A/E/C Firm Positioning

A/E/C Firm Positioning

A/E/C Firm Positioning

Note: This is a transcript of an episode about Positioning Your Firm from PSM – Professional Services Marketing Show podcast. Hosts David Lecours and Josh Miles share best practices for A/E/C firm positioning.

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  • What is Positioning?
  • Why positioning your firm can be painful?
  • Vertical vs. horizontal vs. both in positioning strategies
  • How long should your positioning last?
  • Template for your positioning statement
  • Where do you use a positioning statement
  • Why firms avoid positioning

PSM.show hosts David Lecours and Josh Miles

Episode 108 on A/E/C Firm Positioning

Announcer: Welcome to PSM. The Professional Services Marketing Podcast. It’s insight applied.

David Lecours: Hello and welcome to PSM show. If it’s about professional services marketing, we’ll be covering it here. I’m David Lecours and this is Episode 108. Josh, Happy New Year. Did you have a nice holiday?

Josh Miles: sure did. We’re still cleaning up a little bit of the champagne over here.

David Lecours: Nice. We had guests and it’s always great to have family come but it’s probably even better to have them leave.

Josh Miles: How can we miss them if they won’t go away?

David Lecours: That’s right. Absolutely so cool. I’m excited about our topic today. Do you want to tell us what it is?

Josh Miles: Yes something near and dear to my heart. And today it’s all about positioning. So does that mean we’re your firm is located?

David Lecours: It could. However, it’s not a necessity. What positioning really refers to and I really think of positioning as kind of the foundation of all marketing. You know it’s what you do. It’s who you do it for. And then it’s how your differentiator benefits those target audiences. So it really requires some sometimes painful decision making because you have to decide what you’re going to be and that often means what you’re going to not be. And my experience. I love your take on this is don’t you find it that marketers really have trouble narrowing their positioning?

Josh Miles: I think it’s kind of a classic case of people saying well we don’t want to be pigeonholed for something or we don’t want to be stuck only known for this one particular thing. So I think people tend to especially creatively minded people tend to fight against the idea of having to do something that’s so tight and so narrow that they’re going to be just screwing caps on bottles for the rest of their lives.

David Lecours: I think you know one of the things I have in here is well what about AECOMM? You know they work in. You know I don’t know how many but let’s say 12 different vertical markets and they offer 12 different services and it’s probably more like twelve hundred of each. And I always say well when you get to be AECOMM you can do that too. But until then I think it helps. And you know when you have a firm that size with that many resources, then it makes sense. But yeah I’ve also found that those creative folks, and I put engineers and architects and even consultants and even sometimes accountants.

David Lecours: You know trouble you know making those hard decisions.

Josh Miles: when you think to your point on AECOMM part of a company like that that is just massive in size and scale. And in all the markets that they work in, that is their positioning.

David Lecours: Exactly. Yes.

Josh Miles: We are half of the world of professional services. So that’s why you come to us because we are a force to be reckoned with. So they don’t have to get super narrow because they can say we are the only AECOMM.

David Lecours: In fact, in their positioning statement there is a line about we take on the world’s largest problems and you know until your firm can take on the world’s largest problems it’s probably best to leave that positioning to them. So yeah you’re right that is in fact their positioning. But yeah I mean I had my experience is that clients to your clients here I’m talking to our audience here they really do want to hire experts and it’s really difficult to build meaningful expertise if you’re reinventing your service offerings every time you take on a new client while I get there’s a there’s an addiction and there’s probably an adrenaline rush to that we call that sort of jumping off the diving board and inventing water on the way down. It’s not a real sustainable way to work. You know you’re going to crash and hit the pavement if that water isn’t vented in time. So yeah I think positioning requires some tough decisions in order to get to a place where you can really demonstrate your expertise.

Josh Miles: I think the expertise is really what it comes down to is this idea of being the only your being the leader in space or being the the ones who can help a client through a particular challenge or problem or you know knowing that you’re bringing somebody on who’s who’s seen this before. Sort of akin to the surgeon like you don’t have somebody operate on your shoulder who is like, “well,I usually do feet. But yeah. What the heck I’ll try a shoulder.”

David Lecours: Right, I can do it. Yeah. I’ve got a scalpel. Well they’re certainly different parts of the anatomy. And, to that end, you know you can have different services and you can work in different markets but you need to sort of come up with a compelling way to wrap those two together. I like to say, “you can be a bartender and a wastewater engineer, but you better have different business cards.”

Josh Miles: Exactly. I don’t think I want the glass from the same guy.

David Lecours: No definitely not. So you know to further elaborate if it’s not clear. Yeah you can work in radically different spaces but you need to have different marketing plans and different positioning for each of those very different spaces. So we’re kind of talking a little bit about you know different types of positioning and sort of the classical you know ways to look at this is working in vertical markets versus horizontal or a combination. You want to sort of unpack that a little bit Josh? in sort of what those different terms mean. Case we’re in a clear.

