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The Shortlist Episode 58: Marketing Trends that Establish Authenticity

Building a brand that authentically reflects the values, expertise, and people in your firm is job #1 for a professional services marketer. Episode 58 of The Shortlist welcomes back Marketing Strategist, Grace Takehara, and Digital Marketing Strategist, Kyle Davis, to discuss some of the trends they're seeing and how (or how not) they provide opportunities to provide insights into your firm and better connect with your audience.

From blogs and long-format videos, to employee ambassadors and values-centric content, Grace and Kyle share their recommendations for leveraging current marketing trends to bring your firm's brand to life.

CPSM CEU Credits: 1.0 | Domain: 6

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to The Shortlist.

We're exploring all things AEC marketing to help your firm win The Shortlist.

I'm your host, Wendy Simmons, and each episode, I'll be joined by one of my team members from Middle of Six to answer your questions.

Today, we're talking with Kyle Davis and Grace Takehara to discuss current marketing trends and our personal thoughts on what's working and how those trends can apply to the AEC industry.

Hi, Kyle, hi, Grace.

Hey there.

Hello, hello.

Thanks for coming back on the podcast.

My warm up question for you all is if you don't mind sharing a little something that maybe you read or watched or done or traveled to that has put a little bit of creative inspiration from your other life into your professional life.

What do you think, Grace?

Well, I have been helping out with some SMPS Seattle functions and getting things organized for the 2024 Rain Awards.

And part of that has been touring venues, which has been wonderful, visiting Seattle.

And I got to check out a venue that I've never been to, but have heard so many wonderful things about, which is the National Nordic Museum, which is this heritage museum in Ballard.

Got to see the space.

It's beautifully designed and just like perfectly Nordic and Scandinavian and so much like inspiring art.

It just sings.

So that was really fun.

And they have one of the trolls out front.

And so I got to meet Frankie Feet Splinters and it was adorable.

So many families like walking up and taking photos.

I took a selfie with Frankie and it was just wonderful.

It just like brought some joy to my day.

I didn't realize there was a troll there.

And for our listeners who are not in the Pacific Northwest or other parts of the world, where these artists are putting together trolls and putting them in public spaces for people to go and discover, you should Google that and check it out so you can see these massive structures.

And they've been a fun topic of discussion for our team.

They've been exploring and going and seeing them.

So that's cool.

So that's one, like the troll, you were mentioning the Nordic Museum and going to venues and stuff, but the troll is kind of also a good little inspiration or break of like, you know, what creativity can bring and how it can bring out like really good things in the community.


I was gonna say about the Nordic Museum, I haven't been there myself, but I did help my previous firm pursue that to as like a construction project.

It's always been on my mind to go out there and check it out.

But I would imagine thinking, you know, we're in proposal world so much of the time, but looking at the fresh, clean, minimalist vibe of the Nordic Museum would be refreshing and almost, I might look at it like I was looking at a page of a proposal, that's super nerdy, but I would.

Yeah, I mean, it definitely going into the space, you can tell that the team that delivered that project, there was a lot of care and intention in the design of the museum.

So I mean, it definitely, my mind went to translating like being in built environments in those spaces, you're just like, wow, the hard work of this proposals and those pursuits, look at the wonderful things that come from it.

So I mean, that definitely crept into my mind too while I was there, but also was trying to be very present while I was there and just enjoy being in a space and enjoying it for the space that it is.

But I know it always creeps in our world, a proposal and AEC marketing, so.

Right, we can't help but look at like a heading on a tag on a piece of artwork and think, ooh, that's a nice hierarchy.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Thank you for sharing that Grace and Kyle, is there anything in your day to day, you know, non marketing life that kind of creeps into our work here?

Yeah, I feel like as a English major reader, writer, watcher of things, I kind of have a very like sponge like experience with various forms of art.

So I don't have anything like that directly ties right into the built environment or anything like that.

But racking my brain, we're watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith on Amazon with what, you know, Troy from Donald.

Yeah, Donald Glover.

Childish Gambino.

But that has a very cool title sequence typeface typography.

So like things like that, I always am taking note of like what the what the big cool shows and brands and agencies are up to.

We watched a movie recently called Anatomy of a Fall, which was very interesting, like a murder mystery kind of thing.

But with a German lady living in France and then navigating the legal system while speaking English, so a lot of interesting thoughts and themes around communicating and translation and how to get a message across there.

That might be a stretch, but, you know, it was an interesting movie.

Good movie.

Then, yeah, I don't know, True Detective, Night Country.

I don't know.

Dark, moody, you know, just I'm always taking the pulse of like the aesthetics of things, the tone, and you can always draw inspiration when you're designing something, doing something aesthetic or visual or even especially when we do writing and we're trying to tap into voice or tone or harnessing kind of, you know, a client's vision.

I think all of it kind of comes together one way or the other.


I mean, I think that being in a creative space, we have to have experiences.

Some of those, you know, to like inform, to bring some additional creativity or new ideas to our work.

