The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is faced with challenges and opportunities that stem from evolving economic cycles, changing markets, client expectations and new technologies. For AEC marketers, change creates opportunities to improve the planning, implementation and measurement of marketing programs. Keeping abreast of industry transformation, technology advances and innovations is imperative for AEC marketers, and doing so will help AEC firms improve their marketing effectiveness in 2023.
Key trends to watch are:
1. Content Marketing: While not a new trend, content marketing continues to be one of the most effective ways to find and engage target audiences. Content marketing should be authentic and reflect company values. Properly planned and executed, content marketing can achieve top-of-the-funnel goals like brand awareness and audience education; it can also create opportunities deeper in the funnel, such as lead nurturing and building loyalty. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), content marketing has become an even more important part of integrated marketing. Consider investing in thought leadership including articles, eBooks, white papers, infographics, videos, podcasts, and webcasts to tell stories as well as share insights, ideas, expertise and perspectives with clients, prospective customers and the community. Quality content is key, as a recent HubSpot study reveals that 83 percent of marketers believe it’s more effective to create higher quality content less often. By thinking like a publisher, marketers should go beyond simply informing buyers to emphasize storytelling with visual content that connects on intellectual and emotional levels.
2. MarTech: Marketers are working smarter, not harder. As such, they are increasingly turning to marketing technology (MarTech). The term refers to the convergence of marketing and technology. Technology platforms enable marketers to manage marketing efforts efficiently and effectively, with tools to support activity management, scheduling, monitoring and analytics. MarTech tools offer insight into prospect and client behavior and buyer personas and provide tools for measuring engagement with a firm’s digital marketing efforts. MarTech can be applied to a range of initiatives, efforts and tools that all harness technology to achieve marketing goals and objectives.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI): The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in construction marketing is quickly evolving. Savvy marketers are leveraging AI to improve various aspects of marketing, including market research, content generation, data collection search engine optimization, proposal creation, analysis and reporting. The rapid emergence of AI tools such as ChatGPT are enabling streamlined marketing efforts, greater customer engagement and improved ROI.
4. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG): ESG is important to clients, so it needs to be important to AEC marketers. Every business is intertwined with environmental, social and governance concerns. Environmental includes the energy a company takes in and the waste it discharges, the resources it needs and the consequences for living beings as a result. Social refers to the relationships a company has and the reputation it fosters with people and institutions in the communities where it conducts business. Social includes labor relations as well as diversity, equity and inclusion. Governance is the internal system of practices, controls and procedures a business adopts to govern itself, make effective decisions, comply with the law and meet the needs of external interested parties. Increasingly, AEC marketers need to understand ESG requirements and reporting. This is a fast-evolving area and will be a requirement for doing business.
5. Employment Branding: Competition for talent at all levels within an AEC firm continues to be intense. AEC marketers play a critical role in developing and disseminating the employment brand messaging. Marketers will need to work closely with human resources and recruiting staff to develop and deliver engaging and compelling content that promotes the company culture, diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and hiring initiatives. This may include employee advocacy efforts to drive social engagement—branding activities provide an excellent opportunity to share content through different social media platforms via employees rather than just through company accounts. Employment branding efforts should be focused on positioning the company as an employer of choice.
6. Video- and Audio-Based Content: According to the recent HubSpot State of the Industry Report, videos are the top content marketing media format for the third year in a row. Audiences are no longer satisfied with static content. Video and audio formats provide story-driven, visual content that connects with users on both intellectual and emotional levels. Research indicates that video content engagement levels are far higher than they are for standard content. Short form video content like TikToks and Instagram Reels are the most effective type of social media content and short form video is gaining in business-to-business use. Google and other search engines rank video content higher than text-based content. Podcasting continues to increase in influence in the AEC industry. At each stage of the buyer’s journey, audio and video can build brand awareness and build trust, from lead generation to nurturing. HubSpot reports that B2B clients find co-branded or sponsored 3rd-party content more trustworthy than content straight from a company. As a result, more B2Bs are investing in robust influencer strategies. B2B brands are increasingly adopting more consumer-facing strategies like influencer marketing, ambassador communities and social media marketing—beyond LinkedIn.
7. Digital Marketing: AEC marketers are increasingly channeling their marketing dollars to digital marketing. Individual people have their own preferences for gathering information about companies and brands, and social media continues to be the top marketing channel to building relationships with clients. As influencer and creator marketing continue to evolve in the consumer world, AEC marketers should look to embrace content creation and influencer relationships. In 2023, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO) and retargeting will continue to be critical to marketing success. CMI reported that LinkedIn continues to generate the best results for paid content on social media platforms. Organic and direct inquiries on search engines and the associated keywords and phrases are essential for online visibility. Web searches drive most traffic to B2B online content; therefore, higher SEO rankings typically result in higher traffic and more customer conversions. As algorithms change, marketers will have to remain vigilant in their response to those changes. All web content should be responsive and optimized for desktop, mobile and tablet views.
8. Email Marketing: Email marketing continues to be the hallmark of effective AEC marketing. HubSpot reported that 95 percent of marketers found their email marketing strategy to be effective in meeting business goals. It is an effective way to increase brand awareness, improve client loyalty and retention, generate leads and share content. Even with this tried-and-true tactic, there is room for improvement in execution. Email marketing strategies need to focus on personalization, use effective subject lines and make emails more mobile device friendly.
9. In-Person Events: After a couple of years of fewer events, in-person activities are making a comeback. CMI reported that 4 percent of marketers used in-person events during the last 12 months versus only 19 percent the previous year. More marketers are facilitating speaking and presentation opportunities, along with event and trade show sponsorships.
10. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC): An integrated marketing approach considers the fact that buyers use multiple channels throughout the purchase journey. Marketers must have a clear understanding of the customer journey to create a consistent brand experience across all communication channels. IMC harnesses content marketing, social media, advertising, public relations, digital marketing and other programs to work in coordination to deliver a unified message. An integrated effort consists of planning, coordinating and controlling the communications process with the result being synergistic, seamless, customer-focused marketing communications.
11. Measuring Results: Whether using traditional or emerging marketing tactics, investments in marketing must deliver results. Evaluating audience engagement and tracking interactions through the buyer’s journey is critical. AEC marketers are focusing on tracking the return on their marketing investments (ROMI). By quantifying the achievement of specific goals and targets, ROMI helps ensure that campaigns are effective, because what can be measured can be managed.
AEC marketers are prioritizing brand awareness and trust, building and educating audiences and improving client retention. The buying process in the construction industry can be very complex and there are learning curves for buyers. 2023 presents interesting opportunities for AEC firms seeking to engage in authentic dialogue and conversation with customers. Marketers are increasingly focused on facilitating information exchange, enhancing relationships and establishing lines of communication that drive engagement. AEC audiences are seeking out brands that are authentic, transparent and innovative. Embracing emerging trends and being proactive will result in improved marketing outcomes.
Brian Gallagher, CPSM, is the co-author of Leading With Marketing and Building Business With Social Media. He serves as Vice President, Corporate Development for Graycor, Inc., a national general contractor founded in 1921.