Josh Miles: Yeah absolutely. So when I think of verticals I typically think of industries. So this could be things like education or health care or public works or you’ve got these different vertical markets that you go into and then horizontal for me and maybe you look at this differently would be sort of the areas of expertise for the practice areas or the studios in which your firm works so you know in a really huge practice you might have an interior design practice and you might also have MEP engineering and you might also have structural engineering and you know most firms don’t have a diversity of a spread but you have those different areas that you do work and have specialties and then those different areas that you are sort of the clients that you interact with.

David Lecours: Right. So yeah it’s just kind of simplify or summarize so verticals tend to be more markets and horizontals tend to be more services. Now where I think you know if firms if you’re sort of thinking about these different options where a firm can be really compelling is when they combine those two things together. So let’s say they are working specifically in healthcare and they are specialists in interior design. So when those two things come together now they’re really starting to differentiate themselves from all the other people that work in healthcare and all the other people that are interior designers.

Josh Miles: Yeah it’s a much tighter positioning when you can say we’re the only you know interior design firm who specializes in cancer rehab. You know you can have these very tight ways to go to market when you’ve got very specific target both in the service line and in the practice area and there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. You

David Lecours: know if you’re focusing in specific vertical markets it’s much easier to find the clients that you’ve chosen to seek. You know you can most likely there’s some sort of trade organization you can join that you can buy lists of people because they’ve already self-identified as working in healthcare or education. Horizontal it’s a little more difficult but it certainly can be done and there is probably a little more variety if you are just focusing in a horizontal service. But again it’s tough to get that level of expertise.

Josh Miles: You know one of the things that I like to walk clients through is this idea of perceptual mapping which is kind of a fun way to look vertical and horizontally from a visual standpoint. And one of the most basic ways you can break that down is you know do you do one thing or do you do a myriad of things. So

Josh Miles: I would put like on the x-axis left to right is kind of your breadth of services. So if you picture the left side is we do everything on the right side as we do one thing and then on the y-axis could be just price. So the bottom of the y-axis is we charge rock bottom basement prices and the top is we’re super premium so you can start to map out where you fall on that grid and where your competitor falls on that grid and then you start to see light. Are we all kind of crowded around the middle of fighting for the same thing or are we all fighting over the price because we’re commodity ties and we do everything and we’re on differentiated or are we super differentiated to the point where we charge those premium prices so that we can really get great demand for our expertise. And then you can do the same x y perceptual mapping thing for any of those vertical and horizontal positioning elements and kind of see how you match up and how your competition falls on that chart for each of those positioning areas.

David Lecours: Yes that’s a really great way to do it because it’s a visual tool that you really quickly can see where the opening is and I’m not sure in the beginning if we really clarified wide positioning matters but the whole goal is to carve out an open space to really own a particular space you know in this case within those little baps years getting a visual feedback of it. But yeah it’s the idea of differentiating your firm so you’re not just a commodity you’re not just one of many. You know having to always only compete on price. You want to be perceived as this expert and offering something truly unique and meaningful to your client.

Josh Miles: Yeah. Back in the day. Maybe not even all that long ago everyone said oh we’re just an attack on sustainability to our positioning. And everybody was saying the same thing and all of a sudden you find out you’re like you’re all in the same room. So you all strangely sound the same when you Tagamet on so you know those little things that become trends that really take off and then it’s a sort of unexpected element of you know being a good business.

David Lecours: So that brings up something that I’m thinking about as you know. How long should a firm’s positioning last?

Josh Miles: Wow that is a fantastic question. I guess my gut feeling would be it should only last as long as it makes sense and as long as it’s profitable.

David Lecours: Yeah you know so I sort of teed this up because eventually we want to have the Image Seven folks back on. If you’re new to our podcast Josh and I adopted this podcast from a firm in Australia that had sort of two positioning areas of focus. One was in educational marketing and one was in professional services marketing. They chose to narrow their positioning and they eliminated the professional services and thus they reached out to us to adopt the podcast. They are just now working in the educational marketing space so positioning isn’t forever. I think you should approach it perhaps and this is just my opinion. I think you should approach it as if it is forever so you take it seriously. But you re-evaluate say every three to five years every time you look at your strategic plan and say hey is the marketplace still responding? Are we still relevant? Are we sort of as positioned as we think we are when we first launched this positioning?

Josh Miles: Yeah absolutely I think to go into it with the at least the short term view that this is forever. Yes that sounds really contradictory. The short-term view that it’s forever but at least thinking about it as OK if we had to do one thing forever would it be and start doing that now. And I think very much to Image Seven’s credit as you said at the top of the show. They had those two positioning. But when you went to the Web site it was really clear you need to either go in one door or the other being some sort of virtual version of two business cards and they made two podcasts.

Josh Miles: So they had the absolute version of this show that’s just education focused as well which is really cool.

David Lecours: And I think I won’t speak for them but I’m just going to guess is that that takes a lot of work. Right. So now you’re marketing almost two separate brands. Two separate podcasts two separate e-mail lists two separate ways you do proposals. And well I can’t wait to hear from them but my guess is that that just became unwieldy and they realized that while they could actually be deeper experts if they weren’t splitting their time between these two areas and they could narrow their focus and go deeper so.

