A software company that helps civil and industrial contractors manage projects from bid to completion, HCSS has been in business for 30 years. Its customers build everything from roads and waste treatment plants, to bridges, dams, and pipelines.
While the company traditionally has had a rich marketing culture, four years ago it opted to emphasize content and brought in Dan Briscoe. Soon after, he went on to hire Skyler Moss to run the digital marketing department. Anchored by a strong content foundation, Dan, Skyler, and their team (which has grown in size from five to 23 in four years) have reached towering heights of success, one story at a time.
Together, they form a dynamic content marketing duo whose shared philosophy is simple: Talk to customers to figure out what they need to help them do their jobs better. Dan’s goal is to provide helpful content for customers and give HCSS a bigger footprint. In short, he wants to get the right content to the right person, which is a big task considering all of the people in the buying process.Talk to customers to figure out what they need to do their jobs better says @dfbriscoe #cmworld Click To Tweet
Dan and Skyler’s collaboration resulted in new and highly useful audience personas that have helped fuel HCSS’ customer-focused content initiatives, as well as their construction industry initiative called I Build America.
This focus on both audience and a greater purpose is why we chose Dan and Skyler as our first Content Marketer of the Year finalist duo.
Here are the lessons they’ve learned from the ground up.
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Make the customer the hero
One of the first significant projects Dan and Skyler worked on together was HCSS’ Most Interesting Project awards (now called the Construction Impact Awards). This program gives customers a platform and fun competition that allows them to showcase the work they do across the country (and beyond) using the company’s software. “It probably had 50 times the results we thought it would,” says Skyler. ” It blew up our web servers and almost crashed our site within the first 30 minutes.”
More importantly, it provided the lightbulb moment that made them realize that the pride their audience members had in their work should be the central focus of their marketing efforts. “That transformed the marketing department as well as the way the company views marketing,” says Skyler.
Building on this success, HCSS next launched a campaign to find the best interns in construction and make them heroes with the Construction Intern Awards. They encouraged interns to submit short essays and photos about their work, and then used this content to build a website and social media posts.
“The first year, we had 250 applicants who amazed us with the stories of the work they were able to accomplish. The program was so successful and the judges were so impressed that we doubled the size of the scholarship money to $50,000 in year two,” says Dan. “We’re just a few days into the second year of the contest, and already we’ve surpassed the number of applicants from year one.”
2015 Construction Intern Awards Winner – Chase Ekstam
Get to know personas
With this realization, Dan and Skyler decided to focus on getting to know their customers as people, not just demographics. As Skyler explains, “We knew our customers, but we wanted to actually define them. What is a good day for them? What do they worry about? Dan had the foresight to say this is what we have to do. The project helped us go down that path.”
The HCSS marketing team began using surveys, interviews, and subject-matter experts to nail down detailed descriptions of its target audiences, and build a persona content marketing model.
In May 2015, HCSS piloted its persona program focusing on just one of its audience types — the safety director, for whom they created three highly targeted websites, 100 pieces of content, and 15 to 20 graphics. Over the course of two months, the team used its research and customers’ actual words and insights to develop videos; mid-level content, including white papers on how safety software could improve the company; and high-level content like huge infographics and a website around best safety practices.
“Focusing on the customers and their day-to-day issues and making them the hero of the story, not our software, is a much better way to market than to sit in a room and talk about the features of our products,” says Dan. It also has led to more effective writing.Focusing on our customers & making them the hero of the story is a better way to market says @dfbriscoe… Click To Tweet
Once the first persona was complete, they made the case for additional personas by using customer feedback, improved page views and downloads, and growing sales (for which Skyler says marketing was just one of several factors). HCSS now focuses on seven buyers personas.
In turn, the company is using the personas elsewhere to better bundle its products for sales. Instead of just listing the products, the company offers a carefully selected suite of products that would appeal to a particular persona, such as an equipment director.
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Build a movement with the same audience in mind
The knowledge gained from the persona project also helped bring to fruition CEO Mike Rydin’s long-time vision to create a movement to highlight the positive contributions the construction industry has made (read: not HCSS).
“Our CEO walked down to our offices one day and started talking about how he wanted to showcase the construction industry to the public. He referred to it as I Build America. We bought the URL that day and ran with it,” Dan says.
The mission of the movement is threefold:
- Build pride in the industry
- Educate the general public about the value of construction
- Help recruit the next generation of workers
So far, Dan says, I Build America has been adopted across the industry and created goodwill for HCSS, even though they made the conscious decision to not brand the site with the HCSS logo. And, while there is a store that sells hats and shirts to help offset the cost of the site, the goal is to break even. “When we show the amazing things construction professionals do, you can’t put a number on that. You realize you’re part of something way bigger than HCSS,” says Skyler. “And, the video truly helps to understand the persona as we brought it to life.”
Still, I Build America contributes real value to HCSS in that it has helped deepen relationships within the industry. Dan adds: “The goodwill in the industry is priceless for us. If it didn’t make a dime, it wouldn’t matter as we want to give back to the industry.”
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In addition to developing I Build America, the HCSS team recently launched its own digital marketing agency to help clients in the construction industry with videos, brochures, website development, SEO, social media, and more.
This is part of the marketing team on site in Tempe, Arizona, filming a customer.
How do they get it all done? “Our team of 23 works faster than most marketing departments do,” says Dan. But he also attributes their productivity to the full buy-in and trust they get from the executive team, a willingness to work 15-hour days when necessary, as well as the talent of the interns they hire from a nearby college. “I’m constantly amazed at what we’re able to accomplish,” he says.
Skyler agrees, noting that HCSS’ learning-by-doing culture helps them keep up the pace. “We don’t get caught up in the editing process or making the page perfect,” he says. “That’s how projects get delayed by weeks or months.” His approach is to push for approval to get out that first piece, and then let the analytics tell him where to go. “The customers will tell you. You just have to be agile enough to make adjustments and keep going,” he says.
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Improving company culture
Being able to apply the persona success to other aspects of the company, including its latest endeavor of helping the recruiting team fill internal positions, has been especially rewarding for Dan. For instance, everyone in product marketing is a former journalist. “Marketing can change a company and lead the way,” he says. “It’s helped open people up to ideas, and it can affect the quality and outcome of the work they produce,” he says.
Skyler says a large part of getting the company to rally around marketing is keeping others informed. He makes the time to give entertaining presentations at staff meetings and lunches and, at the suggestion of Dan, shares photos and videos when his team is out doing shoots with customers. Here is an example of the promo video they put together with all of the footage:
One shoot in which they were filming in a quarry with explosions being set off got the company buzzing. “When we got back, they were raving about how cool it was being out there with our customers,” says Skyler. A few pictures from the shoot are below.
Picture from onsite in Midland, Texas, filming a bridge deck pour over an interstate highway
Explosion at rock quarry caught as it happened with video and customers onsite
Explosion from rock quarry — materials are crushed and used in asphalt for roads
Ultimately, Dan says that their rapid expansion and industry recognition have been the result of a lot of moving parts working well together. “There are a lot of good people behind HCSS and I Build America,” he says. And the building has only just begun.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute