(Issue: August 2021)

A Lighting Contractor’s Digital Marketing Journey 

By Bill Brunette, EcoEngineering

Like most organizations, our company’s employees are experienced web users and personally active on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  As a result, we have no shortage of internal ideas regarding our website and social media actions for the company. Expand our digital presence, they say, and we will increase our project volume. We will even be able to attract future employees to the company through these channels. Is it really that easy?

Questions about general marketing issues have persisted since our founding in 1993. Questions about digital and social media marketing have been even more prevalent in recent years. What is best suited for us, a national lighting contractor? What media channels could create more awareness for our company? How do we effectively promote our expertise outside of traditional meetings and conferences?

Our company’s journey in the digital marketing world has been filled with encouraging results, numerous missteps, and continued questions. This article is intended to share these experiences and offer insights to fellow NALMCO members. We have a saying at our company that mistakes are treasures to be shared. It is my hope that some of our lessons will help other contractors in their own digital marketing.

The Early Years
During the 1990s and 2000s, our marketing was primarily creating collateral about our company or an occasional case study about a project. This started as paper-based documents provided to our sales organization in support of their face-to-face prospect meetings. As time passed, we created a website that was essentially an electronic version of our paper-based handouts. We could not justify staffing a marketing position internally due to our size, so all actions were coordinated through multiple third-party marketing resources on a time and material basis.  

Key lessons learned were as follows:

  • Marketing is more than collateral. Whether in paper form or on a website, we learned that a “one way” company snapshot had limited impact. Our messaging had to become interactive instead of one-way communication. We needed to share insights on the industry, design issues, installation issues, and similar.  
  • Websites age quickly. It seemed that as soon as we created a new company website, it was already outdated. What would compel a visitor to return to the site? As information on our site became static, we feared that prospects world would think the same of our overall company.  
  • Consistency is a challenge. Because we used multiple third-party marketing resources and did not have an internal person dedicated to marketing, we struggled with consistency. The appearance of our collateral varied. The website, too, looked different and had yet another combination of content.

Recent Years

Our marketing efforts evolved over the last decade. In many ways these recent years were a period of experimentation with most “tests” occurring on social media platforms. We grew to a level where we justified staffing an in-house marketing position to lead our efforts. We set up social media accounts and our posts included a regular trickle of low-cost animation, video, and relevant current event items. We had so few followers on any social media platform that posts were wide and varied.

Our website went through two changeovers during this time and can now be easily updated without deep skills being required. The site became more interactive with optional downloads, varying media links, and information gathering techniques. We have an automated newsletter with content feeds coming from a variety of industry sources, including NALMCO. Our sales organization still has need for collateral, but most is now flexible and can be customized as opposed to being in a rigid format.  

Primary lessons learned included the following:

  • Actions without a strategy is a problem. With easy access to media channels for marketing, we allowed a free flow of messages. However, these actions became disjointed and were affected by the inconsistency bug that plagued us previously. We have learned to spend more time on broader marketing strategies and plans rather than on actual tactics.  
  • Content is king. Website updates, social media posts, and newsletter feeds are simple steps to complete. However, without a method for developing and creating new content, we were challenged to have a steady stream of messaging. We learned that having a plan for new and on-going content was critical for on-going marketing.  
  • Social media platforms serve different needs. We created a company presence across three social media platforms: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Initially our content and messaging were the same across the three. We now alter content based on the platform. LinkedIn is used primarily to share broader industry content. Twitter is used for short bursts of information that link to our website. Facebook is used only to promote employee or human-interest content.
  • Marketing generalist versus specialist. As we are not a large corporate entity, we learned that our in-house marketing resource must have skills that span a full range of marketing areas such as social media, website design, market intelligence, industry association tradeshows, organizing webinars, and similar. Staffing the position with a marketing generalist has more impact than filling the role with a person who is a specialist only in one or few of these areas. 

The Years Ahead

Like other aspects of our business, we cannot afford to sit idle in our marketing efforts. New hurdles are ahead of us. How do we measure the impact of our marketing? What expectations do we have for our employees in their own social media posts? What is the ideal blend of in-house versus third-party marketing expertise?  

While there is still much for us to learn in digital marketing, we are pleased to have built the foundation we have in place today. The lessons learned thus far should allow us to be nimbler and more effective as we face twists and turns into the future. Knowing the importance of a marketing strategy with tactics supporting that strategy, the need for on-going content, and the different techniques to be used across social media and other platforms will help us clear the next hurdles on our journey.

Bill Brunette is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Eco Engineering, Inc. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, EcoEngineering is a design-build turnkey lighting contractor with projects spanning the United States and Canada. Bill can be contacted at bbrunette@ecoengineering.com