And some of those are going out into the world and seeing a giant troll and being inspired by something in the outside world.

But it can also come from just appreciating really well done work.

And you know, Kyle, you just rattle off like four or five different things you've been watching or looking at and paying attention to.

And that, you know, whether we like it or not, whatever we absorb does go into us.

And then it comes out some way, you know, it's translated through there.

So I think it's just nice to be mindful about what we're spending our time doing and being selective or at least being thoughtful, like knowing that this actually has an impact on the person that we are.

So now we're getting super deep.

Oh, yeah, pretty deep on the television, why on the TV, deep on the pod, deep on the pod.

Yeah, I think to your point, I also kind of like the idea of stretching your boundaries outside of the AEC industry.

I mean, I think we all do that, but it can be a very niche kind of hyper focused endeavor sometimes and taking yourself outside of that sometimes narrow perspective can really show you like there's any many dozens, if not hundreds of ways to design a page layout or to use color or typography or to express an idea or tell a story.

You don't just have to limit yourself to like a pre prescribed AEC method necessarily.

There's always an opportunity to kind of stretch yourself and think of things differently.

Yeah, good suggestion for sure.

Good motivation for everyone to if you happen to be listening to this on a weekend, go and check out what's happening in your town, there might be something new and whether it relates back to your work or just makes you a more interesting person because you have a little story to tell that is all worthwhile.

Okay, well, let's get then into what we love to do is a new favorite thing, our little trivia question here.

And this topic is so broad, it was fun for me to dig in and think about, okay, well, what's the trivia question related to marketing trends?

There's a lot of information out there and so I had so much to pick from.

Of course, I'm going to give you like the longer, more meaty version when we dig into the answer at the end of the podcast.

But my question is a question for listeners, question for Kyle and Grace to answer.

According to the World Federation of Advertisers, the WFA.

Oh, yeah, love them.

So official.

Shout out.

Super familiar with their work.

I didn't have to look up like, OK, who are you?

What do you do?


Yes, exactly.

According to the WFA, what percentage of companies incorporate sustainability metrics on marketing dashboards?

I'm going to say 10 percent, but I feel like it's less than 10 percent.

Oh, cynic.

Yeah, I just.


Twenty nine percent.

That's too high.

Twenty one percent.

I was kind of.

Final answer.

No, finally.

I was relieved.

I was like, oh, they said on marketing dashboards.

I actually thought that might be potentially a higher number than if it was just company dashboards.

I don't know why I thought that, but I feel like marketers are very intentional and they're aware of hypersensitive marketers.

So they might be measuring that.

But stay tuned for the end of the episode where we will talk more about that and other fun facts from the WFA.

The WFA.



Sorry, WFA.

We're just in a mood today.

You're doing great.

Keep doing.


Well, let's get into this conversation.

And just to tee it up at a high level, as a group, we did a brainstorm thinking like, what trends are we seeing personally?

What is out there in the world that we've heard of that maybe hasn't come over to the AEC side of things and everything in between.

So we're going to bounce around a little bit and talk through things that we have seen that we think are a growing trend, maybe, or just something that you might want to put more resources towards and just have a conversation with the three of us based on our own experience.

So that is as kind of much of an intro to this topic, Grace, Kyle, thank you so much for doing some research and thinking through this.

And then obviously what you're going to contribute as far as what it looks like in our real work day to day.

I know everyone, our listeners have met Kyle and Grace on other episodes.

They're not new to the podcast, but I just wanted to say, I think that they're going to bring a great perspective because of their day to day work at Middle of Six is very hands on.

And they are always working with a variety of clients to develop strategy related to communications a lot on digital marketing.

So things that you can really measure things that it might be a longer term strategy that they implement and are always revising.

And they work together on a lot of this stuff.

So it's kind of a dynamic duo in my mind, and I'm excited to have this conversation.

Virtual high five.

Grace is doing all the heavy lifting, but dynamic nonetheless.

All right.

Well, let's get into it.

Either of you want to kick off kind of the first trend or thing that you're seeing out there in the world and we can start discussing?

Heck yeah.


That's right.

The first biggest, hugest one that you're seeing out there on the inner web and you're hearing about more and more.

I know we've been discussing it as a team is artificial intelligence.

And in no way am I claiming to be any sort of expert, but it is absolutely something that is coming for all of us.

So it's interesting to think about personally.

So far, the biggest thing I've used artificial intelligence for in work is I asked Photoshop to change some dude's sneakers into boots on a picture safety compliance.

And guess what?

It did it.

It did it.

It was awesome.

So it saved me a little bit of Photoshop time on there.

But high level, and Grace, feel free to disagree or let us know what you're thinking.

But I'm not super convinced on the whole AI thing.

And I'm a little bit of like not really a techno utopist or anything like that.

Pretty cynical, pretty skeptical.

I think right now it seems like you can persuade me on the margins, like doing some very light photo editing, maybe you want to brainstorm ideas.

Maybe you're trying to write a blog post or come up with blog post topics or managing your marketing calendar as someone who doesn't like to analyze data.

