The First Handshake
Try searching the Internet for the words “Marketing Professional Surveying” and see what you find. Chances are you will receive few, if any, results that lead to helpful information. Little has been written about marketing practices specific to the surveying profession, presumably because marketing falls at or near the bottom of the priority list for surveyors.
KS Associates of Elyria, Ohio, sought to challenge this commonality among surveying firms. About two years ago, the surveying and civil engineering firm located just outside of Cleveland brought onboard a full-time marketing director who was tasked with one responsibility: to position the firm as the “go-to” firm for surveying and civil engineering services in Northern Ohio.
In two short years, the firm’s marketing efforts have gone from a slow trickle to a steady stream of initiatives that are paying dividends. Through a series of programs, including direct mail postcards, client presentations, client satisfaction surveys and letter-writing campaigns, the firm is growing its revenue and client base. From 2004 to 2006, KS Associates’ revenues have increased 18 percent.
One particular initiative undertaken was to develop a brochure to demonstrate the firm’s culture and capabilities. Last August, the brochure won first place in its category in the annual SMPS Marketing Communications Awards, a national competition sponsored by the Society for Marketing Professional Services. SMPS is comprised of more than 5,000 marketing and business development professionals in multi-disciplined engineering, architectural, surveying and construction firms across the United States. The firm also won first place in a local competition called “Circle of Excellence Awards” sponsored by the Northcoast Building Industry Association (NCBIA). The competition recognizes area builders, developers, suppliers and associates for industry achievements. An independent panel of judges selected KS Associates’ brochure based on concept, copy, design, presentation, continuity and overall effectiveness.
The brochure is a high-end, four-color, offset printed folder with a four-page insert stitched inside. It provides an overview of the firm’s philosophy, capabilities, commitment to client satisfaction and brief descriptions of each client-focused business unit (Land Development, Transportation, Government Services and Land Surveying). The brochure’s design is highly flexible with back-pocket die-cut inserts and a folder, allowing users to customize marketing packages to address specific interests of individual recipients.
The brochure is used as an initial “handshake” to introduce new clients to the firm or, from time to time, remind existing clients of the firm’s capabilities. It can be easily mailed along with the appropriate marketing materials such as news releases, sales sheets, article reprints, project descriptions and other customized pieces. The brochure is also used for marketing initiatives such as tradeshows, seminars and client presentations.
Creating an Award-Winning BrochureWhat did it take to convince a panel of judges to select KS Associates’ brochure over all others? The following are a few tips for creating a winning brochure:
Competitive Research. Before embarking on the project, invest time to examine competitors’ marketing materials and websites. Study two important things: first the message, then the graphics. Then develop a creative direction that is unique from anything else in the marketplace.
Develop A Clear, Concise Message. Hold a brainstorming session with your management team or selected employees and identify the characteristics that make your firm unique. Consider conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to help you flesh out the details. Interview your clients and find out why they choose your firm over others for their surveying needs. Then develop a message, or a “value proposition,” that answers the question in your clients’ minds: “What’s in it for me?”
Features Versus Benefits. When you write the text for your brochure, call out the benefits of each of your firm’s features. For example, having a large number of surveyors on staff is a firm feature. A benefit of that feature is the ability to deploy professionals quickly and respond to a client request right away.
Don’t Do It All Yourself. Even if your surveying firm is large enough to justify a full-time marketing professional, you should not create the brochure in-house. First, it is difficult for someone who has been working on your team to be objective. And as unfortunate as it may be, the reality is that this person may not have the credibility with top-level management that an outside consultant would. Secondly, your marketing person is tasked with other responsibilities and may not be able to give the brochure the attention it deserves. This is especially important considering that the project requires an investment of valuable resources (time and money). The time you spend agonizing over colors, fonts, size, volume and other elements will no doubt equal or exceed the expense of hiring a consultant. Even if you don’t have a hefty budget, you can find a marketing consulting firm that will work within your budgetary requirements.
Consider Flexibility. For example, KS Associates wanted a brochure that would be flexible enough to be used by its Survey Group, as well as the firm’s other business units. Each business unit markets its services to audiences with different needs. The solution was to create a modular brochure system. The system is comprised of a main brochure that briefly touches on the capabilities of each business unit, and smaller, individual brochures that highlight each unit’s specific capabilities. One, two or all of the smaller brochures can be inserted into the back of the main brochure.
Consider Shelf Life. You might not want to mention specific projects or other information in your brochure that can become outdated quickly. Rather, develop complementary 8 ½ x 11 sheets, such as staff resumes, press releases and other materials, that can be easily printed in-house and inserted into your main brochure. An added benefit of this approach is that each piece can be custom tailored for an individual client.
Avoid Stock Photography When Possible. If you don’t have photographs that accurately depict what you do, go out and take them. Stock photography can end up appearing in someone else’s brochure, thereby eroding your brochure’s uniqueness. Stock photography can be expensive and can consume a large percent of your overall project budget. Digital photography has come a long way in terms of quality reproduction, and programs such as Adobe Photoshop can do amazing things when it comes to cleaning and sharpening images. Also, using images of your own hard-at-work professionals helps clients get to know your company and personalizes your brochure.
Use Client Quotes and Testimonials. Anyone can make claims about their capabilities. But no one says it better than the users of your services.
In addition to receiving national recognition with awards, KS Associates’ brochure has caused clients to respond favorably. Following a client presentation on the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys, clients were asked, “How helpful was the brochure in explaining who KS Associates is and what we do?” The majority of respondents noted, “Very Helpful.”
A brochure can never replace the most important reasons why clients will turn to you for surveying, project after project: relationships, quality, responsiveness and price. However, the brochure designed for KS Associates has been an invaluable tool in the firm’s efforts to develop relationships with new clients. The brochure helps to substantiate recommendations that existing clients make to their colleagues, and positions KS Associates as a professional firm that takes its business seriously.
About KS AssociatesKS Associates is a civil engineering and land surveying firm serving public and private-sector clients. The firm’s Survey Group is comprised of six registered professional surveyors, six survey field crews and seven office/CAD technicians, making it one of the largest surveying groups in Northeast Ohio. The size of its group and the caliber of its team allow KS Associates to tackle assignments of virtually any size and scope. The firm provides design, bidding and construction administration of public infrastructure and transportation projects; and development services for residential, commercial and institutional projects. Founded in 1987, KS Associates employs a team of 63 professionals and is located in Elyria, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s not every day that a surveying firm is recognized for its marketing efforts. KS Associates recently received national recognition and won first place in the Brochure Category of the 2006 SMPS Marketing Communications Awards. To read more, go to www.ksassociates.com or www.smps.org.