Technology and consumer behavior continue to evolve, having a significant impact on how marketers in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry plan and execute their tactics. The “rules” change on a regular basis, so keeping a pulse on current trends will help AEC firms improve their marketing effectiveness. There are 10 key trends to watch.
1. CONTENT MARKETING
Content marketing will be the cornerstone of AEC-firm marketing efforts in 2018. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), content marketing is a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. CMI recently reported that 80 percent of B2B firms are focused on building a content marketing strategy.
But while content fuels the digital marketing experience, as the internet becomes more crowded and attention spans dwindle, companies must strive to create engaging material that keeps an audience’s attention. Investing in ebooks, white papers, infographics, videos, webcasts and more will allow AEC firms to share insights, ideas, expertise and perspectives with clients, prospective customers and the community. This will help establish them as credible resources. Marketers will seek to encourage users to participate in their content and engage them in conversations. Some content will take a storytelling approach because stories help communicate messages and create customer connections; they can be about ideas, projects, people or relationships. In 2018, AEC firms will focus more on telling authentic stories about client challenges and how they solved their problems.
Branded content is a specialized form of content marketing. Branded messages engage clients and lead to conversions. In 2018, AEC marketers will focus on mapping content to buyer personas and will help their clients be successful by providing content that educates them.
2. VIDEO CONTENT
The use of video in AEC marketing has gained considerable popularity. Studies show that video content engagement levels are far higher than they are for standard content. Video consumption is increasing on mobile devices as well. Subject matter that addresses clients’ challenges and problems will be the most successful—after all, construction processes are complex, and visual demonstrations can be invaluable. Video content must be relevant, clear and concise and have a call to action (CTA). Subcategories of video marketing that are expected to expand include:
Live Streaming video will continue to become more popular in 2018. AEC marketers will stream more events such as webcasts, speaking engagements, presentations, ground breaking, ribbon cuttings, grand openings and more.
Explainer Videos are a growing trend. These relatively simple videos describe a company’s product, service or project. While typically of short duration, these videos are very effective because they get viewers’ attention and can quickly, effectively convey messages and concepts.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and retargeting will continue to be critical to an AEC firm’s marketing success. Over the past few years, considerable attention has been paid to managing title tags, headers and meta descriptions while posting content online. And these strategies remain as important as ever—after all, what good is it to create great content if no one can find it? Web searches drive most traffic to B2B online content, therefore higher SEO rankings typically result in higher traffic and more customer conversions. Algorithms will continue to change in 2018, so marketers will have to remain vigilant in their response to those changes.
Without diving into the nuances of differences between search, behavioral and contextual marketing strategies, targeting will continue to emerge as a key marketing tactic for AEC marketers. Targeting involves processes by which visitors see specific and relevant advertisements based on their browsing history, content engagement or other online behaviors. Targeting is a powerful way to remind past visitors to re-engage. It is driven by the insights and analytics provided by big data. Fortunately, setting up and managing a targeting program has become very easy. Marketers will seize on this effective approach to focus on relevancy, connect and engage with viewers, and convert them to customers.
4. INTEGRATED MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
AEC marketers are embracing the concept of “integrated marketing communications” as a systematic way to coordinate their efforts across all possible channels. While IMC is not a new concept, the application of IMC has fresh relevancy as new channels emerge. IMC is a strategic approach designed to harness advertising, direct marketing, public relations, sales promotion, digital marketing, content marketing and other programs to work in coordination as a unified force. This approach enables the consistent delivery of coherent brand positioning through all mediums. An integrated effort consists of planning, coordinating and controlling the communications process with the end result being a synergistic, seamless, customer-focused marketing program.
A related term is “marketing automation,” which refers to a group of software platforms and technologies that help marketers effectively manage efforts across multiple channels such as social media, website, email marketing and others. AEC and manufacturing firms commonly use these tools to coordinate content and landing pages along with postings on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social sites. The marketing automation software segment grew out of email automation. Tools such as Marketo, Eloqua, Cosential and HubSpot offer a range of activity management, scheduling, monitoring and analytic tools. The software can be hosted or web-based, and many can tie into a firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. These tools offer insight into prospect/buyer behavior and buyer personas as well as provide an excellent means of managing engagement with a firm’s digital marketing efforts.
5. BIG DATA/IOT MARKETING APPLICATIONS
Big data provides actionable insights and predictive analytics. The internet of things (IoT) is a network of physical devices, wearables and other items that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and actuators. With network connectivity, these objects can exchange data, and this interconnectivity provides opportunities for AEC marketers to listen to their clients and more effectively respond to their needs. AEC firms who leverage the IOT and Big Data will focus more on buyer personas and the customer’s journey, thereby increasing engagement.
6. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING
In many industries, AI is having a significant impact on how companies market to their customers. In 2018, AEC marketers will become more analytical and focus on insights. AI consists of a range of items that support basic functions in business, including machine learning, deep learning and computer vision. AI enables AEC marketers to interpret and analyze big data and deliver customized content based on habits and personas. Investments in AI are already paying dividends for contractors in terms of improved efficiency, safety and quality.
7. CHAT BOTS
During the last few years, live chat has gained steam on AEC websites. It is expected that an increasing number of firms will begin to use chat bots. These simple bots are based on predefined workflows and can quickly answer customer questions, driving engagement and converting leads. Chat bots are one example of how AI can help facilitate customer interaction.
8. AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY (AR/VR)
Augmented and virtual reality technologies are one of the hottest trends in the construction industry. As more firms embrace AR/VR, their marketing departments will begin to communicate the ways in which these technologies enhance the client’s experience.
9. ACCOUNT BASED MARKETING (ABM)
Many AEC firms will continue to focus on account-based marketing strategies. These firms are taking a strategic approach and delivering personalized messages to key decision makers in select accounts. The messages are based on the specific attributes and needs of the targeted account. ABM strategies resonate with their audience because people are more likely to engage with content that is geared specifically to them.
10. CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is an approach in which a firm focuses on increasing the percentage of visitors that take a desired action and ultimately convert into customers. Landing pages are important elements of CRO. Specialized pages that visitors are routed to after they’ve clicked on a link or an ad, landing pages are typically very focused on a particular product or service. Anyone who is investing in social media, e-mail marketing, pay per click (PPC) or web ads also needs to invest in landing pages.
All of the above tactics tie into one of the most touted terms in the business world: ROI. Increasingly, marketers—like other business professionals—are focusing on tracking the return on their investments. Factoring marketing into a firm’s overall ROI tracking can help guide strategies and improve results. By quantifying the achievement of specific goals and targets, ROI helps ensure that campaigns are effective…because what can be measured can be managed.
The new year presents interesting opportunities for AEC firms seeking to engage in authentic dialogue and conversation with customers. The buying process in the construction industry can be very complex and there are learning curves for buyers. Marketers are increasingly focused on facilitating information exchange, enhancing relationships and establishing lines of communication that decrease confusion and increase conversions. These emerging trends present both challenges and opportunities for the AEC marketer.
Brian Gallagher can be reached at 864-551-0362.