Josh Miles: Well that’s a little teaser we’re going to hear from them when we interview them something maybe David you could talk about is let’s see I get this super niche. Sorry, that’s my Midwest coming out. You can say “niche” if you just have pinkies out as far as I’m concerned. But you’re super niche positioning. And then there’s really general opportunity walks in the door that looks interesting. What do you what do you do with that? If it doesn’t really fall within your stated positioning?

David Lecours: I believe that positioning is about the work that you seek, not necessarily what you accept. So positioning is what you’re doing in terms of proactive marketing: the things that you’re going out into the world and seeking. But if a great opportunity presents itself then and gosh darn it if you’ve got a hole in your pipeline for incoming work, of course, you take that work or it may just be an incredible new opportunity that somebody believes you can do effectively because you’re so well positioned in this other space it might be some complementary type of work say you’re amazing at health care specifically in the sciences and then a lab comes to you and says Hey can you design our lab then yeah, of course, you take that on and that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about positioning is that if you’re going to somehow put these blinders on and never be able to accept work outside the domains that you are establishing.

Josh Miles: And I think the reality is so long is that you know that oddball project that is attractive and profitable is something that your current staff can execute on. So it’s assuming you’re not you know to use your wastewater engineer earlier that if you have a room full of those guys and this is a road or bridge project that shows up obviously that’s that’s maybe not the best fit but to have something that is a little bit outside of your positioning you can still handle absolutely take that on but then don’t put it on your home page and tweet about it and put it all over Facebook and you know tell everybody how excited you are to win this project. That is not at all what you’ve spent so long doing the market. You’re all about it.

David Lecours: And let’s say you do work in a couple different verticals or you have a couple different services. You know while we like to think that we love all our children equally. The reality is that some of those verticals that you work in and some of those services are going to be inherent if not significantly more not profit necessarily but they bring in more revenue. And I think you need to be really sort of clear about knowing where your money’s coming from and if in fact one of those areas is where you’re getting most of your dollars. That’s the positioning that you lead with doesn’t again not necessarily. You’re not going to sort of cut out those others services or markets. It’s just you’re going to lead. And then what I hope is that by leading in that market you’ll be so well known that those other services and markets will sort of draft and benefit from the strong leadership and strong you know point of view and position that you’re taking.

Josh Miles: know speaking of strong points of view I found in school one of the greatest ways to develop a strong statement was to use the scientific method called Mad Libs. So yeah.

Josh Miles: DAVID I know that you have this really cool sort of Mad Lib-esque way of putting together positioning statement. Maybe you could introduce our listeners to that right.

David Lecours: So if there was a deliverable in your positioning it would be the positioning statement and this is the statement that goes at the top of your website. It’s the first things that somebody reads and this is sort of the the Madlib fill-in-the blank format that we use with our client so I’ll just read this out and then in your mind listeners sort of start to fill in the blanks. OK. So we are a _________. And that’s where you fill in type of firm helping ________ (fill in target audience) to ____________ (solve a business problem.) So what that would look like and I’ll just use LecoursDesign positioning because I know the best. I would say we are branding consultants helping a A/E/C firms attract great clients and talent. I’ve identified the type of firm that we are: branding. You know you could say architect you could say engineer you could say accountant helping. And I’ve identified the target audience: in this case AEC firms which is architecture engineering construction firms and then too. And here’s where you insert solve a business problem which is: helping those firms attract great clients and talent. So that’s like the very simplest form of a one-sentence positioning statement if you want to add on to that which most clients do because they feel like that doesn’t really capture all of them. You can add a second sentence that is: Our __________ and that’s where you fill in unique value proposition does __________. And that’s where you fill in the benefit to your target audience. And this is where most firms get it wrong frankly is that they don’t convert the feature to the benefit right. They say why they are unique but they don’t clarify why that is unique to their target audience. Does that make sense?

Josh Miles: Yeah I think that’s totally right. I think when I don’t think this is even unique to AEC or professional services but I think marketers in general often want to lead with features and they kind of fail to circle back with the benefits for the benefit or that as Simon Sinek would say the Why is really a thing that you want to lead with what’s what’s the unique way that you are helping us solve this that only your firm brings to bear.

David Lecours: And it comes down to you know what I call the curse of knowledge right. You know all those benefits so well you feel like you don’t need to communicate them. But keep in mind that a potential client is just learning about you for the first time and they don’t they don’t know all those things so you have to sort of oversimplifying what it seems like in your mind oversimplify and over communicate to him. And it’s just communication and just oh OK I get it.

Josh Miles: Yeah exactly. And I think the more you know the more you fail to ask the right questions and be curious so you just sort of assume that you know the answer is our sales coach calls the dummy curve like the better you get at doing stuff the worse you get at selling things because you just assume that you know what they’re going to say and you know as our coach says when granny’s basement flooded totally ruined her dresser because the whole basement was full of water. And so your response would be what?

