction firm best marketing practices. We’re blogging about it today actually, the summary of the webcast and so this blog is free. You can go the ConstructionMarketingBlog.org and we put in the blog a list of the top 10 things a construction firm can be doing to market their services.
Cesar: That’s fantastic. Yes.
Neil: Yes, so this was generated from this great panel that we have that was all from the construction industry. We had one panel that’s from reconstruction data and so we created this list of top 10. We have a national survey that we did on best practices and we identified the different types of marketing that construction firms are doing, what’s most effective and what’s least effective. So that’s the kind of thing that we’re doing with our webcast and then our white papers. The white paper is available. The summary of the webcast is available. You can sign up for free feeds to our blog and I think this might be interesting to your constituents.
We have a lot of free stuff that’s available but one of them is a free marketing evaluation service. You can register for a marketing evaluation. We actually do it as a marketing report card with a grade to it so we actually grade your marketing and we come up with the marketing report card and what is your marketing GPA or marketing grade point average. We actually measure four different aspects of your marketing as individual grades and we come up with a composite GPA just like academia, just like school.
You get this one-page marketing report card so this is free service and you’ll find this on the association home page, the link to the registration forms. I believe that those that register for it will find it interesting and they might find it somewhat critical as well but objective. So I shared with you that a lot of folks think they’re doing their marketing really well.
Neil: Because they got an article places last April. Well, that’s not going to get a very high grade if that’s the extent of the marketing program. Everyone has a website. So what is the SEO on your website? How much search optimization do you have on that website? We measure that. That’s one of the grades and then we measure if you have an ongoing marketing program and most in the construction industry don’t.
Neil: So that’s going to be graded rather in a harsh way so it’s not for everyone. You might not want that kind of objective criticism but – yes.
Cesar: Now, how much is the fee for being a member of the CMA?
Neil: Sure. Yes, it’s $169 US and there is also some corporate – if you sign up five or more, you can do that for a much lower fee. So there’s some of that. We have a few corporate members.
Cesar: I think that’s an amazing value for what you get for the whole year.
Neil: That’s US so the Canadian dollar we all know is worth more.
Neil: [0:19:49] [Indiscernible] discount there.
Cesar: Right now I think it’s one to one. Like one day we’re a little over and the next day a little under so on average. Now as I said, you want to be different than the competition and all these resources that you’re telling me about them. I have a big grin of my face because I’m going to use them. I know it.
Cesar: I would like to switch gears a little bit because I like to talk about becoming a construction marketer. What is the career path for someone in construction marketing? Do you usually start in the construction business and then move on to marketing or usually marketing professionals who specialize in the construction sector? I ask this because there might be people who are in the industry and they’ve been marketing their own company and they might see this as a career for them. I always like to have options and maybe this is something that they can pursue.
Neil: Absolutely. Yes. I think it could come from a number of different backgrounds and education backgrounds as well but I think if you’re working for a construction firm, very often it might be that you’re growing within that firm, that you didn’t have maybe a marketing background. You end up working for the firm and doing marketing as an assignment over time.
So I would say that’s probably pretty common for small to mid-sized construction businesses. The larger one, we look at the ENR top 100 construction firms, the big Turners and Bechtels and such. I believe that to be in that type of a marketing role, you probably do have to have the marketing education which would be marketing or journalism or a communications degree or maybe a master’s and MBA as well.
Company size is one aspect and then the other part of the market is if you work on the manufacturer or the brand side and you’re selling to the construction market. Do you have construction and marketing experience? Then I think you’re extremely valuable to the brand or the manufacturer but I’ve also seen a lot of clients and folks on the brand side who do not have construction industry experience and just be trained with marketing or have the education in marketing and they end up working for that type of firm and learning the construction industry.
It can be from a number of different backgrounds, I would say. A lot of the people that will listen to this podcast are probably more in the construction industry or owners of construction projects. They may have grown up in the construction market and have a lot of experience so without maybe the marketing educational background. That’s why if you end up becoming a member in the association or participating – and the monthly webcasts are free as well so you can learn marketing as well.
Cesar: That would be good advice. Yes. OK.
