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By Erica Sweeney
July 3, 2017
Everyone loves a great story, and storytelling can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses. Construction companies often have exciting stories to tell, which can position them ahead of the competition and help them win new business.
As a marketing strategy, storytelling conveys a company’s personality, connects with people, appeals to emotions, and builds relationships. The most effective storytelling is multimedia and multi-platform, combining photography, videography, websites, social media, and written content.
“Storytelling is probably the most important technique,” says Rob Melis, founder and president of Construction Marketing, a Sarasota, Florida-based advertising and marketing firm that works solely with the construction industry.
“As human beings, we’re brought up to understand the world around us based on stories that we’re told. I am absolutely convinced that there is a special part of our brain that is really designed to process stories. We have an amazing power to understand and get lost in and find ourselves in stories. It’s an extraordinarily efficient and powerful way to communicate lessons and knowledge.”
Focusing on past projects, an organization’s history, a family-owned business aspect, or a project manager’s expertise, construction companies have many stories to tell. They just need to be told, Melis says.
He says construction company leaders don’t always take advantage of the power of their own compelling stories to market themselves.
“Unfortunately, marketing hasn't been a huge part of construction in the past, but we're in the digital age now, and it's becoming more important every year,” he explains. “[Storytelling] is a way to make people like you and want to work with you, which is the business aspect.”
Melis’ background in video production and designing post-production facilities, television studios, newsrooms, and news editing rooms sparked his interested in construction.
“It’s a field that fascinates me,” he says. “I believe that construction is one of the most important things humankind does. If you’ve ever been on a project, it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ It makes me proud to be human to see what we do.”
He says stories lie in the complexity and intricacy of the construction process, and how they come together to create things. Because those outside the industry, including many project owners, don’t always understand the construction process, storytelling can be a compelling way to lure new business.
When builders tell detailed stories about past projects, it can help potential project owners visualize themselves in the process and imagine the outcome.
“That's what a story does that’s different than saying, ‘Well, last year, we built a 50-story building in downtown Atlanta, and it was an $80 million project completed on time,’” Melis explains.
“If you converse with a potential project owner and you tell the story, they’re much more likely to gain affinity for you and have interest in pursuing a project with you. There are all different types of project owners that have different desires, but they know what they want. The story that you tell allows them to see a glimpse inside your organization and your approach to projects.”
This can position a firm as the right one for the project and make owners comfortable with a process. Building is a complex system, but also a human process, Melis says, and that’s why storytelling is an effective approach.
Construction companies today are realizing the value of marketing, especially digital marketing. Melis says a younger generation in decision-making and leadership positions is the likely reason. In the past, industry leaders, who didn’t grow up with the Internet and technology, didn’t understand what it could do for business.
With a younger generation in charge, companies are experimenting with marketing strategies and realizing it works. Relationships and reputation still matter in the industry, but Melis says web-based marketing is reshuffling the deck.
Communicating through digital platforms—websites and social media—using a variety of content, including blogs, photos, videos, and more can have a huge impact on business.
Exploring new avenues for business development allows companies to position themselves as leaders and grow. Melis refers to the old saying, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you keep getting what you get.”
Relying solely on relationships and referrals will keep business flowing at a certain level, but isn’t necessarily a formula for growth. Investing in marketing that incorporates storytelling can take companies to the next level.
The foundation of any solid marketing campaign is a company website, Melis says, because that’s where everything leads back to. Websites showcase the company brand, which spreads outwardly through videos, social media, press releases, company news, thought-leadership blogs, and more.
Some builders may have a marketing professional on staff, who handles many of these tasks. Others may assign some of these jobs, such as updating the company Facebook page, to staff in addition to their regular responsibilities.
For companies that lack the time to devote to marketing, outsourcing is a worthwhile investment. It supports ongoing marketing efforts, which is good for long-term business. Marketing firms bring a wealth of experience working with different companies—and the knowledge of how storytelling and marketing work together.
Melis says his agency begins by meeting with potential clients, visiting jobsites, and talking to staff and subcontractors to learn about the company. Then, the strategy and story take form.
“We see things in their organization that they don’t see that we can really highlight and make special,” he says. “You have to massage it a little bit, but, in general, we try to stay as close to the reality of the leadership and culture of the company, and the way they do business. We communicate that in a way that is attractive to future customers.”
When selecting a marketing agency, Melis recommends looking for firms with an understanding of the construction industry, going over the agency’s portfolio, and being careful to hire firms offering companies the attention they deserve.
Marketing must happen continuously over time to be successful, he says. And, most importantly, it’s a partnership between the construction company and the marketer—leveraging a builder’s success and experience with a marketing agency’s expertise.
Effective strategies depend on construction companies providing information and insight into their businesses, and being open to a marketer’s ideas.
“Those two things coming together are a lot more powerful, which is the point,” Melis says. “We create something. When we’re more involved with clients and it’s more interactive, we feel like we’re working together with them.”
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