David Lecours: Why? Why did it flood?

Josh Miles: That’s one of the correct questions. So you didn’t he didn’t jump to a value judgment says oh that sucks or I’m so sorry or ma’am that’s too bad that you lost a piece of furniture. You know you jumped to a questions so you don’t know if I like the furniture or if I was happy was in my basement if I was frustrated with it. But questioning is the right path to go there.

David Lecours: Yeah not just making these assumptions. Sorry, Josh, I guess I’m just too well trained.

Josh Miles: I think you’re a plant.

David Lecours: So there are a couple tests when you’re writing out your positioning statement. There are a couple of things that you can do to sort of test whether it’s working. Josh you want to talk about those?

Josh Miles: Sure. So maybe this goes without saying but you can’t go to market with something that just simply isn’t true. So if you if you read this positioning statement and you’re like. Eh, that’s that’s not quite right. And then obviously maybe work a little bit harder on that.

David Lecours: Yeah so that’s it it’s a tough one because as marketers sometimes we’re prone to hyperbole and a little bit of exaggeration but it gets to actually the third one is that it’s got to be provable it’s got to be something that you can demonstrate. I call it during the “client dating process.” It’s that time when the clients getting to know you. You’re getting to know the client and if you’re making a pretty bold claim and I firmly believe you should. If you can’t back it up with some sort of evidence or demonstration of how you pulled that off for clients in the past, it just doesn’t fall into that “true” category. Now maybe you’re not 100 percent there maybe you’re 90 percent there but if you stake this bold claim it’s going to force you to learn some new knowledge or add some staff that has capabilities maybe that you don’t quite have.

David Lecours: Yes. I don’t have a problem with firms claiming that. But what I do struggle with is if they’re at like 20 percent there and they’re claiming 100 percent that just does not because people are smart you know they can sniff out B.S. pretty quickly. So yeah.

Josh Miles: So it’s ok I guess maybe to phrase it differently. You would think it’s OK to be a little bit aspirational and how you’re positioning yourself even if it’s maybe a newly found position? You’ve been doing this work for 100 years but for the last year, this has been your focus. And so now it feels most right.

David Lecours: Yeah I love that. Aspirational is the perfect way to say that.

Josh Miles: Yeah. So it’s got to be true. It’s got to be provable and it needs to be unique something that is absolutely you and not something that anyone else can claim or they would have to have the same skill sets and experiences to be able to claim that.

David Lecours: And to that point, it’s got to be meaningful to your clients. So there’s a great book out there by a consultant named Cal Harrison and he wrote a book called The Consultant with Pink Hair. So having pink hair is not probably meaningful to your target audience. Yes, it might differentiate you from your competitors but so what? You know you keep asking yourself that question you know is this unique-ness meaningful and compelling to our target audience.

Josh Miles: That’s such a great point. So what if you’re the insurance consultant that sells insurance to everyone and drives the yellow Humvee right. Right. The vehicle’s interesting and maybe obnoxious but it doesn’t actually make you better. Insurance agents it just would be easy to spy you on the freeway.

David Lecours: It’s just different for difference sake. So what are some places to place a positioning? You’ve spent time crafting this. You want to put it out there in the world. What are some vehicles or places or when might you use the positioning statement?

Josh Miles: I think there’s definitely as we noted earlier kind of lead in the sales process and I would offer even early in the sales process those are probably two of the strongest reasons that the shining stands out both. You know if you’re in proposal land and putting together paperwork or if you’re in that short list interview and they’re asking you okay why should we hire you. That positioning statement should go a long way to really set you apart from the rest of the crowd.

David Lecours: Yeah definitely. And I guess I was thinking sort of also sort of practical things like I mentioned earlier. You know it should be at the top of the website. Some firms put the positioning statement you know on the back of their business card. You know it can be of like the foundation of your and I hate this term elevator pitch because nobody talks in an elevator but you know what I’m talking about here it’s that answer to the question Hey tell me what you do. Ideally, you’re positioning statement is written in real language and that’s not something we touched on but it’s a mistake that I see firms make as they do they create these positioning statements that sound, when written, so lofty and beautifully crafted. But if you were to say it in a conversation you would just feel like a… you just feel slimy and like a…..jerk

David Lecours: Nobody really uses that kind of language. So I think it’s important to use real life language in your positioning statement so that if someone asks, “hey what do you do?” You know you can reel comfortably say hey we’re branding consultants and we help if firms attract great clients and talent. And if it doesn’t tell the whole story that’s great. Hopefully, there’s going to be a follow-on question somebody is going to go really well. How do you do that? Or tell me more whatever. So you don’t have to like spell out the whole thing and that’s why it’s just a statement it’s not a paragraph and it’s not an entire white paper. Yeah

Josh Miles: I love having the almost sort of the positioning tease that invites someone to ask the question how do you do that. So I remember this one guy from networking circles years ago who when he would introduce himself people would say what are you doing? He would say I help people find the money hiding inside their business. And who doesn’t want to would, of course, say how do you do that. And then he gets a chance to unpack what he does and reviews contracts with you and helps you figure out other ways to save money here and there. And I think part of his pitch was he gets paid a percentage of whatever he helps you save so you know even his fee is sort of invisible because it was you were already spending it anyhow so he’ll spend most of that and his fee is actually inherently tied up in his positioning which is really like his business model gets summarized by his positioning.

