Marketing In The Construction Industry – Everything You Need To Know

To achieve success with marketing in the construction industry, you only need two things:

  1. The right message
  2. An audience that can say yes

Yes, millions of dollars per year are spent by firms in the construction industry trying to get clients to recognize their brand and award them contracts. And the internet is littered with a ton of construction marketing strategies and tips. But hear me out.

I’ve worked with construction firms just starting out and those making billions per year. I can tell you that those who have the most success always have these two key elements: the right message and an audience who can say yes.

You can spend all day looking for the next perfect construction marketing idea. You can stare at construction advertising examples until your eyes fall out, hoping to glean some magical insight into what works. And that may seem more interesting than say, identifying your audience who can say yes. But ultimately, it’s putting the cart before the horse.

In addition, thinking about construction marketing in these terms will make your life easier. Getting your arms around these two elements will ultimately make developing and executing any construction marketing plan so much easier.

In this post, I’m going to break down how to deliver the right message to an audience who can say yes. However, we have to figure out who that audience is first.

Who Is Your Audience That Can Say Yes?

If you don’t know who your audience is, it’s impossible to determine what the right message is. And if you don’t have the right message, you’ll find marketing in the construction industry to be like banging your head against the wall.

Before you can even identify the audience who can say yes, you’ve got to know who you are and what it is you are selling. Believe it or not, that can get a little complicated in the construction industry. But valuable answers are luckily just a few simple questions away.

Even if you already think you know your audience, let’s walk through it together.

Which Type Of Construction Firm Are You?

There are many kinds of construction firms out there. Some build huge bridges while others install decks in your backyard. Although we’d like to think that each firm is a unique snowflake, we can lump each of them into one of these three buckets.

  • General Contractor
  • Agency Construction Manager
  • Trade Or Specialty Contractor

When a general contractor is hired to build a project, they typically “hold the contracts.” What that means is they have a contract with the owner. But they’ll also have contracts with trade or specialty contractors who are building specific pieces of the project (like the electrical work, for example). Some general contractors “self-perform” a portion of the work, but others are simply managing and administering the construction.

Sure, different state laws can determine which contracts the General Contractor holds. But nine times out of ten, they are holding all the contracts.

An agency construction manager is a construction firm that does not self-perform any construction work and does not hold the contracts. They have a contractual agreement with the owner, but no contract authority over the trade or specialty contractors. They represent and advise the owner during the construction of a project.

The most common type of construction firm is what’s known as a trade or specialty contractor. They’ll either enter into contracts with general contractors or owners. For example, if an owner needs to upgrade wiring in their facility, they’ll probably work directly with an electrical trade contractor. But if that owner is building a new office complex, they’ll enter into an agreement with a general contractor who will then subcontract pieces of the work to trade or specialty contractors.

If you ever wondered why construction firms are referred to as “contractors,” now you know. Contracts play a major role in construction. And who you’ll ultimately end up in an agreement with is your audience.

Which Markets Will You Work In?

Once you’ve determined which type of firm you are, you have to identify which markets you’ll be working in.

We could come up with a laundry list of markets (or niches) in the construction industry. But for the sake of this exercise, we’ll target one of three markets.

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Government/Institutional

The residential market is made up of housing. Whether you’re building a condo in New York City or installing a fence around a suburban house in North Carolina, you’re working in the residential market. The audience that can say yes within this market is very different from those in other markets. The buyers within this market are not always the most sophisticated. And you don’t have to look any further than HGTV to see how profitable (or challenging) residential work can be.

Those renovating a restaurant or building a sports stadium are working within the commercial market. The audience here is made up of owners who don’t have to adhere to some of the strict rules or procedures of those working with government money. In this market, you’ll often be working with “developers.” Developers are entities that oversee the build-out and management of commercial properties.

And then there is the government/institutional market. Whether you are adding a new operating room to the local hospital or building a new bridge over the Mississippi River, you’re working in the government/institutional market. Owners in this market often have specific procedures and rules they must adhere to. For example, owners may need to prequalify your firm before you can work on any of their projects. And owners in this market are often the most sophisticated.

Here’s why this step is so important. Let’s say you are a specialty contractor who installs fences. Are you installing the fence in my backyard or around an Air Force base? Those are two different firms that happen to be the same type but work in entirely different markets. And they’ll need to market to two very different audiences.

How Will Your Audience Hire You?

Determining how your audience will hire you provides you with more insight than it might appear. The three most common ways are:

  • Low-bid
  • Best Value
  • Negotiated

When the owner selects a contractor based on low-bid, they are only looking at an apples-to-apples comparison of price between competitive offers. Many government entities are mandated to select construction firms based solely on low-bid.

Best value is a catch-all term for any method where the owner considers more than just price. For example, if you are bidding to renovate my kitchen, I’m going to consider more than price when making my decision. But if your price is three times that of other bidders, I probably won’t hire you.

A negotiated contract is often awarded based on a firm’s qualifications or an existing relationship an owner has with a contractor. They’ll award you the job and then negotiate the price.

