AIA / SMPS Philadelphia Digital Marketing Panel (Recap)

AEC Digital Marketing Communications Panel

Recap of the Joint AIA Philadelphia and SMPS Philadelphia Digital Marketing Communications Panel

I recently had the opportunity to participate in part two of the three-part series presented by AIA Philadelphia and SMPS Philadelphia titled “Align Your Messaging and Win More Work.” The series debuted with “Creating & Building Relationships” and was followed by our “Digital Marketing Communications” panel.

Below is a recap of what I shared with the attendees, plus some additional thoughts that I didn’t cover due to the time constraints.

What goes into developing a cohesive digital marketing plan? Where do you begin?

The reality is that all marketing today is digital. The same rules that have always applied to any effective marketing apply here:

Know your audiences. Know how to best communicate with them.

Any marketing plan begins with the overall business objectives – what are you trying to achieve? Is your firm growing its offerings or geographic footprint? Are you lacking brand visibility in the face of increased competition? Are you struggling to attract top talent?

Armed with these goals, identify and prioritize the marketing strategies and tactics that will help you achieve them.

Depending on the size of your team and the overall efficiency of your marketing operations, you may want to select only 1–2 goals for the year.

It’s tempting to try to do it all, but you have to be realistic. Don’t plan for more than you can accomplish with available resources. It’s better to focus on a few things and do them extremely well.

“Don’t start too many things – do fewer, bigger, better things!” (Roel de Vries, Global Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy, Nissan)

For help with marketing planning, read “Make This THE Year We Finally … a More Practical Approach to Marketing Planning”

With your top marketing priorities identified, address the three key ingredients of digital marketing: Audiences, Channels and Content.

  • Audiences. What audiences are you trying to reach – top corporate executives, facilities managers or Gen Z? Most likely, you’ll need to engage more than one audience, but each will require different marketing approaches, communication channels, and types and format of content.
  • Channels. For your top audience groups, learn what digital communication channels they use most. Otherwise, you could be sharing the most exciting content on Instagram, but if your audiences are not there, or not there in large enough numbers, it’s like speaking in an empty auditorium. Do some research before you invest in any new channel.
  • Content. Content is the foundation of your digital marketing program. What types of content will attract each of your audiences? What formats and channels are best suited for this content? For example, if you do high-impact, high-visibility, beautifully designed projects, then visual channels will work well for you. If your content is all about thought leadership, industry trends, data, and latest building technologies, then blogging, slideshare, LinkedIn and Webinars are a better fit.

The next step is to prioritize your goals and strategies and develop your execution plan and editorial calendar to keep you on track and accountable. Focus on what’s truly important – and if you don’t have the skills or resources, then train, outsource, or hire in order to execute effectively.

A plan on paper means nothing. It’s execution that turns a marketing plan into a game changer.

Learn more about marketing planning for the real world in “5 Most Important Decisions for Avoiding Execution Paralysis”

The goal is to never invest time in a piece that can only be used once. What are some examples of how you are repurposing your content?

The future of marketing is in delivering contextually relevant, tailored communications to individual customers. In order to make such a high level of customization possible without complete overwhelm, you need to be smart about your content and look for ways to repurpose key pieces you create.

There are many ways that you can approach repurposing content, but the most common are:

  • Taking a larger piece and splitting it into a number of different formats that can be delivered across a variety of communication channels.
  • Creating versions of content pieces by tailoring them to specific buyers or industries.


This is the most commonly used tactic for maximizing the use and extending the shelf life of your cornerstone content pieces that require the most initial investment. For example, you can take an e-book or a whitepaper and develop an infographic that highlights data used in the original piece; spin a number of blog posts using each of the major points covered; create a series of social media campaigns for each subtopic and drip it over time; or use any practical tips from the original piece to develop downloadable checklists, templates or worksheets.

The work has already been done. Now it’s reformatting!


Use some of your existing articles, case studies, whitepapers and reports to create additional versions tailored to different industry sectors. For example, if you wrote an article about smart buildings design, you can easily customize it for financial services or corporate market by using headlines, callouts and images that are specific to those industries.

You can also create versions for different buyer personas. For example, one of our technology clients has to secure buy-in from the CTO/CIO/IT manager and from the CEO or CFO. Although the information our client provides is essentially the same to each, for technology leaders the callouts and high-level messages are focused on data management and security, whereas for other C-Level decision makers the headers, callouts and examples emphasize the bottom-line benefits and operational efficiency.

Making the Most of Your Topics

When planning the annual content calendar for Substance151, I find it beneficial to align our editorial schedule with my speaking calendar and make sure we fully leverage content topics for both. Even though the format of an article is very different from that of a conference session or a webinar, the research is the same, and some of the actual content and supporting graphics can be reused.

It also gives me some material to use when I follow up with those attending my sessions. If your experts present at conferences or you do lunch-n-learns or webinars, this can work very well for your firm, too.

What platforms are you using? How do you determine which content should be shared on which platform?

For highly visual content, we use channels with better opportunities to present images – our website, blog and Facebook page. To share articles we publish on Substance151 blog and contribute to industry blogs, we use email marketing, LinkedIn publishing platform, as well as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn posts and groups, to drive traffic.

We are all pressed for time, and we all love automation, but you must resist the temptation to send the same message to all of your firm’s social media networks with one push of a button –even though we have technology that allows us to do so.

Each channel operates under varying “social” rules, and this means that your brand must learn to speak the language of the specific channel.

The tone of voice you use to communicate on LinkedIn should be different from the one you use on Facebook. It’s the difference between being in a boardroom and at a networking happy hour.

Think about what channels are a natural fit for your firm’s brand and culture – not everyone is meant to be on Snapchat!

For more tips on finding the right brand voice and message for each channel, see “Aligning Content and Context”

Do you still find printed communications effective?

Absolutely! I remember that in the early 2000s everyone was saying that print was dead. But it’s still very much alive today – just used differently. Today, most effective print pieces are more like luxury items than throwaways. Think coffee books, not direct mail.

Many of your firms do beautiful work, and its impact can be amplified by using thoughtfully selected paper, high-end printing, innovative formats and unique production techniques. Nothing will ever replace the tactile part of a printed piece! But if you are going to spend money, and kill some trees in the process, make it into something that looks and feels special.

We don’t use any printed brochures, but we use print for special pieces that showcase our creative capabilities – leave-behinds or items we give away at first meetings.

Final takeaway – what is your one piece of advice that the audience should apply to their digital marketing approach?

If I were to give one piece of advice, it’d be to make sure that your website is as strong as it can be. Although your website is not the only place that your audiences interact with your firm online, it’s the command center of your digital marketing.

Studies show that today’s A/E/C buyers rely on information from digital sources (such as online searches, firms’ websites and social media) significantly more than advice from a firm representative or a sales professional when making important business decisions.

With 67% of the buyer’s journey over before the first contact with your firm, your website is more critical than ever. It’s a proactive member of your business development and marketing team, a lead generation and nurturing tool, a 24/7 recruiter and often the first contact with your firm – its brand, people, work and culture.

If your website is not creating value, not providing the right type of information or is difficult to use, people will move on – most likely to your closest competitor.

For more detailed information on the entire website redesign process from planning through post-launch, and for checklists and tips on avoiding common mistakes, download our website redesign planning e-guide

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