Cesar: That will be good advice to a construction professional who might be looking and going the marketing route I guess to check out the CMA website and learn more about the industry that way. OK.
Cesar: Now what are some of the challenges that are specific to construction marketers as opposed to other marketing professionals? Like what are the challenges that are unique to the construction industry when you’re trying to market?
Neil: Well, one of the challenges of recent is that it has been one of the most difficult markets financially. Construction activity has been reduced a great deal so I think that’s a challenge and consequently budgets have been reduced. We’re trying to do more with less and the outlook is not excellent either.
It’s very, very slow growth and then there are certain categories that are not doing well at all. There are bright spots, different verticals whether it’s healthcare or education or government or municipal projects. There are still some bright spots here and there or regionally but otherwise, you’re hard-pressed to find the high growth that we’ve experienced in years past. So that’s a real challenge.
I would say the other is that in the construction industry, marketing isn’t always given the authority or importance of other functions within the company. Some marketing ends up not getting the attention so I think in this economy and with that kind of secondary importance to marketing, if you’re working on the marketing side, you really need to demonstrate measurability and results in your marketing efforts, which is what traditional marketing was. It was always challenging.
Some of the electronic marketing SEO and email and some of the web-based and internet-based marketing, there is more measurability. You can measure website registrations and leads from that. You can measure email campaigns and click-through rates. Even some of the social media, Facebook, YouTube, they have dashboards that allow you to get some level of measurements.
It’s all about generating leads and ideally tying that back to sales and RFPs. One thing that came up in our A/E/C broadcast or webcast last week was that you really want to be self-sourced [0:27:37] [Phonetic]. You don’t want to just be reliant on RFPs because RFPs means they might be looking at many other firms as well.
So you really want to get to that position where they’re picking up the phone to call you for your role in the construction industry. So in essence, they’re still searching [Phonetic] because of their relationships. That’s a good point that you have customer retention relationship building and then you have customer acquisition. How do you acquire new customers? So you might have different marketing activities for each of those.
Cesar: Right. I’m reading a book on selling services to the construction industry and the book emphasizes the fact that we need to choose the companies that we want to work for and then start from that instead of just throwing your …
Neil: Going under. Yes, yes, yes, good point. Yes, that came up on our best practices webcast last week about really spending time identifying the profile of what your best customer is, what’s the best fit and trying not to be everything to everybody.
Cesar: Right, yes.
Neil: So it has got to be a profitable relationship, sustainable and all that. Yes, that could come up.
Cesar: As you said, it’s a lot easier to measure the results of our efforts. You probably know this because you’re in the field but in traditional marketing, 50 percent of money spent on marketing is wasted but you never know which 50 percent it was.
Neil: Correct. They always said that about advertising.
Cesar: Advertising, yes, and now you can. That didn’t work and we can just tweak as we go. It’s easier to show what’s working and what’s not. OK.
Neil: Correct. Yes.
Cesar: I have a question here from somebody on LinkedIn who asked me to ask you. I hope I’m not butchering the name. The name is Adewumi Olakuni [0:30:12] [Phonetic] and this person would like to know, “What’s the best and most effective mode of construction marketing?”
Neil: Well, that’s a pretty broad question and that was a question during our webcast.
Neil: It’s tricky because there’s really not any single bullet out there. I know how I answered the question on last week’s webcast and it was I kind of feel like you have to have your website in order. Your website has to be search optimized and so many websites aren’t. There’s a free tool called WebsiteGrader.com.
Neil: Just like it sounds, Website Grader, G-R-A-D-E-R dot com and you can put in your domain name. It will spin out a report, a real time report and give you a grade from 1 to 100 just like the university. If your grade isn’t in the 90 percentile, you’re pretty much doing a bad job at optimizing your website. More often than not, the construction firms in particular are going to have failing grades but the nice thing about this report is that it will tell you some of the problems that are inhibiting a better grade.
Some of them are very, very basic so I think a lot of people think their websites are great because aesthetically they look very nice. In the construction category, they would have sexy pictures of their latest projects and that kind of thing. That’s all fine and dandy but it’s all about search optimization so I would put a lot of eggs in that basket for what we talked about, the customer acquisition aspect, and not so much customer retention. Searches are all about acquisition.