You don’t want to skip this step. Let’s say you are a pavement contractor who works in the government/Institutional market. If you plan on paving any state highways, that’s going to be a low-bid scenario. If you don’t want to work under low-bid conditions, you’ll have to adjust within your market to maybe provide pavement to healthcare systems that aren’t obligated to use low-bid.

But let’s say your pavement firm is fine with working on low-bid contracts. Now that we know your audience will hire you based on low-bid, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense hiring the top construction marketing agency. However, it would make sense to hire the absolute best construction estimator you can find.

What Advantages/Disadvantages Do You Have?

In the construction industry, your firm’s advantages and disadvantages can help you determine the audience that is most likely to say yes. In fact, construction is one of the few industries where firms certify their disadvantages.

Let me give you an example of how a “disadvantage” can help you determine your audience. If your excavation firm is owned by someone whom the government would consider a “minority,” my advice would be to target big General Contractors that work on government projects. These General Contractors often struggle to meet minority participation goals on large government contracts. And the minute they learn about you, they might just throw a party.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a general contractor that works well with unions. You’ll have an advantage in areas where the unions have a strong presence.

The Yes Audience Formula For Construction Firms

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can fill out this statement:

Our audience is [OWNERS/GENERAL CONTRACTORS] in the [MARKET] market who hire [FIRM TYPE], select based on [HOW THEY HIRE], and favor [ADVANTAGE/DISADVANTAGE].

Here’s an example:

Our audience is general contractors in the government/institutional market who hire trade/specialty contractors, select based on low bid, and favor minority business enterprises.

That is a clearly defined audience. Here’s another one.

Our audience is owners in the commercial market who hire general contractors, select based on best value, and favor firms that self-perform electrical work.

The right message for these two audiences couldn’t be more different. That’s why it’s so critical to nail down who your yes audience is.

construction marketing formula

Identifying The Right Marketing Message

Identifying the audience who can say yes is the easy part. The more difficult part of marketing in the construction industry is determining what the right message is.

Luckily, you have two things going for you. First, you’ve identified the audience who can say yes. Second, you’re about to receive a game-changing piece of marketing advice from me:

You can’t sell anyone something he or she doesn’t already want to buy.

That’s the best news you’ve received all day because it means you can’t come up with the right message sitting in front of your computer screen. You’ve got to find out what your audience wants to buy.

What your audience wants to buy isn’t a “kitchen renovation” or “university science lab.” You don’t go to the hardware store to buy a drill, you go to buy a hole. So, we’ve got to figure out what the hole is for our audience.

You do this by identifying your audience’s hopes, fears, and dreams. What do they hope to achieve by renovating their kitchen? What are their biggest fears and reservations about renovating their kitchen? What does their dream kitchen renovation experience look like? What did they like/dislike about previous renovations they may have been involved in?

You learn these things by talking with your audience. Talk to people who’ve already renovated their kitchen (or built a university science lab, etc.). And talk to people thinking about renovating their kitchen (or building a university science lab, etc.).

You use what you’ll learn from these conversations to come up with a message that differentiates your firm from the competition.

You might not be the best at writing and that’s OK. There are many books and articles that can help you learn more about copywriting. Armed with everything you’ve learned, you might also reach out to a reputable construction marketing agency for some help communicating your message.

The most important thing during this step is to spend the time and energy needed to get to know what drives your audience’s decisions.

Delivering The Right Marketing Message

Now that you have the right message and an audience who can say yes, it’s just a matter of selecting the right avenues to deliver your message.

In the world of marketing, we refer to ways to reach your audience as “channels.” Which channels you choose will depend on the audience you’re trying to reach.

Marketing channels are generally broken up into two categories.

Direct Marketing Channels

Direct marketing means sending your message directly to your audience. This includes:

  • Postcards and mailings
  • Phone or email outreach
  • Responding to requests for qualifications (RFQs)

Indirect Marketing Channels

Indirect marketing channels are more, well, indirect. And thus, depending on the channel, you may have to find ways to deliver your message in a more educational or informative manner than you would with direct marketing channels.

Indirect marketing channels include:

  • Your website or blog
  • Articles in industry publications
  • Speaking at industry events
  • Networking within the industry
  • Public relations
  • Social media
  • Online or print advertising

Always test which channels are best for reaching your specific audience. For example, if your audience does not attend industry events, it might not be very fruitful to speak at industry events.

Don’t tackle all of these at once. I would advise you to select one or two channels that are likely to reach your audience.

Depending on your skillset, you may have to depend on resources within or outside your firm to properly utilize many of these channels. For example, if you have no ad design experience I wouldn’t advise you to create an ad for Engineering News Record. You’ll need to identify the right people to help you.

When it comes to construction marketing, I’ve yet to meet a person who can do it all (and do it well). Often, the best construction marketing is done by utilizing a team with the right skills.

Marketing in construction industry

Final Words About Marketing In The Construction Industry

Marketing in the construction industry can be a challenge. But if you keep it simple, delivering the right message to an audience who can say yes, you’ll have consistent success.

Don’t spend your time looking for the latest and greatest construction marketing tips or some shortcut to success. You’ll be surprised how much success you can have by focusing on two core elements. The best construction marketing always includes them.

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