Maybe there's something really good in there as far as taking a look at metrics, reporting back on things, coming up with insights.

That could all be great and well and good.

But for me, when it comes to true blue creativity, and I think a through line in this for me in a lot of these different topics and trends is a focus on human centered, real people, authenticity.

I'm just not sold that you can just outsource that to a computer and have a bunch of robots talk to each other and come up with anything that anyone really actually cares about.

I think, Lord help us in the future, but I think at this point, we still have a pretty good detector of like, what's real and what's fake.

And right now, everything I see that's made from AI, while maybe a little interesting is just like so obviously not real.

And it's still like in the beginning phases, maybe it's going to teach itself how to be awesome.

But I don't think it's replacing humans, especially not in the next six to 12 months.

And so I think we're at least safe for that long.

Okay, well, we've got six to 12 months.

2024, I think we're gonna be fine.

Thanks for teeing this up because, yeah, it is the hot topic from the end of 2023 and continuing.

And now we are seeing it much more in our social feeds and online all over the place.

There are some things that have fooled my eyes, which I do not like that makes me very nervous.

But let's talk a little bit about the text and the content side of AI.

That piece of it to start because, and then we can also talk about the imagery element.

But I just wanted to say, my experience or, I mean, I think this is also the experience of Middle of Six is that often we're asked to help write content or a proposal or a website that is more true to a company's brand personality.

And so it takes asking questions, really like listening to the words coming out of an individual's mouth, the, you know, terms of phrases they use and just the passion that they bring to it.

And the problem I see with current large language models for generating AI text is that it is pulling from the whole internet, the whole world of that, and making something that is most likely going to fit, which means it is more generic and it is less personal.

And it is in some ways more polished, but then the personality comes out of it.

So I do think for marketers, if you are focused on and if it matters to your clients and actually is a winning strategy, be more specific and unique in your language, then creating stuff with ChatGPT is not, it's not, it's totally going in the wrong direction.

It might check the box on creating content, but it's not even the right stuff.

So we'll see how that develops.

But that was just my, I don't know, that's my current take and as of today on how that could be helpful.

I don't know, Grace, do you have any experience?

I know we saw it pop up on LinkedIn.

We're like, Hey, yeah, he was AI to generate your post.

You're like, Oh, yeah, oh no, it's going to be a great post.



No, it's on my mind.

Hello, fellow marketers.

Yeah, exactly.

Very robotic.

But I do agree that this is a topic that is swirling among our LinkedIn feeds for articles to read, continuing education.

I just was perusing PRC's guidebook for the sessions, and I swear that there is a couple sessions about AI and utilizing it in marketing.

So I think that it's top of mind for marketers to be at least thinking through how is this applicable or is it relevant?

Can it aid in our overall goals?

I do think that the sessions that I have attended, just to get a little bit more up to speed on the world of AI and what the possibilities are, I think that there are some opportunities for using it not just for generating text, but one thing that I've seen it used for is like, what are the key, I guess, like needs of the certain demographic and it can populate some like prompts or keywords that can be helpful for when you're generating text like yourself.

But I do feel like there has been, there's still much to be desired with like the text that it spits out for social media posts.

I think it gets back to your point, Wendy, of the quantity over quality.

And if that's your strategy for your social media and you're going for quantity versus kind of that quality, then and you don't mind what it sounds like, then, you know, AI can be the tool, but that's not that goes against kind of like our philosophy at Middle of Six and what we strive for and recommend.

So I think it's just kind of taking a step back and reflecting on what are we trying to accomplish in our goals.

Maybe you have a different goal for your social media that is not in alignment with what we suggest, and that's your call, your life, your call.

But I think that there is more to be explored with, not just the text that can be generated from chat, GPT for example, but what information can it provide as a starting point for other topics that you can build from yourself using your own mind as a starting point.

So I think that there's some benefits there and there's uses that I've seen on LinkedIn, and things that it can do that you're like, oh, I didn't even realize that that's an application that you could use AI for, for example.

But overall, for text generation, yes, I agree that it goes against kind of our personal philosophy of being creative, being genuine, and not falling into maybe what corporate overlords are telling us to be.

I do like the idea of the research component for sure.

And I think I've said this before, even on this podcast, have robots do robot work and have humans do human work.

I think there's probably a lot of robot work out there that could be applied to something like this.

And if it's research, that's great.

And like, don't get me wrong, as someone who writes things for websites and social media posts and develops content, it's really hard.

Like, it's not always the most fun activity to go through, so I understand the urge to outsource that or make it more smooth or seamless.

And even if you were a smaller team or a marketer of one or someone in house trying to find a starting point, maybe you do have AI spit out a few paragraphs about this or that topic.

And that gives you that kind of boost that you need in order to put pen to paper and start copy editing, start putting in the details and the differentiators that actually apply to you and your work.

That might be something.

I mean, we all like a good shortcut.

We all like kind of taking the stress and the tedium out of our day to day.

So it's not a zero for me, like absolutely not.

Never use it.

I just think stay focused on what makes you human and you'll probably be okay.