David Lecours: So that’s very interesting. But yeah whether you’re saying it verbally or whether you’re writing it in word form whatever the medium I think the goal is to engage somebody in a conversation. Right. So we’re not professional services typically don’t work in e-commerce. It’s not like somebody fills out a shopping cart and buys your services right off your site. So it requires having some conversations and developing a level of trust between the both of you. Ideally, the positioning statement begins that conversation.

Josh Miles: People who bought MEP consulting also blog commissioning it has only three remain at this price and should make that website just for this report.

David Lecours: Absolutely. Alright, since we’re starting to devolve maybe it’s time to kind of wrap things up. I don’t know what do you think is there anything else that you wanted to talk about jobs in terms of positioning. No

Josh Miles: I think that’s good. I think you know if any listeners have thoughts on their positioning or would like to float some bias you can head over to PSM.show and share some of your thoughts with us and let us know how your process of creating a strong positioning is going for you and your firm.

David Lecours: Yes absolutely we’ll also have some other resources in the show notes again at PSM.show. So to wrap up great talk. Josh

David Lecours: this is PSM show professional services marketing and Episode 1 0 8 and we are glad to be here in the New Year and excited to kick off we’ve got some really exciting interviews coming up that we’ve lined up. So make sure you go to subscribe to iTunes and keep yourself on a regular drip of the PSM show.

Josh Miles: Very nice. DAVID, great chatting with you. We’ll see you next time. All right sounds good. Bye.

David Lecours: Bye.




SMPS Interview on Rebranding AEC Firms

SMPS Interview on Rebranding AEC Firms

Island Brand ID

I’m deliv­er­ing a national webi­nar on Jan. 21 for Soci­ety for Mar­ket­ing Pro­fes­sional Ser­vices (SMPS) about rebrand­ing A/E/C firms. Below is my pre-webinar inter­view with SMPS on this topic.

How does a com­pany or orga­ni­za­tion know when it’s time for rebrand­ing?
The time to rebrand is when your firm is known for what it used to be, not what it aims to be. Island Archi­tects used to be known for design­ing tra­di­tional homes. In 2008, we designed a brand iden­tity update to reflect their aim to also be known for con­tem­po­rary archi­tec­ture. A brand audit and/or per­cep­tion study can help a firm decide if/when to rebrand.

rebranding evolution of the Island Architects logo

How would you define a “˜tired’ brand?
A tired brand doesn’t rein­vest in itself. A tired brand looks, feels, and sounds dated. A tired brand isn’t aligned with the strate­gic direc­tion of the firm.

What com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions have you helped when it comes to rebrand­ing?
Our firm, Lecours­De­sign has a nar­row focus of brand con­sult­ing for the Architecture/Engineering indus­try. A few brand­ing clients have included Tucker Sadler Architects, International Park­ing Design, Vasquez Mar­shall Archi­tects, MA Engi­neers, Schmidt Design Group, Kirk­patrick Archi­tects,BSE Engi­neer­ing, Island Archi­tects, SMPS San Diego and USGBC San Diego. Some of these are view­able here.Sustainable Nametags for USGBC-SD

Can you describe a suc­cess­ful rebrand­ing project you were part of?
I sat next to Glen Schmidt, Prin­ci­pal of Schmidt Design Group at the firstSMPS lun­cheon I attended. He men­tioned an impend­ing 20th anniver­sary and rebrand for the firm. After being hired, I first helped refine a new brand posi­tion­ing of “bal­anc­ing artis­tic expres­sion in design with envi­ron­men­tal sensitivity.”

After pre­sent­ing new logo design explo­rations, Glen asked me to dupli­cate my pre­sen­ta­tion to the entire firm. This was a smart move because rebrand­ing requires change, which employ­ees and stake­hold­ers often resist. By shar­ing the think­ing behind the new logo explo­rations, the entire firm felt part of the process. Employ­ees shared their opin­ions, but the Prin­ci­pals made the final deci­sion on which logo to refine. The new logo led to a new color and typog­ra­phy palette as part of a brand style guide.

I sug­gested a 6″ square gift book for atten­dees at their 20th anniver­sary party, and to have a mar­ket­ing life beyond the party. I designed a 48-page book titled 20 Years of Ser­vice, 20 Lessons Learned. The lessons fell into one of three themes: life, work, and design. A Schmidt Design Group client told Glen that she keeps the book on her desk. If she’s hav­ing a bad day, she looks through it for inspi­ra­tion. This is when I knew the project was successful.

schmidt_ext_book_54020th Anniversary Book

What do you like most about work­ing on brand­ing projects?
I tell clients “Don’t try to be dif­fer­ent. Sim­ply acknowl­edge that you already are (dif­fer­ent).” It’s grat­i­fy­ing to help firms clar­ify who they are and what makes them most rel­e­vant to prospec­tive clients. Mar­ry­ing this strat­egy with cre­ative expres­sion becomes real when a client is incred­i­bly proud to hand out their new busi­ness card.

