10 green marketing strategies for design and construction firms that address new expectations created by the surge in green building projects.
It’s now four years since I wrote Marketing Green Building Services: Strategies for Success, outlining how sustainable design & construction firms should think about green marketing. Since I first wrote that book, nearly 30,000 new projects have registered with LEED and more than 13,000 projects have been certified. Obviously, many firms now have the experience of successful projects to back up their marketing claims for sustainable design and construction. Indeed, LEED Gold buildings seldom even rate media mention anymore and even LEED Platinum buildings, about 5 to 6 percent of the total, seldom raise eyebrows.
The conversation has shifted to Architecture 2030 commitments, Living Building Challenge (LBC) and Zero-Net Energy buildings. And there are about 175,000 LEED Accredited Professionals, more than twice the membership of the American Institute of Architects. So the excitement, for many leading firms, has shifted from proving “we can do this,” to “what’s next?”
What should then be the green marketing strategy for leading firms? This is a question that I’ve discussed with a number of design firm CEOs in the past several months. It comes down to a few basic modes of differentiation. Here are a few examples:
- Budgets: Building is still about meeting budgets AND expectations for high-performance sustainable design outcomes. Can you prove that you can design such projects on a conventional budget? Do you have the numbers to document your claims? The New Normal is “frugal green,” in which clients expect high-performance outcomes on conventional budgets.
- Performance: Do your projects actually perform as predicted? Is there a high level of occupant satisfaction? Have you done the Post-Occupancy Evaluations (POE in the lingo) to back up your claims? Does your energy modeling actually come close to predicting energy use?
Innovation: how readily have your project innovations become mainstream applications? Do you have a “signature” approach to design that you can readily articulate that actually brings innovation to a project and makes it work? Have you figured out how to incorporate integrated design into each project?
- Beyond Green: There’s obviously more to buildings than just the LEED or sustainable elements. How well does daylighting facilitate the building’s purposes, for example? Do your projects you incorporate new ways to work, so that building area (and thus cost) is minimized? Do designed collaborative workspaces meet the needs of modern work teams?
- Regenerative Buildings: Are you building with an eye to the future, a time when all buildings will have to meet LBC prerequisites and Architecture 2030 requirements? How many projects have you completed that are Zero Net-Energy, LBC or “Max Green” in all respects?
- Indoor Environmental Quality: Ultimately, buildings are for users. How well are you documenting avoidance of “Red List” materials? Are you working with universities and other research organizations to document indoor air quality, health and productivity outcomes of your projects?
- Building Type: Obviously, many building types are still laggards when it comes to green design, such as retail, healthcare and data centers. If you’re active in those market segments, are you assembling a portfolio of projects that will place you on the leading edge of sustainability thinking? Are you actively encouraging clients to design, for example, “zero impact” medical office buildings, lab facilities and data centers?
- Talk is Cheap (But Essential): Are you and your key firm members active, regular and forceful champions of sustainable design and construction? Are you recognized as someone who knows more than the rest of the firms about these topics? What is your publishing, speaking, social media and Facebook exposure, for the firm and for each projects? Have you written a book about your firm’s approach, especially if you’re NOT an architect? There aren’t many books out by engineers, contractors and other consultants, but you’re going to have to spend $100,000 plus management and staff time on the effort.
- Existing Buildings: Clearly the action in green buildings has shifted to the existing building market. Renovation and reconstruction present radically different challenges than new construction. What are you doing to burnish your credentials in this rapidly growing market? Do you have a marketing plan for addressing high-level green renovation, refurbishment and remodeling projects?
- BIM: Clients are beginning to expect that you can do all your work in REVIT or other BIM software, at no additional fee. Are you ready for this (harsh) new reality? Is your staff ready? Does the marketing department have a plan for promoting your BIM capabilities? Do the marketing folks even understand the language? Are you communicating BIM knowledge via “lunch-n-learns” to contractors and key clients?
Beyond identifying these key points that might distinguish your firm, take a STEP back and tackle the marketing problem with my four-point program: Segmentation, Targeting, Positioning and Differentiation, as outlined in Marketing Green Building Services. Before you can be an effective business developer and marketer, you first have to be totally clear about what you can do best and which clients represent achievable targets for your efforts.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to green marketing strategy than most firms have begun to tackle (or even recognize.) Maybe it’s time to revisit your marketing plans for 2011 and 2012 and take another look at assumptions, strategies and tactics in the light of harsh new realities.