Yeah, absolutely.

We talked for a second at the very top about the imagery and how it feels really fake and it doesn't look as good as we want it to be, at least at this point.

But let's acknowledge a few tips.

And this is to your point Kyle, like robots can do robot work, humans can do human work, because some of the quick fixes you can do with generative fill and making the head shot look great on your sub-consultant resumes that was cropped too tightly.

I had to do a little bit of editing and I sent it over to a client because he was wearing a hat, a baseball cap, right?

And I replaced that, but I don't know what the top of his head looks like.

So I sent him his image and I was like, hey, I used Photoshop's generative fill to replace your hat.

Does this look like your head?

How's your hair looking?


He gave me a thumbs up.

I don't think he was fine with it.


That's awesome.


I mean, I did make sure to check with him, but having the baseball cap and, you know, with the sunglasses on the bill, you know, that kind of thing, it's not quite what we're going for on that proposal.

He was like, actually, I have a full ponytail.

A mohawk.

I think he got just the right amount of hair.

It wasn't too much, not too little, so just...



But that's like, you know, that's one example, but we have many of those examples where we were able to quickly clean something up.

So as a marketing person who's always pressed for time, if you can do something in about one or two minutes, I mean, I know the fill is quick, but you don't always hit the jackpot on the first try instead of maybe 10 minutes or, you know, for a larger image or effort, you know, it could be, you know, longer than that.

That's time saving.

So you know, we're not going to yuck on that.

That's good.


But we're, you know, as many people have advised out there in the world, like, don't be afraid of AI.

You got to pay attention and be able to know how to use it appropriately.

But from what we see, when things come in from our clients, they're like, hey, I created some content.

It was from ChatGPT.

All of us, you know, we're kind of starting.

We're basically tearing it down to the studs and starting over.


So there can be some uses.

And if it helps you, that's great.

And then just be aware that it's not going.

I don't believe it's going to replace you.

All right, what is the next marketing trend we want to talk about?

Grace, let's talk about some short form video content.

Yeah, that's where my mind was going.

That sounds like your area of expertise.

Oh, yes.

We've been talking about the depths of the internet AI, and something that we see a lot, you know, both on our personal feeds, what channels we are connected to, whatever, is short form video content.

We define this as TikTok reels, short videos posted to LinkedIn.

And, you know, this content, we see it more and more.

The production of it, we're seeing get a little bit more bumped up every year based on the tools that you see in TikTok, for example, all of that.

But thinking about the application in AEC, seeing more and more firms jump on this.

I think that with short-form video content, it can look so simple, but there is a lot behind the scenes that goes into producing some quality content.

And so I think that if you're one thing that we suggest or have been thinking about for short-form videos is, how are you making that impact really quick, succinct, but capturing the attention of your audience?

So Kyle, do you have anything to add related to short-form video content and what you're noticing?

To your point about short, digestible bits of interesting, actionable information, all-killer, no-filler, I think the benefit of it as sort of short attention span as it can be is that it does bring a certain level of realness sort of just automatically baked into the format.

So it's an opportunity to be on the ground, boots on the ground, behind the scenes.

That's where I see those differentiators.

We always say it's the people that make the difference and what better way to authentically show your culture and your people than just a video you might send to your friend or a quick little something you would shoot off on your Instagram feed to the people that you're connected with.

It just kind of brings another layer of intimacy to the whole thing, and it doesn't have to be so slick and produced because it's kind of like the expectation of the medium is to be kind of more accessible and open the door in that way.

And then even a bonus is like, hey, it doesn't have to be like 4K shot with a Sony whatever.

It can be done on your phone.

It can be run and gun.

No one's gonna ding you if it's not like the finest, most greatest produced video of all time.

It's kind of the expectation is it's gonna be quick, short, to the point, real, so executable, which is great.

I have an example of something that some of our listeners could probably relate to.

Have you ever tried to go and take a picture of like a safety lunch or something?

And you get everyone in their vest at these big tables on the job site.

It does not look very good.

Just gold star every time, 10 out of 10, super usable.

I mean, it was a great event, and everyone was so happy, and they were excited to eat the pizza and get the ice cream bars, but it does not come across.

But you know what would, if you had a collection of video where people are smiling and showing their snack and their certificate of safety excellence and eating some pizza and stacks of pizza boxes.

I mean, whatever it is, right?

That brings that whole event to life.

It's something that people like, but it can be communicated much better in a video.

So I like the non-polished version.

It is so hard for us to let go and let it be just so genuine, but that is much better.

I'll embrace that.

That's an interesting example.

I think that's great.

Cause yeah, we got 20 people in a frame and it's wide and it's empty.

And it's kind of just perfunctory.

Whereas a shorter video, you're bringing it in closer.

You're seeing faces, you're seeing movement, and it can still be 15 seconds, but it just has a way different feel and it's gonna bring out so much more personality than just sort of this staged thing.

So there is a strength in that, absolutely.

