Stuck in the Stone Age? How construction firms can nail a marketing campaign with new and old tactics

In case you’re one of the few people who hasn’t seen the Caterpillar "Dozer Pride" rap video introducing the heavy equipment giant's new Cat D6N bulldozer, stop what you’re doing and take a look. Caterpillar took what could have been a standard product launch and turned it on its head. The video has reached nearly 250,000 views on YouTube, and Caterpillar has an accompanying Twitter campaign encouraging customers to share their experiences with the brand using the hashtag #DozerPride.

"That’s an awesome video. What they’ve done is they’ve defined their brand message, and that’s key for any business, especially construction companies because the competition out there is outrageous," said Miri Offir, chief marketing officer at 911 Restoration, a home contractor franchise.

Offir said the key to a successful campaign like Caterpillar’s video is to develop a voice and make sure people understand where the company excels. But is the construction industry suited to social and new media, or should contractors stick to traditional methods of marketing?

Leveraging new media

"We believe that every business needs to have three drivers of profit — referrals, online marketing and offline marketing," Offir said. In a seasonal business like 911 Restoration's — which sees demand significantly increase during the aftermath of floods, fires and natural disasters  Offir said incorporating different marketing outlets ensures that their business, and that of their franchisees, remains stable and helps prevent slowdowns in revenue.

Offir and 911 Restoration make the most of their relationships with referral partners, such as insurance adjusters, property management companies and contractors, and its franchisees still have occasion to cold call and set up meetings with customers. But Offir said the company's most successful marketing play is online.

She added that 911 Restoration also uses Google and other major search engines to implement a variety of online advertising, including pay-per-click (PPC) ads and targeted Gmail ads.

PPC, a big part of Google’s AdWords program, allows advertisers like 911 Restoration to display ads according to user search terms. When someone clicks on an ad, only then is the advertiser charged. Usually, the higher the advertiser is willing to pay per click, the more prominent the placement will be in a search. Gmail advertisement emails, instead of popping up in response to a specific user query, appear at the top of a Gmail user’s Promotions tab and are based on the user’s previous search and email activity.

"It’s super-targeted and very accurate," Offir said. "We have very aggressive online marketing campaigns. And when I say that, I’m referring to all the channels — paid ads, SEO (search engine optimization) and, of course, social media."

Offir said that when an event happens, like a flood or some other natural disaster, 911 Restoration sets up a Facebook page, first and foremost to help the people struggling through the aftermath. She said some have been taken advantage of by predatory contractors, all too common after a disaster, while others need reassurance and guidance about what to do next.

In the past, she said, the company's post-event Facebook pages have gained thousands of followers in a very short period of time. "We were the experts. When someone had a question, we would answer that. We would give them the information. Of course, if they want to hire us, we’ll be more than happy to help," she said.

A focus on content marketing

While Offir and 911 Restoration have seen impressive results with social media, Jon Franko, founding partner of marketing agency Gorilla 76, focuses his client campaigns on content marketing  including white papers, case studies and buyer’s guides.

"We’ve done a lot of social media, and we’ve started to pull the reins back on that a little," Franko said. The beauty of online marketing, he said, is that results are measurable, and "you can see if it’s really working or not." Franko said his clients just weren't seeing strong results with social media.

Gorilla 76, which focuses on construction and industrial business-to-business, or B2B, marketing, has made content marketing its core focus. "It’s all about being educational and not promotional. Your content actually has to provide value, and I think that’s where a lot of B2B companies get it wrong."

Franko said he has to work hard with clients to convince them that the content they produce and share on their websites shouldn’t be "about telling clients how great you are. We’re going to show them how great we are by being really smart and writing educational content that people find useful."

"If you have good content, it will get found, and it will get shared," he said. If it’s shared on industry-leading blogs or publications "that’s where you really start to get some traction."

Franko said Gorilla’s B2B inbound marketing philosophy  letting the customer come to them  can be boiled down to three steps. First, build website traffic through keyword-rich blogging techniques and SEO, and by building web pages correctly. Next, once customers are on the site, present a "call to action," like a form for a free consultation, a chance to download a free informational guide or an opportunity to sign up for a newsletter. Finally, Franko said, the last step is to nurture those leads through monthly email marketing.

"We’ve just found this idea of inbound marketing to be so much more effective than what we were seeing on social media," he said.

Finding a successful combination

Gail Ettaro, senior marketing director of New York contractor LPCiminelli, said traditional advertising, with a twist of new media, works best for the company.

Ettaro said LPCiminelli does a significant amount of work with minority participation goals, and, like other contractors nationwide, often has trouble finding qualified M/WBE firms. Her company has come up with an innovative way of putting their prime contractors and minority businesses together.

"Because all the contractors are staying so busy," Ettaro said, "how do you generate interest and in the same breath ensure that diversity goals for clients are met?"

LPCiminelli holds social-media-advertised "meet and greet" informational sessions for each of the company's new projects, but found that staff members were turning the meetings into a networking opportunity and facilitating introductions between prime contractors and M/WBEs.

"We sort of jokingly found ourselves in a situation where we became a or eHarmony of sorts," Ettaro said, "where we were matching prime construction companies with appropriate M/WBE firms."

Prior to a meet and greet, Ettaro said, everyone chips in to ensure high attendance, even if it means company executives have to get involved by making contractor telephone calls. "After the event, if we get great media coverage, we love to tout that on social media as well. Everybody loves to get that kind of exposure on Twitter or on LinkedIn," she said.

So does Ettaro think there’s going to be room for both traditional and new media in the construction industry going forward?

"Certainly we’re seeing growth with social media, but, in the same breath, I think that you do need that balance. Who doesn’t love a personal phone call?" she said.

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