How involved is the client dur­ing a brand­ing project?
Clients involve­ment in brand research and plan­ning is essen­tial because they know their busi­ness best. A good brand­ing con­sul­tant asks the right ques­tions, gains con­sen­sus on the prob­lem to solve, and guides the client in deci­sion mak­ing. After research and plan­ning, the best clients trust their brand­ing con­sul­tant to present great cre­ative solutions.

How is rebrand­ing dif­fer­ent with A/E/C firms than with other pro­fes­sional ser­vices or product-based com­pa­nies? And, will you pro­vide insight into this dur­ing your webi­nar?
Rebrand­ing A/E/C firms and other pro­fes­sional ser­vices firms is sim­i­lar if the firms are business-to-business (B2B). Product-based com­pa­nies are often business-to-consumer (B2C) and the process is dif­fer­ent. We’ll dis­cuss this in the webinar.

What would be the biggest take­away for peo­ple attend­ing your webi­nar?
Atten­dees will learn WHY to rebrand, WHAT a rebrand project really involves, and HOW to man­age a suc­cess­ful rebrand.

Rebrand­ing Your Firm: Why, What and How Webi­nar
Jan­u­ary 21, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST, 1:00 PM CST, 12:00 PM MST, 11:00 AM PST

Your firm should con­tin­u­ally grow its exper­tise and capa­bil­i­ties. In the last 5″“10 years, you prob­a­bly added new mar­kets and new ser­vices. You may have an entirely new strate­gic direc­tion. Is the pub­lic per­cep­tion of your firm keep­ing up, or is it stuck in the past? It could be time for a rebrand.

Rebrand­ing is not a panacea. But done well, it can ener­gize a tired brand. All A/E/C firm brands go through a life cycle. So it’s nearly guar­an­teed that, at some point in your career as a firm owner or mar­keter, your firm will go through a rebrand. From gain­ing Board of Direc­tors’ approval, to bud­get­ing, man­ag­ing the process, man­ag­ing expec­ta­tions, and rolling it out, this is a del­i­cate process. Just ask Yahoo, The Gap, and UPS.

This webi­nar will help you nav­i­gate the process of why (or why not), what, and how to com­plete a suc­cess­ful A/E/C firm rebranding.

Dur­ing this Webi­nar, you will learn to:

  • Assess why and when a firm should con­sider rebranding
  • Clar­ify the con­fu­sion among rebrand­ing, refresh­ing, and sim­ply design­ing an anniver­sary logo
  • Nav­i­gate the process and allo­cate the resources (time and bud­get) required for a suc­cess­ful rebrand
  • Eval­u­ate the pros and cons of hir­ing an out­side consultant
  • Gain a real­is­tic expec­ta­tion of the ROI of a rebrand
To Sell Is Human Book Review

To Sell Is Human Book Review

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

I rec­om­mend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink to any­one in the A/E/C industry because, as the book says, “we’re all in sales now.” Many A/E/C firms claim that “every­one in the firm sells,” but they rarely offer sales train­ing. This book fills that knowl­edge gap, even for those that don’t think of them­selves as salespeople.

This sum­mary high­lights the why, what, and how to apply the core con­cepts of the book.

1) Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.
2) Sales has changed more in the last 10 years than in the pre­vi­ous 100.

ABC used to stand for Always Be Clos­ing. Accord­ing to Pink, ABC now refers to Attune­ment, Buoy­ancy, and Clar­ity.

Attune­ment “” The capac­ity to take someone’s view and cal­i­brate your words and actions to match. Pro­pos­als and Pre­sen­ta­tion Inter­views need to be attuned to our buyer’s chal­lenges. If the RFP is writ­ten using spe­cific lan­guage, then selec­tively adopt that lan­guage in your response to demon­strate an under­stand­ing of their challenges.

Buoy­ancy “” The capac­ity to stay afloat in “an ocean of rejec­tion.” After pur­suit losses, Pink rec­om­mends inter­rog­a­tive self-talk. Dur­ing your next go/no go delib­er­a­tion, inter­ro­gate your­self. Ask “can we deliver this project with excel­lence? If yes, then list the top 5 rea­sons why. Use these 5 rea­sons inspire your pro­posal and presentation.

Clar­ity “” Mak­ing sense in murky sit­u­a­tions. Pink defines this as prob­lem find­ing, then prob­lem solv­ing. Teams that win fre­quently make rec­om­men­da­tions about poten­tial project prob­lems that the client hadn’t even considered.

Pitch, Impro­vise and Serve are how to apply the new ABCs of sales.