Grace, do you have any tips for requesting or getting that video, if you can't be the marketer's on-site and then maybe just an expectation of how long does it take to put something together like that?

Yeah, I think that if you are exploring integrating more video in your marketing content or your marketing initiatives, I think that it's important to set your team up for success.

Being on video can cause some anxiety among people.

It can be challenging to feel like, what's the expectation of this content?

What am I supposed to speak to?

So I feel like being able to provide some form of light training as to like, this is what we're looking for.

It doesn't have to be super polished.

These are some tips and tricks for you to feel successful, I think is important to like, again, set your team up for success and get content that you're like, this still isn't the most polished thing.

It's genuine, but we're getting what we need, and that was worthwhile everybody's time.

So I'd recommend some light training regarding length or like amount of time involved with producing this content.

I think that providing just some general, an outline of what you're hoping to get from that person, if that makes sense.

We're looking for three minutes worth of content.

We need some B-roll.

That may be some jargon that your field person may not know.

Explaining what B-roll is, just general shots of setting the stage and the environment that they're in, I think is important.

But for putting it all together, if it's something that, again, is like a minute or less video, I would say that that takes probably about an hour of time, all said and done, with getting the content edited down into something concise, the person out in the field getting the shots and recording.

But a minute plus, you start racking up those hours of editing, and depending on the sophistication of what you're trying to produce, that will rack up.

But for something pretty casual, that's a minute long, I'd say, overall, you can budget an hour for that effort.

Yeah, and the more you do it and the more prep work you've done to just get your team with that basic baseline knowledge, then it goes faster.

So it's just like anything, you're investing on and setting them up to be successful, and then as everyone gets trained up and does it, it'll become part of what they're accustomed to doing.

So thanks for the thoughts on what that level of effort is.

I feel like the next tip you all outlined here relates to that authenticity that we just talked about in the short form video, and that's about value-driven content and showing culture and focusing on that.

Yeah, I think that's a big bucket for sure.

A lot of trends underneath that trend, if you will.

Well, elaborate then.

What do you recommend?

What are you seeing?

This seems like it's been here forever, but is it just growing in even more importance?

Yeah, it was actually just editing Grace the other day talking about client care, and she said something to the effect of, people want to connect with companies and other people who share their values.

And I think a ton of these trends or tips or what have you fall under making that kind of connection, allowing your people and your company to kind of be true to your founding principles.

Maybe that means taking a closer look at your mission, vision, values, how you're living those, how that is being manifested in your day-to-day operations, kind of how you walk the walk rather than just talk the talk.

I have this awesome statistic, Wendy, you're not the only one with cool statistics from obscure research groups.

According to Consumer Goods Technology, 82% of shoppers want a brand whose values align with their own.

So there we're talking about shopping, which isn't a perfect apples to apples comparison, but crafting those meaningful values, getting team member buy-in and then living those values, I think, is always gonna resonate with your project partners, your subcontractors, just everyone you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

Yeah, I think to add on to that, that was great.

I loved that stat, Kyle, consumer goods technology we love.

We're bringing the stats.

Bringing the stats.

But yeah, totally to echo that, I feel like constantly in proposal kickoff meetings or talking about the why of your firm, there's a lot of firms out there that provide the services that you provide, and what they don't have are the people that you have.

That's right.

And so I think leaning into the people and those things that truly differentiate your firm and the level of service that you're providing, that's just all enveloped in this overarching umbrella of value-driven content and sharing the importance of culture.

So again, just to reemphasize what Kyle's already shared, your people are so important in that content.

We see time and time again, really resonates in some of your more high-performing content on your feeds.

So just remember that.

I also feel like there's a certain level of like courage or even vulnerability, as strange as that sounds, to kind of put that out there into the world and to actually live it and to actually kind of earn what the words mean.

And I think that people are actually really drawn to that kind of courage to actually say, we say what we mean and we mean what we say and we're actually doing it.

Yeah, I was working on a proposal not too long ago, few months back, but as a group at the kickoff, because this felt like a must-win, there was a lot of pre-positioning that I was participating in, but we said, we made this like pact as a group that was part of the Pursuit team, we are going to go for as project-specific and focused to the client as possible and we are going to let go of perfection.

We do not have every answer to every scenario that could come up on this project, but we were going to show our expertise and we were going to write from scratch and we were going to be real and authentic and speak to the client.

And well, I'm so happy to say it was successful.

It was a big win for the client, which is great.

That's always wonderful.

But I so appreciated that they were going to be authentic and they were going to be problem solvers and they were going to acknowledge and speak differently so that things weren't so polished that it all sounded like every other proposal that came in the door that day.

That was a big differentiator for that group.

That actually strikes me as a rather terrifying exercise.

Like imagine going through the latest proposal you worked on and saying, we are going to slash everything that's just boilerplate or jargon or status quo kind of blah language.

I think we would all kind of tremble to imagine what would be left afterwards.

You know what that takes?


It takes courage.

That's right.

Tying it back, baby.

In the three points we've already covered, we've talked about being authentic, being real.

So I guess that's the theme of this podcast today.

