Web marketing: What firms are missing

July 2012 » Features » BUSINESS STRATEGIES
Investing in a practical, well-branded, and well-maintained website attracts leads and talent
Mike Karfakis

Civil engineering firms are made up of innovative, intelligent people who are driven to help evolve the world in which we live and work. Yet many firms fail to see the importance of reflecting their innovative intelligence in their marketing effort. In fact, many firms still lack a practical, well-branded, well-maintained, and current Web presence.

Today, most firms have a website. However, it’s surprising to see that a large percentage of these websites still fail to integrate and communicate effectively the firm’s mission, value, and culture in an immediate, smart, and engaging manner that works to drive leads. Most engineering firms have an ongoing need to recruit top-notch talent, generate new business leads, and position experts as industry thought leaders. The firm’s website is the best place to tackle each of these goals.

In a day and age when technology rules the roost, engineers might be among the first to see the value in technologically marketing their firms. But with so many competitors behind the eight ball, why are firms moving so slowly to take advantage of this massive opportunity? The answer is simple: Many firms still view Web marketing as an expense, not as an investment.

Generally, engineering firms have great ambition for their Web marketing effort. There’s usually a lot of logistical hype surrounding the process of how the website will be built, refreshed, or maintained. What often falls by the wayside is an understanding of what type of monetary investment needs to be made to ensure the website remains scalable while working as a motivating marketing piece that entices users to call, click, remember, and refer the firm.

The challenge firms typically face stems from a lack of understanding two main factors:

  1. what it takes to market and design effectively for the Web; and
  2. how a well-executed Web system impacts ROI in the marketing effort.

Create an effective website
At the onset, engineering firms should understand that as with any product or service, price ranges vary. You get what you pay for. So how does a firm know what a good bid looks like? Simple, look at the portfolio. Who did the Web company work with in the past? What experience do they have in the engineering market sector? If the clients they have worked with align with your firm (from a revenue, employee number, or quality of work standpoint), then you are probably in good hands. If their references check out and you feel their aesthetic is strong, then you have a potential winner at the table. Chances are these types of Web partners will bring you a proven process along with the ability to evoke your firm’s unique voice.

Once you’ve determined you have the right group of potential partners at the table, ask them to explain how they design for the Web. If you can sense passion coupled with a detailed technical explanation that’s easy to understand, you might be even closer to finding a winning Web partner.

Following are a few common pitfalls to avoid when bringing potential partners to the table:

  • Forgetting (or being too scared) to include the president/CEO in the process from the start. The Web is a major marketing investment — the number-one place people will go to research and learn more. If the president is too busy for something of this magnitude, it speaks volumes about the firm’s commitment and understanding of what it takes to outshine the competition effectively.

A company’s brand message is everything; it is the very foundation on which all marketing pieces should be built, especially the website.

  • Neglecting the need to have a well-articulated mission statement and value proposition — who the firm is, its difference, and why the difference matters. A company’s brand message is everything; it is the very foundation on which all marketing pieces should be built, especially the website. Without message, the foundation of each marketing effort will remain fundamentally weak and the website will not work to convert audience to remember, refer, or take action. If you cannot tell your audience why you are special and what’s in it for them, why should your audience hire or refer you?
  • Disregarding internationally defined technical specifications, guidelines, and standards for website development and maintenance. This is a major oversight for many firms. To avoid this, simply ask the potential partners you are interviewing about Web standards or visit the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the entity that defines the standard at www.w3c.org Designing to standards means your site will be ADA compliant, mobile-friendly, and even better optimized for search engines, all without any additional investment.
  • Brushing off the need for a content strategy and a plan to develop content continually that will fuel the firm’s expert status and help with search engine optimization. The Web is all about content. Motivating, short burst, and interesting copy wins the day. Furthermore, revisit site content on a quarterly basis to keep the site fresh for repeat users. And yes, people do visit sites frequently to see what’s changed and what’s new. With the onslaught of social media, today’s Web users want to see content evolve and refresh so that they can better understand what’s going on within a firm and feel like they are a part of it. These people become your firm’s greatest ambassadors.

Measuring ROI from Web marketing is easier than most people think.

ROI from Web marketing
Measuring ROI from Web marketing is easier than most people think. Where firms typically go astray is in requiring potential vendors to justify the investment by demonstrating ROI. Firms that ask for this justification have yet to realize that the Internet is their business’ storefront — the place everyone and anyone will go to learn more, refer, hire, apply, or simply visit.

In the past, there was no way for the masses to visit a business-to-business, services-based company outside of a scheduled, onsite meeting. Worse, prospects that needed information either had to call and speak to someone or request a printed packet and wait for that packet to arrive via snail mail. This process was cumbersome and required a great deal of manpower and resources.

Today, prospects can simply go online. The ease and convenience of going online affords business-to-business service providers the opportunity to make everyone and anyone who lands on the website an ambassador. And that’s exactly why the strength of your message matters. You never know who those ambassadors will be or when they will visit. You have to be ready, with your best foot forward.

To get your best foot forward, consider creating pages of content dedicated to each service offering, project, key thought leader, etc. Each of these pages would underscore and elaborate on the value cemented within your brand message in an easy-to-read, short-burst format that drives the user to take action — call, click, fill out a form, refer someone, or sign up for your email flyer.

Naysayers still believe that no one fills out online forms. These naysayers are your competitors, previously discussed, who are behind the eight ball. The reality is, lots of prospects will either call after finding the data they were looking for, or they will fill out an online form enabling you to reach out to them. In either case, all your firm needs to do to justify the investment of a website is to tie one or two projects back to leads garnered or influenced by the site. If the website is built properly, it’s a fact that leads will come through that marketing channel. After all, Web marketing is the way a majority of the world does business today.

Web marketing is the way a majority of the world does business today.

Your firm’s website is an investment in your firm’s ongoing marketing effort that pays for itself over time. It’s no different than how you view the investment of hiring a key employee. No need to crunch numbers. No need to go tunneling down the rabbit hole in search of a magic answer. It’s staring you in the face every day of your life. It’s called the Internet, and it’s the most powerful, cost-effective, and scalable marketing tool in which your engineering firm can possibly invest.

Mike Karfakis is chief operating officer of Vitamin (www.vitaminisgood.com), an MBE/DBE-certified branding and public relations boutique with a niche in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Contact him at mike@vitaminisgood.com.


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