Pitch “” Sum­ma­riz­ing the essence of your project pur­suit into a mem­o­rable tagline or phrase can help your mes­sage stick. Accord­ing to Pink, rhyming “taste great and goes down eas­ily.” A great resource to help with rhymes isrhymezone”‹.com.

Story is another bril­liant way to pitch. Story is mem­o­rable, pow­er­ful, and emo­tional. Big deci­sions are made on emo­tion, then later jus­ti­fied with fact.

Impro­vise “” To Sell is Human reminds us that there are three main rules in Improv. Hear offers, say “yes and,” and make your part­ner look good. Being a great mar­keter means being a great lis­tener. Mak­ing your part­ner look good can be directly applied to pre­sen­ta­tion inter­views. Not only are selec­tion pan­els lis­ten­ing for what you say, but they also observe how your team inter­acts. Mak­ing fel­low team mem­bers look good com­mu­ni­cates that you will make your client look good.

Serve “” Pink reminds us to make our work both per­sonal and pur­pose­ful while serv­ing oth­ers. By under­stand­ing your client’s per­sonal hopes, dreams. fears and inse­cu­ri­ties, you will offer bet­ter solu­tions. Also, ask why a pur­suit mat­ters to you and your team. Then share your answers in pro­pos­als and inter­views. If your pur­pose for pur­su­ing a project improves qual­ity of life or improves the world, then your team now has an inspired mission.

What’s your reac­tion when you think of a sales per­son? The terms most often used are “pushy, slimy, slick, obnox­ious, etc.” This is the old model of sales, try­ing to con­vince buy­ers. Nobody likes to feel manip­u­lated. To Sell is Human offers a new model. A model based on emo­tional intel­li­gence, pur­pose and ser­vice. Since we’re all in sales now, it’s nice to know we can use our pow­ers for good

The Halo Effect Lifts Brands

When things happen to me in threes, I take notice. I recently had three different experiences where my perception of a brand was lifted. (Evidently being a brand expert does not make me immune to the “mind control” brands employ.) While all three of my experiences just happened to be with car brands, the “halo effect” works just as well for AEC brands.

The Halo Effect Defined
This brand building strategy is accomplished by aligning your brand (brand a) with a very shiny person, place, event or other brand (brand b). The luminosity of brand b is so great that it casts a favorable glow onto your brand. The Halo Effect is a clever way to elevate the perception of your brand through association. Think Dr. Oz being launched by à¼ber-luminous Oprah, and you get it.

Leverage The Best of Your Community
My first halo effect experience was at a party that my friends Dave Brown and Zack Nielsen threw. They had an enviable project of spending Ford’s money to promote the Ford Fiesta. Ford gave them a car, cash, creative tools, and instructions to simply talk about the Fiesta. One of Dave and Zack’s brilliant solutions was to tap into their own creative community and throw a party at a cool location with great music and people. The event included a few hipster retailers creating pop-up stores within the party. I never would have paid a second look to the Ford Fiesta, but, as I was leaving the party, I glanced at the strategically parked car thinking to myself, “that’s a pretty cool little ride.” They got to me. I felt punk’d, but in a good way.

Associate Your Brand with Impeccable Quality
Full Disclosure: I own a Honda Element which was mostly a practical decision based on the functionality of being able to insert my dog, surfboard and wife’s Prius (nearly) into the back of the car. Even after buying the car, I wasn’t a Honda fan until after being introduced to a series of short documentary films called Dream The Impossible. The film’s universal themes in Failure: The Secret to Success and Racing Against Time move me on an emotional level. I also appreciate that while the films were commissioned by Honda, they are not about cars. Using quality imagery, music and story telling, the films are so beautifully executed that they radically shifted my perception of Honda.

Poke Fun at Yourself
Many years ago I decided that it was just too much work to be cool. If your brand, or category, is notoriously uncool, a great strategy is to poke fun at yourself. This will differentiate you from your competitors that take themselves way too seriously. Humor is always cool. And if you can pull it off like Toyota’s campaign for the Sienna mini-van (previously uncool), then you’ve scored. The hilarious ads and mock hip-hop music video Rollin’ in my Swagger Wagon left me thinking that maybe I should get some kids and a Sienna, err Swagger Wagon. Never thought I’d say that.

I know what your thinking. The car industry has gazillion dollar marketing budgets to shape hearts and minds. Yes they do, but you don’t have to. Take the strategies from above and execute it guerilla style (i.e. on the cheap).

So, how can you use the “halo effect” to cast a favorable glow onto your brand? Consider teaming up with another brand that may be extra-shiny. Doing work for shiny brands can be beneficial. Prospective clients still believe LecoursDesign is responsible for launching Red Bull in the USA because we designed some simple graphics for their first in-store promotion. Getting shiny people to interact with work you’ve done is also effective. If they’ll also provide some sort of testimonial, then even better. If there is a way leverage the work your firm provided within a much bigger project, don’t be shy about claiming the association.

In short, constantly be searching for opportunities to align your brand with more influential brands, so you don’t have to always do the heavy lifting.