But let's go into then like how employees and team members can help be ambassadors of that message and kind of bring the brand to life in outside of proposals or your website.

What are you seeing there?

Well, going to the authenticity of your brand and how it's kind of personified in many different, you know, avenues, channels, all of that.

This can really shine through as employee ambassadors on you see on LinkedIn.

This is our trend.

This is our trend.

Employee ambassadors.

Employee ambassadors.

Imagine them with a sash.

No, but these are the people that are a part of the firm and really help are genuinely and authentically presenting the employees, firms, brand, their mission, vision, values in a digital setting.

And so this is a person that is resharing content that's related to like industry trends or like firm initiatives.

This is a person that is engaging with their network digitally, that is engaging with the company's posts and resharing and really being again, like a genuine person that's representing the company and showing this mission, vision, values in real time and in the digital space, real life.

I think that's key what you're talking about, the genuineness.

I think these are folks who are truly stoked by what your company stands for and what your company is doing out in the world.

It ties back into being led by your values, building that trust, and then having that reflected back out into these networks.

People are going to know if it's just a little repost.

Oh, this is so great.

Lol, whatever, but when people are truly behind what you're doing and they're so moved to actually talk about it and report about it on their semi personal, you know, LinkedIn professional account, when that's done in a real way, I think it really just shows like this is an awesome place to work.

These are awesome people to deal with.

I want to work there.

I want to partner with those people.

So I think it's a really valuable way to get your brand out there.

I'm just going to put out a request for on behalf of every AEC marketer in existence.

To their companies, please pay attention to what we're putting out there on social media.

Read it, engage with it.

And if it resonates with you, be genuine about it, please take a second and share it or comment, add to the conversation.

Everyone's probably seen that meme, where it's like the marketer posts their social media content and immediately likes it.

Like, yes, we're tired of liking our own content.

We're happy to do it.

Right, exactly.

But it means so much more when the employees and the partners and the team members are commenting and adding a little anecdote.

Your marketing team is working really hard to get those stories pulled together.

And so if you pay attention and are looking at it, you'll probably learn something new too, and be excited by that and be more informed yourself.

So I don't know if anyone's listening to this that can do that, but please start doing that.

It makes a difference.

And then it does really help your brand reputation out there beyond.

And as you get your exercise, that muscle becomes easier and easier and it will support your own career too.

Well, is there anything else either of you want to add that's sort of related to this, like being genuine, company culture, values, expressing that out in the world?

I think that all these things are successful when your company has genuinely invested in these concepts and mission vision values.

Marketing, we, I think, take on a lot.

And it's not just on marketing shoulders to promote this.

It's something that starts from the ground up.

And when it's working, when everything's in place and working well, marketing can really take and run with it.

But I would caution people to feel like you got to take it on all yourself.

It has to come from the leaders in your organization and be genuine.

And that's when everything sings is when it's happening real time and people feel like it's, again, authentic.

I feel like we're saying authentic, authentic, authentic.

But, you know, it's not all in marketing to spin, spin gold out of straw, you know?

It comes from leadership also being active in this process.

So, just a disclaimer.

I think you're absolutely right.

And another sub genre of this trend or what have you is also DEI and inclusivity.

And I think that's a prime example of you can't make it up if it's not real.

It does have to come from the ground up.

It has to be lived daily in your organization.

But making that a focus of your marketing efforts is also important because I would say, like, not only is it like the fair, equitable and the right thing to do, but by promoting and being a champion of diversity, it can broaden your audience.

It can multiply the folks out there who you're able to connect with.

And I think it's worth looking at and thinking about what are your current and existing strengths in the DEI space?

Who in your firm can you promote through your marketing?

What initiatives are important to you that you want to get out there?

And then also, how can you get better?

Like, what do you wish you could promote if only you were doing it?

That might be a place to find some inspiration on how to continue to make progress in that area.

I'll just add, you know, I think that this is still a pretty prominent area of growth among a lot of AEC firms that we work with is DEI and inclusivity and those initiatives internally.

If those programs are still being developed and still kind of in the baby stage of being rolled out and really truly being integrated with your company, there's other ways that you can promote DEI and inclusivity.

And for example, it's thinking about those project partners that you have.

Can you tag a WBE that you work with and kind of do a spotlight on that firm, for example?

It doesn't have to just be self promoting and internal facing and reporting out.

It can also be looking at, all right, what's the conversation in the general AEC industry and my partners and how can I elevate those voices and be an ally to those people?

So again, there's other ways that you can touch on the subject in a genuine way that if you still are feeling like, oh, we're not quite at that authentic, genuine space yet for our internal initiatives, who are those partners that you can raise up and really promote?

Grace, I'm glad that you mentioned that, that, you know, because Kyle said you can't really fake it.

You know, if you don't have that diversity, if you're not there as a firm yet, you're earlier on your journey.

It is pretty obvious if you look at a team page in a proposal or on a website.

So that can kind of feel like that's a lot of work ahead, which it is.

But then I love your point that there are things that you can be doing with your partners and the vendors you use and just having paying attention and having a focus on that as you're sort of growing internally, too.

That makes a lot of sense.

And I'm glad that that is a focus area for people.

I'm glad that is a trend makes it too light, right?

That sort of tees it up in the wrong way.

That's not what we mean.

It's an important area of focus, and we're glad to see it's growing in its importance.

Let's switch gears here and talk about all other kinds of things that we might put into the bucket of like sharing expertise.

It's like a long proven, good business development strategy to share your expertise.

That's what we're doing today.

This is The Shortlist.

But I think there's a lot of things that kind of relate to marketing trends that we could talk about under that umbrella.

Yeah, I think sharing your expertise, call it developing authority, showcasing authority.

I think that is a big trend and something that's becoming more and more important in the marketing space.

Hashtag authenticity, show that you know what you're talking about.

You're real people doing real work.

Cut the fluff and get right to the kind of the heart of the matter.

We kind of looked at a few different avenues that this could be done.

And maybe we just go like one by one.

One is podcasts and audio.

Shout out to The Shortlist.

The other one is blogging.

2008, it's back, blogging, let's go.

And then also related to that, and I think can kind of weave into both of those, is case studies.

I think we all know what those are.

We're all very familiar with that beautiful format of storytelling.

But starting with the podcasts and audio, Edison Research, anyone familiar with those folks?

They say that 75% of Americans ages 12 and older listen to online audio in the past month, and 70% within the last week.

So that's a higher number than I would have thought.

As someone who's even like an avid podcast listener, that's a really big number.

And I know for us in the AEC industry, we're not expecting to be like serial or whatever your favorite murder podcast is or whatever.

But it does give us an opportunity to showcase that authority, that expertise.

It's an in-depth experience.

And even if we are just connecting with a niche audience, that's a highly engaged audience, right?

AEC marketers and AEC communicators and firms, that's not a huge slice of the pie.

But man, it's a very, very targeted, serious demographic that we are now able to connect with in a whole new and personal way by doing something like this.

I want to add to that.

I think that if your firm has the resources to launch a podcast, I mean, we have a whole, we have, I think, several episodes about what it takes to have a podcast.

We've got you covered out there somewhere.

Yeah, but I think that there's some things to take away from why podcasts and audio is being so consumed and maybe breaking it down may be helpful.

So like things that I'm noticing with podcast is, you know, people want to learn and they want to learn in a way that work fits within their life and is easily consumed.

So I think that if you kind of keep that in mind with, you know, maybe we don't have to bite off a podcast, but like thinking through your content that you're presenting authentically and how it can be consumed, you know, easily, passively, and somebody feels like they're learning something from it may be good tips to take away.

Yeah, that's a great, that's a great point.

And I would even say if you were to say, start a podcast or start creating some audio content, it doesn't have to be 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, like some of these other podcasts you see out there.

It could be 10, it could be 15.

Maybe that's the sweet spot.

There's even argument to like test and try out different lengths.

And if you're super niche, maybe shorter is better, but it doesn't preclude you from getting your message out there and also just kind of letting the personalities of your firm shine through.

If you're passionate about it and you want to talk about it and you want to do it for eight minutes and people connect with it, nothing wrong with that at all.

People will listen to a story or a bit of expertise in any length, as long as it's valuable.

Yeah, 100%.

And if you are considering a podcast and want to talk to us, we'd be happy to do that, just shoot us an email at and we'll get back to you about it because we've learned some things in the three years we've been doing it.

And we also did a ton of research before we started.

So we have some numbers there, but it's been really successful.

And I'm glad that was on the list of things that is a growing trend.

And I mean, it's been great for us.

Pod life.

Now, you said 2008 is back and blogging is back.

Is this just because you are have a degree?

Because I'm a lapsed blogger.

Writing communications.

Yeah, right.

Selfishly, like we need to be writing more.

No, because thinking about blogging kind of gives me hives, because when I got out of college, that's basically all I did was blog about golf clubs.

And then later in my career, skid steers and skid steer attachments.

So if you need a thousand words on a post pounder, I'm your guy.

But we are seeing like it ties in very nicely to what Grace just said about the podcast is I think we're seeing a shift into people want to be able to control how and when and at what pace they consume this information.

And similar to the podcast, a blog or a newsletter, you know, we see so many newsletters now in journalism, right?

Where instead of going to the front page of the New York Times or what have you, you are getting an email directly in your inbox.

And you could open that email and read it on Sunday morning, on Wednesday afternoon.

Whenever you're ready, instead of having it pushed on you, you kind of pull it into your life when you're ready for it.

And I think that's where the blogging kind of shines through.

If you're actually communicating valuable, interesting information, it lets the reader kind of set the terms of their engagement.

Yeah, I think that when you're producing content, thinking about where can this content show up again and be repurposed is key to maximizing that investment of your time and that thought.

So a recommendation that we have for how you can kind of kickstart some blogging efforts in 2024 related to this trend could be taking a video that was developed, a short-form video, and taking kind of the key components of that video and creating a short blog post.