Cesar: OK. What are your thoughts about this? That the challenges of marketing a product or service in an industry where the criterion for selection is usually simply the lowest bidder. How do you win business if you’re not willing to just lose money on a job for example?
Neil: Yes. That’s a really good question and that comes back to not being so bound to reacting to RFPs. You end up establishing customer relationships that last. At some point, you win a project. You exceed expectations. You end up being so important to your customer that they wouldn’t consider going anywhere else. Reasonable fees are part of it but in the end, within the construction industry, these projects are multimillion dollars. They’re big projects. There are a lot of risks associated with these big projects. So you don’t want to make mistakes. If you have a good, good vendor, a good supplier, a good subcontractor, you don’t want to lose that. So you may begin in that position. Do you get in with a new customer by bidding it at cost or something? I can’t answer that but you’ve got to pay your overhead and sustain your company as well financially so long term, you can’t do that.
Somehow you need to build your brand. Your reputation and your brand are one and the same so you need to be able to demonstrate value and more often than not, companies in the construction category showcase studies, projects they worked out. It’s going to be deeper than pretty pictures as well so you’ve got to show other aspects like on-time delivery, total cost of ownership, return on investment, financial measures, meeting financial targets and that kind of thing. So there’s no easy answer but that’s the silver bullet, if anyone can figure that out. It’s inherent to the construction industry, isn’t it?
Cesar: Yes, it is. It is and I’ll tell you, what we provide is remote monitoring for construction projects. It’s not a service that is on people’s minds right away so it’s rarely on RFPs. Our challenge is in which part of the project cycle do you come in and start that relationship. Is it before they write the RFP so they make sure that they include a service [0:36:19] [Indiscernible] in it or is it after the contract has been awarded and we approach the contractor? Usually they don’t have any budget for anything because they’re the lowest bidder. They like what we do but they can’t afford it so they try to sell it to the owners. So now we have that person in between.
It’s always a challenge for us but what you said makes a lot of sense which is having that relationship. So 95 percent of our work is repeat business because for some fluke – let’s say before you were doing a lot of effort in marketing, let’s say we got a new client and we weren’t even trying. Just I think the nature of who we are to create that relationship and that bond; and then when that client had another project, they would just phone us. Hey, I have another one coming up. I would like to have you guys again. It’s done that way and I think that’s a lot easier than to just try to be looking for RFPs as you said and trying to lower your price so you win it.
When you can have that relationship with somebody, they wouldn’t even look at other people. They know that you can do it. They trust you and they phone you. They know how much you cost but I think the challenge is to increase the number of clients like that which I call gold clients. To me, that’s the hardest part and I think that’s where social media provides ways for you to engage with other people and start that communication, that relationship. You guys are doing a great job at the CMA by providing all that content. I’m sure there are a lot of people finding that and looking to you for anything construction marketing-related because of that and it’s really smart.
Neil: Yes, probably. We hope so and we’re a young organization and we were founded about two years ago so we’re growing gradually and nicely. I think we’re providing a unique service to a big industry and marketing I think is getting more important in the construction industry because of the economic environment and because of the competitive nature of everything. Long term, I think marketing will continue to gain importance in the construction industry.
Cesar: Yes. I think because of how easy it is to measure now, it’s becoming less of an art that’s subjective and more of a science and you can actually measure and put your efforts in smartly. When people see results, they see the value and I think now is the time for marketing with the new Web 2.0.
Cesar: Yes. OK.
Neil: That’s right. Well, can I email you some different assets that you can place as links to some of your readers and such?
Cesar: Yes, yes. You can do that and I’ll put it right on top of the show notes so if you visit ConstructionIndustryPodcast.com and look for the show notes on this episode, the links will be there.
Neil: Sounds good.
Cesar: All right.
Neil: Well, thanks for including me, Cesar. I look forward to talking with you in the future and collaborating in the spirit of new marketing. We should reciprocal link and that kind of stuff.
Cesar: For sure, yes. Yes.
Neil: Sounds good. Well, I appreciate your call.
Cesar: Thanks for helping and we’ll be in touch.
Neil: All right.
Cesar: OK, bye.