Over the past 3-4 years we’ve continually “beat the drum” to encourage A/E firms to adopt a content-driven marketing model — an approach that’s proven highly effective for over 50 years in the management consulting profession, but is relatively new (and considered largely untested) to the vast majority of A/E firms.
Leading edge firms get it. They always have. But, for a lot of firms it’s been a struggle to wrap their minds around the topic. It’s not that the concept is such a large leap — it’s pretty easy to see how producing an ongoing stream of useful content intended specifically for a firm’s ideal clients will create value.
The first real question most firms have is, how do we actually do it?
After all, an architecture or engineering service is delivered by a collection of highly educated, trained, technical experts. We can’t just launch a blog and ask a marketing coordinator to start writing posts. For content to create any value it has to be grounded in the substantive insight of the practice. Ultimately, content of this type is not authored by a marketing department on an island. It’s cultivated, developed and grown over time. Ideally, it’s produced in such a way that it doesn’t rely solely on the thoughts of one person or a handful of people. It’s driven by a model that can be sustained over time by the firm as talent ebbs and flows — in the past, I’ve described this as the Knowledge Flow of a firm.
Based on what I see and hear in the marketplace, I see firms going about this in one of two ways.
1. Internal Knowledge Sharing
The first model works from the inside out. Leaders in these firms recognize that the knowledge the firm develops within its client projects accrues over time, but is difficult to extract. Sometimes this is a cultural problem — people simply don’t want to share what they know (forget externally, they don’t even want to share with their peers). Other times, there’s simply not a process and means to do so. The knowledge that experts develop within a project is locked away in their mind to be used in the next project, but they fail to see how that knowledge could be used to create value for the firm’s marketing effort (after all, they’re not marketers).
First, firms of this type, work diligently to build a culture of and process for internal knowledge sharing. They develop “analog” programs to connect people together across disciplines and offices. These could be structured as lunch-and-learns, communities of interest (collections of like-minded individuals with a shared interest), or firm-wide educational programs and retreats (for a great example, watch Griff Davenport’s 2013 KA Connect Talk on DLRUniversity).
Second, they invest in technology to connect disciplines, offices and people together digitally. They use knowledge management technology to cultivate internal dialogue across a variety of dimensions — connecting people inside the firm on topics of interest both to them and, often, the firm’s clients (for more on this, watch Carl Davis’s 2013 KA Connect Talk on Building a Knowledge-Based Practice).
Finally, they build teams of people internally who are designated with the task of bringing both of these things together in a meaningful way. They designate people with the responsibility of capturing and sharing knowledge firm-wide. They identify community leaders and make them responsible for activating participation within specific interest groups. They task marketers with the job of mining knowledge as it’s shared (either offline or online) to identify opportunities for external content development. And, finally, they encourage their subject matter experts to translate that knowledge into useful client-facing content via an ongoing series of blog posts or articles (for more on what a team like this looks like, read this article, The Makeup of a High Performing Intranet Team, by Christopher Parsons).
Using this model, firms are able to cultivate a steady flow of content development by spreading the effort across the firm in an organic way. Here are some examples of firms who’ve successfully applied an internal knowledge-sharing model to cultivate a sustained flow of high quality content: