Canadian Consulting Engineer

Going beyond “brochureware” to find clients

A  look through the websites of many engineering firms shows that much of the profession is missing out on one of the biggest trends in ways to connect with potential clients -- "Content Marketing."

March 16, 2012   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A  look through the websites of many engineering firms shows that much of the profession is missing out on one of the biggest trends in ways to connect with potential clients — “Content Marketing.”

Product companies such as Microsoft and Nike have been in the forefront of this movement. Rather than relying on conventional advertising, they increasingly provide useful, unbiased, not-sales-oriented information, generally online.

In Nike’s case, this includes web-based information on staying fit, planning a jogging program, nutrition for athletes, treating sports injuries and other topics of interest to its customers. That helps position Nike as a trusted source of information on fitness and athletics.

Engineering services aren’t cross-trainers. But the same principles apply — determine the information that people in your market want to know, and then provide it. Become a trusted source of information first, and then it’s a short step to becoming a trusted service provider.

With websites having long ago replaced paper brochures as the primary public face of an engineering firm or independent professional, online presentation is key to communication.

Many engineering firms’ websites are clear about what the firm is and does — “We do geotechnical design,” or “We provide wastewater services.” A prospective client asking, “Does this firm provide the service I need?” would get an answer.

But most engineering firms’ websites are in effect, just online brochures. There is little to persuade a prospective client that the firm or individual is a leading authority in the field in question. The prospect might think, “Sure, they do wastewater — but how do I know they’ve got high credibility in that field?”

To answer questions such as this, some firms have gone beyond ‘brochureware’ sites to provide content that is informative and helpful — and demonstrates the firm’s capabilities as well. They post academic and professional papers, articles, slide decks from presentations, and other content. Some of them have added audio podcasts, videos and stand-alone slide shows.

In doing this, engineering firms have a big advantage over other types of enterprises — many already have information that can be made available online, so that anyone searching under that topic can find it.

For example, firms can re-write the project descriptions they use in proposals, turning them into case studies for publication in professional magazines. Technical papers can be shortened and simplified into articles posted on their websites. Slide decks used for presentations can find new purpose as online slide shows.

One difficulty is that this existing content does not necessarily meet the strategic needs of the firm. The currently available material may be about practice areas that are not targeted for growth, and are not relevant to industrial sectors that the firm considers a priority. Accordingly, it may be necessary to work with the firm’s marketing team to prepare content that does meet the firm’s strategic needs.

The purpose of content marketing, for engineering firms, is to build awareness of the firm’s capabilities and help it be seen as a preferred vendor. Once that is established, there is still a need to build personal relationships between clients and members of the firm. However, content marketing is a way to get the firm’s foot in the door.

Carl Friesen, MBA, CMC, is Principal of Global Reach Communications Inc., based in Mississauga ON. Contact: carl@showyourexpertise.com, 1.289.232.4057; www.showyourexpertise.com

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