Focus on The Bright Spots to Find Your Niche

Your Target

A lot of firms struggle with choosing a market sector in which to focus their marketing efforts. To build your brand, you need to identify the type of work you seek. This declaration should be formalized in a strategic plan. But don’t let this scare you. Strategic planning has a reputation for being difficult, complicated and time consuming. Typically the process begins with a SWOT analysis looking at your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Here is a simplified version focusing on your strengths.I recently had an opportunity to see Chip Heath speak about his new book Switch. Chip, along with his brother Dan, also wrote the fantastic Made To Stick. In Switch, they introduce a concept called “Find the Bright Spots.” Bright spots, as applied to your marketing, are successful efforts that you’ve already been doing, and simply repeating them.

Create Your Top 10
First, make a list of the top 10 projects you’ve ever worked on. Yes, I know “top” is ambiguous and purposely so. To be meaningful, YOU need to define top. Top could mean revenue, creativity, great people, fun, social good, publicity or some combination thereof. Whatever your definition of top is, it must embody the type of projects that you’d love to work on next. Marketing is all about the work that you seek.

Discover What’s Working
Next, create a grid with your top 10 projects listed down the left side. Across the top, list the following questions to ask about each project:
How did this client learn about your firm?
Why were you hired? What other reasons did they hire you?
Type of project by service?
Type of client by vertical market (biotech or tourism for example)?
What time of year were you hired?
Any professional affiliations of the key decision makers?
Gender and age of the key decision makers?
You should be asking these important questions each time you get hired (and not hired). There is no expiration date on asking. Don’t assume why you get hired and then go out and repeat the wrong the things.

Let The Patterns Define Your Strategy
As you can imagine, you are looking for patterns to emerge in the grid you’ve created above. If you notice a large percentage of projects in a certain vertical market, this defines your niche. A certain service that shows up frequently can further define your speciality. If you see a pattern of why you get hired, then this becomes the positioning for your next ad campaign, tagline and website messaging. The goal is to market “with the flow” of what you are already doing well.

I know there are bright spots in your marketing or you wouldn’t be in business. Don’t focus on the problems. Yes, there is something innately satisfying about figuring out what’s broken and then fixing it. But if you focus on what is working, the “bright spots,” this path of least resistance will bring you successwith greater ease.

What Do You Think?
What insights did gain from creating your Top 10 list?
Are there other areas of your business that you can leverage what is already working?
How could you apply these principles to your life?

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3 Tips For a Better Marketing Plan
Marketing Planning 101


3 Tips for a Better Marketing Plan

By now, you should have started creating your Marketing Plan/Budget. Here are three tips to guide you, because as you’ve probably heard, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” I know it’s tempting to simply copy and paste last year’s plan but this is a bit like driving while only looking in the rear-view mirror. Market opportunities, alliances, relationships are constantly changing so your Marketing Plan needs to evolve as well.

1. What to Include

A good Marketing Plan is a one year roadmap of how you will achieve your firm’s Strategic Plan. Here is what you should include: Budget (see below), Staffing (who will do what and by when), Timeline (prioritized sequencing of implementation), Promotional Mix (advertising, web site, social media, brochure, video PR, events, etc.). If you need help in this area, I can recommend a consultant. To help you get started, click here for a free .pdf map to help you through the process.

2. Ask for the Money
Don’t be timid in asking for a healthy budget that will allow you to effectively market your firm. There are three methods I know of to create your budget. Projection is taking last year’s budget, and based on projected growth or decline, adjust this year’s budget. Percentage is taking a straight 10″“15% of gross revenues. I recommend Goal-Based; which is taking each goal from your Strategic Plan and breaking down what it will cost to achieve that goal. You can then check this against Projection and Percentage to make sure your budget request is realistic. Your labor costs should be 50″“70% of your overall budget with promotional costs covering the remaining 30″“50%. I’m happy to provide rough estimates to help with budget requests. Is it likely that your plan might change throughout the year? Absolutely. But if you don’t ask for the money now, it will surely be designated to something else later when you really need it.

3. Implementing the Plan
Having a plan is a great first step, but implementation is what you will be measured against. First, form a core Marketing Team (not too big, but with enough Principal muscle to be influential). Marketing Plans will fail unless the talent responsible for implementation is involved in the creation of the plan. Share the Marketing Plan with everyone in the organization because marketing the firm is everyone’s business. Finally, review and measure on a regular basis (at least monthly). Be sure to share success stories internally. This demonstrates the value of marketing and builds momentum and morale.

Just doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always got. So invest in your Marketing Plan to be a beacon for your best year yet. This will help to prioritize proactive and reactive opportunities and make the most of your time and money.

What Do You Think?
Is this helpful to get you started in creating your marketing plan?
Is there anything else that you include in your marketing plan?
What are some ways you motivate your team to support your marketing plan?

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Focus on the Bright Spots To Find Your Niche
Marketing Planning 101

* A / E / C = Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (but you already knew that)
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