Gen Z and A+E: A Growing Demographic Makes its Mark on the AEC Industries
What impact will Gen Z have on the AEC industries?
We never imagined facing a worldwide pandemic in our lifetime—at least one as extreme as COVID-19. The dramatic shift in the A/E/C industry as construction came to a halt mid-March opened our eyes to a new reality. As marketers, our time has truly come. The spotlight is on us to help answer the questions; what do we do? How do we respond? What do we tell our clients? Because if there’s one thing we’re all learning in our new circumstances it’s that communication is key. It is time to adjust, adapt, and take advantage of our current environment.
Maybe your workload decreased. Maybe it didn’t. Either way, this time is a gift. If you are still drowning in project pursuits or other everyday operations support, it might be time to reassess your team’s priorities—even if it means focusing on just one or two items from the list below. We have the opportunity to emerge from this crisis into a new normal, one that will forever be more responsive to change. At the very least, emerge refreshed knowing that your team accomplished several critical items on your long-standing wishlist.
Conduct client surveys. Whether written or through video/phone calls—these give true, honest insight on your firm’s current standing in the marketplace. Given the increase in support and camaraderie and for some, the extra time available, the response rate will likely be better than just six months ago. Use this time for candid discussions about their fears and hopes for the future. Take this information and build from it! You don’t need to have the answers immediately. Capture the data in your CRM, let it marinate, report back to your team, and have thoughtful discussions. Use the extra breathing room you have right now for true brainstorming.
Re-assess your website. Building a new website is a daunting and often all-hands-on-deck project. Use this time to start the process even if you didn’t plan on a renewal for another year. Think of your website as a 24/7 business development director. For some potential clients and many future employees, it is the first impression they have of your firm. After all, what is the first thing anyone does when hearing a new name or company? We whip out our phones and find their website. If your pursuits or project support are at a standstill, use this precious time to audit your digital BD director and come out of this crisis looking sharper than ever. At the very least, start the planning process:
Figure out what your competitors are up to. Have you ever spent time weeding through competitor websites or social media pages? What about requesting competitor proposals from past pursuits on public projects and reading them thoroughly? Competitor research is crucial to your firm’s marketing strategy and while it happens perfunctorily on a regular basis, we often do not have time for a deep dive. In an industry that focuses on delivery, dedicating hours to legitimate research without producing a concrete deliverable at the end is hard to justify. Don’t be fooled though … having a better understanding of what you’re up against going forward and potential adjustments to your marketing strategy will pay off in the end, whether it’s in the near or distant future.
Build an indispensable, go-to hub for internal communications. The lack of those random, happenstance face-to-face interactions and meetings makes it difficult to relay important information and maintain the connectivity that is essential to company culture. Consider building an intranet. This is easier than it may sound. Start simple and use a product your firm already has access to [e.g. SharePoint]. Use this as the go-to hub for internal company news, employee highlights, executive messages, interactive chats and more. Employees crave information that helps them feel connected and are likely to quickly adopt it as a go-to source. The adoption phase of the intranet process is often the most difficult, which is why now might be the prime time to test the concept.
Invest in your culture. Trivia questions and prizes, emails from the CEO or president with the company’s status [never underestimate the power of transparency!], virtual happy hours or lunches, or photos of the week are all great ways to engage your employees and help them stay connected. Why stop once the office opens back up? Most likely, employee camaraderie might be better than ever after this!
Update your project portfolio, resumes, and best of all, dust off that boilerplate copy you keep meaning to refresh. Proposal material updates are probably the top back-burnered tasks that carry from to-do list to to-do list. Make sure updates find their way into your CRM, including contact information for good references. Tackle it now without feeling guilty about finishing those other urgent, time-sensitive responsibilities that will undoubtedly return. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to hit the ground running when your to-do list grows again.
Commit to acquiring that elusive new skill or competency. As much as we hate to admit this, training and professional enrichment activities are the first things in our calendar that we cancel when deadlines come calling. Since none of us knows when we will be back to business as usual, why not pencil in some time to conduct a SWOT analysis on your skill set? Which areas are weak? Where are the gaps? Be honest with yourself and set an achievable goal. Even better news—the world’s largest working-from-home experiment has generated an abundance of virtual training opportunities, many of them free or significantly reduced in cost.
Help others achieve #7. What better way to add value while elevating your profile in the company? To help select a topic, pull out your SWOT again. Focus on your strengths, or a particular aspect of your job you enjoy. Then create an outline or storyboard for your training. The output doesn’t have to be a formal lecture with polished visuals. Leverage the virtual meeting platforms we are all using these days and offer to present your topic during a coffee break, or over lunch. It can also be as simple as sharing your screen and walking people through a task or process.
Step up your post/share/like game. Social media is everything. And not just during COVID-19, although it has underscored—and hopefully, finally—why it should be included in your marketing plan and properly resourced. It is hands down the most direct and least expensive conversation you can have with a wide audience. Pair this with the increase in mobile usage and you have an unlocked door to where everyone hangs out and shares stories. Your first step is to audit what you already have running or about to come out of your content pipeline, including visuals. Pull anything that doesn’t feel appropriate in the context of COVID-19. Then lean into the heart of your brand: your vision, purpose, and values. The more you show what your brand stands for, the more your audience will feel connected to it. Share the story only you can tell. Be personable, helpful, and above all— be positive without being tone deaf.
Have those somewhat scary What If? conversations. We are all laser focused on navigating the COVID-19 crisis, and rightfully so. But if short-term tactics are the only things we focus on, we put our company’s long-term resiliency at risk. Set aside time to think. Throw out different scenarios that might occur in your key accounts, core markets, adjacent industries. How should your team respond? The more you do this, the better you’ll get at improvising and laying out proactive strategies to help build a strong future for your firm.
Forward-thinking firms that are ready to address the challenges and opportunities when we head back to a new normal are the ones that will shine. This is marketing’s time to do what we do best—to innovate and empower every employee in every role in the company to leave behind what no longer serves and invest in the attitudes, tools and skills that will make us successful—and more adaptable—in the future.
What impact will Gen Z have on the AEC industries?