The third in a series on marketing explains how to plan and project manage a strategy to ensure you always stay a few steps ahead of the competition.
Why is it that construction firms that excel at working in complex, rapidly changing environments, sometimes committing to deadlines years in advance, fail comprehensively when trying to organise and administrate basic marketing activity? I recently spoke to a marketing manager at a national contractor who realised more than two years ago that the group brochure was unsuitable for local marketing efforts and that a regional brochure was essential. Two years later, the new brochure’s text and design has yet to receive top-level approval.

This sort of malaise stems from our preference for tangible activities that require us to be reactive, responsive and decisive. Project work fulfils these criteria exactly. Sadly, in construction, marketing is often perceived as an intangible, non-measurable activity – primarily an overhead. Any time spent on this non-fee-earning activity is considered a waste of resources.

Yet, if carefully planned and implemented, marketing can be extremely effective and utterly accountable for its annual budget. If the management team can agree financial targets and specific, quantifiable marketing objectives, strategies can be developed to achieve them. However, it is essential that the team members take individual responsibility to ensure that agreed tasks are completed.

Just as in project work, the objectives can be broken down into strategies, initiatives and specific actions with associated costs. Someone must be made responsible for each step, and these roles should be well-publicised so that staff and managers know what is required of them. Next, establish a programme to show when specific campaigns or initiatives need to be completed.

This integrated approach will make it easier to manage the process, as you can compare actual progress with your pre-agreed targets. Peer pressure should ensure that assigned tasks are completed, and the old excuse, “I’m too busy with project work”, will no longer be acceptable. Managers will have to get organised so they make time to devote to marketing activity. Surely no job can be more important than ensuring the firm stays in business in the long term?

Project manage your marketing

If this has not convinced you, think of it another way. The process described above is project management – a generic management tool that has worked rather well in the construction industry over the past 15 years. So, if you believe project management has helped improve the control and efficiency of your project administration, imagine what it could do for your marketing activities.

In 1990, could you have predicted the structural changes the industry has undergone, as traditional clients take on new roles, new procurement methods gain currency, and the line between professional and contracting services is blurred? This decade’s only consistent trend has been an increasingly competitive environment and clients’ ever-increasing expectations on service provision, service delivery and value for money. This is certain to continue for the next 10 years.

The future will hold many opportunities but it is unlikely these will present themselves in the traditional forms. If firms want to take advantage, they will need to be able to respond quickly, and that means getting your marketing efficient, focused and driven by results.

Construction firms must stand out from the crowd and present themselves as offering something that differentiates them from competitors and is valued by potential clients. Firms will need to develop new services that fulfil and satisfy each client’s needs but must also be able to identify potential clients earlier in the process to try to avoid the pressure and cost of competitive tendering.

Perhaps 10 years from now, the construction industry will not think of marketing as a non-measurable intangible, but value it as a technique that wins more profitable work. Just as it has been for many other industries over the past decade.

Outline steps for planning marketing activity

  • Analyse the changing business environment
  • Identify the business activities that meet the firm’s core competences
  • Establish a business strategy and define marketing objectives
  • Set marketing strategies and performance targets
  • Confirm that your targets are achievable through market and client research
  • Formulate tactical initiatives and a plan of action
  • Make sure individuals commit to implementing their part of the plan
  • Monitor progress and evaluate performance