And again, Kyle, I don't know if we have any recommendations for length of blog post at this time, but I think that blogs can be what you make of it.

To our point earlier, it's like you don't have to create something that is this long white paper.

It can be something that is just repurposed from existing content that you've developed, channels, all of that.

This may be a place where AI may come in handy, because I know that Zoom now has AI transcription for meetings.

And so that could be something if you have like a one on one conversation that you're interviewing a site superintendent about their process for site safety, and you transcribe that conversation and interview with them, you could just take that transcription.

Of course, there's going to be errors that, you know, AI picked up in the conversation, but you could take that conversation, that interview, and populate that as a blog.

So I think that there's ways that you can quickly generate blog content from, you know, these easy conversations and utilizing existing content that you've already developed.

And just thinking about how can we repurpose this into something a little bit more bite sized and consumed in a blog form?

Yeah, that's great.

And related thinking about case studies, right?

Very similar kind of lanes where you kind of think of seeing a case study, maybe it's in a proposal or it's on a website.

But case study could be a blog, blog could be a case study.

We're just talking about real stories with real information and data showcase a real bit of experience that you've had out there in the world that directly applies to your clients or your industry.

They help establish transparency and honesty, trust, all that good things.

People just we love real world examples.

And and if you tell those stories in one avenue, you can tell it in another two and it could be a simple repurpose.

You could talk about it on your podcast.

That's kind of why all three of these things are intermingled and intertwined under that umbrella of authority and expertise.

Well, I feel like we would be remiss in not hitting on just for a minute or a second here about accessibility, because we've talked about so much content generation, whether it's the short form video that we see all the time have captions added to them so that you can easily read if the sound is off or maybe you're hearing impaired in some way.

So you can't hear the words that are being spoken, but you can see the visual.

So think about that in all of these forms.

We are going to be adding a transcript to our podcast, which is something that's very easy and can be generated.

We're going to have to look at it, obviously, for quality control, but it's important.

And we've even heard some feedback that hearing the spoken word without a visual can be challenging for some people.

This is not breaking news, but we're paying attention to it.

And so I don't know that at this point, we're recommending that in every case you need to have the YouTube version of it and the transcript and the blog post in the case study.

But just be aware of how your audience is consuming the information and if it's a proposal or your website, making sure that it is checking the boxes on accessibility so that people can take in your content as you intended.

So we just want to be thoughtful about that.

And that feels like an episode in the making right now.

We can get into that later.

But since we have covered a lot of ground today and we want to keep this as close to under an hour as we can, I think we should wrap it up.

Yeah, but I'm also going to be really embarrassed as the producer when this episode ends up being the longest shortlist ever, because we're flirting with it.

I don't know how that happened.


So, you know, it's not two hours of content.

There you go.

All right.

Well, let's get we're not done yet, because I know everyone is waiting for trivia answer.


That's what they have been sitting here.

I'm dying to find out.

So just to refresh everyone, we were asking, according to WFA, how many firms, what percentage of firms, particularly marketing departments, have a sustainability metric on their company dashboard?

And I guess this is really kind of surging in popularity.

In 2023, the results were 42% of companies incorporate some sort of sustainability metric.

I know, not 10%.

But you weren't too far off if you look at the data from 2021, which was just 26% of firms.

So it has really jumped up.

And of all of the stats they could have pulled, Kyle, by the way, thanks for bringing in your own stats.

Appreciate that.

But of all the stats they could have pulled, the reason why I picked that sustainability one, and we didn't even end up hitting on it, but it goes back to what Kyle said and Grace said in a previous episode, is that consumers are making a decision to purchase or engage with companies that align with their values.

And sustainability has been a growing area of importance.

So you will probably think about that related to AEC.

I mean, gosh, there's so much related to sustainability when we talk about the built environment.

There you go.

There's another episode too.

Mark it down.

I selected that data point to just reinforce that it's important to be thinking about what your audience cares about.

And find a way to understand how your firm may be reflecting those values and going back to the authentic, genuine version of it, then telling the stories that support that.

So thank you for being here.

Good job, everyone.

Yeah, thanks for having us.


Good times.

The Shortlist is presented by Middle of Six and hosted by me, Wendy Simmons, Principal Marketing Strategist.

Our producer is Kyle Davis, with digital marketing and graphic design by the team at Middle of Six.

We wanna hear from you.

If you have a question or a topic you'd like us to discuss, send an email or voice memo to

If you're looking for past episodes or more info, check out our podcast page at The Shortlist.

You can follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram at middleofsix.

Thanks so much for listening.

We hope you'll tell your friends and colleagues about the show, and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss any of our upcoming episodes.

Until next time, keep on hustling.


The Shortlist is a podcast that explores all things AEC marketing. Hosted by Middle of Six Principal, Wendy Simmons, each episode features members of the MOS team, where we take a deep dive on a wide range of topics related to AEC marketing including: proposal development, strategy, team building, business development, branding, digital marketing, and more. You can listen to our full archive of episodes here.


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