How to get clients in construction? You probably weren’t expecting this twist, but here it is – lessons from the icon that is Marilyn Monroe. For those that have been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a fanatic of the actress. It all started when I was 16 years old and obsessed with the mystery of her death. But as I wrote about in Sunday Life, that quickly changed to a fascination with her as an unlikely feminist and trailblazer. And now, as my business is more established and I work in the area of digital marketing for the construction industry, I look at Marilyn Monroe as something else as well – an iconic brand that she built and nurtured to great success. There are lessons for all of us here, and indeed for the construction companies looking to make their mark.
Beyond her fame and glamour, Marilyn was a master of personal branding, decades before the concept even had a name. Through careful cultivation of her image and shrewd business decisions, she created an influential and lasting brand that those in construction can still learn from today.
Remain committed and stay in your lane
Marilyn Monroe famously said, “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”
Construction, like the film industry, is highly competitive. Staying committed to consistently conveying your brand identity across all touchpoints day in and day out is crucial. The firms putting in that effort are the ones seeing their brand visibility and loyalty grow. Think about a social media platform you’re on regularly – which businesses stand out to you and which do you remember? It’s the ones consistently showing up and sharing their views, and if they’re doing so properly, you’ll be able to gauge from their posts, what the brand does, who they do it for, what their values are, and so on. Imitators may come and go, but as Marilyn proved, those who are consistent will outlast the rest.
Define your niche to get the right clients
While Marilyn aspired to serious acting roles, she leveraged her portrayal of the quintessential “blonde bombshell” to catapult her to fame. She carefully crafted details, from her breathy voice, sexy walk, distinct makeup, and famous pout to embody Hollywood glamour. And she did it so well that she stood out from a factory line of similar blonde actresses at the time.
This is a great lesson for construction companies. There will be many companies selling the same service as you do in the industry. But none are you. You need to identify your specialty based on your strengths. That could be the actual service you provide like civil works, sustainable building, or affordable renovations. Or it could be a process or the use of technology that you employ better than your competitors. Another aspect that definitely sets you apart from your competitors is your team and their skills and life experience. Leverage all of this to highlight your difference and win clients. This doesn’t mean you can’t also continue to hone your skills and grow. Marilyn did this by studying method acting and seeking more challenging roles.
Turn perceived weaknesses into strengths
Marilyn was no stranger to hardship, spending much of her childhood in foster homes and facing abuse in some of those homes. Yet she used her vulnerability and resilience from these experiences to connect deeply with audiences, and the characters she portrayed.
A perceived weakness of the construction industry is that it’s still very male-dominated. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Characteristics Spotlight: 2022 reveals that only 18.5% of the payroll jobs distribution in the construction industry is female. This is seen as a problem, especially in an industry that is facing a skilled labour shortage. By employing more women, giving women leadership roles, and sharing this with your audience, you have the ability to turn a perceived negative into a positive just as Marilyn did.
Be honest and own your mistakes
Although not a mistake, when Marilyn’s nude calendar photos surfaced, studio bosses urged her to deny it was her in the photos. Marilyn could have easily went along with this plan, but chose to be honest instead. She admitted the photos were of her, and explained she had them taken at a time when she desperately needed the money. The ‘scandal’ petered out and one of those calendar photos was onsold to Hugh Hefner, and it became the first Playboy magazine centrefold in December, 1953.
As a construction company you’d be wise to follow Marilyn’s lead. Most mistakes are not life changing in construction, but whether the incident in question is small or big, an honest approach always goes a long way to building trust and accountability. Mistakes can be used as an educational tool as well, demonstrating growth. By lying or trying to hide facts, your brand value can be eroded. Potential clients are always watching, and the way you handle a situation can be a deciding factor in them choosing whether to work with you.
Utilise great PR to win new clients
Marilyn instinctively knew how to work the press to her advantage. In a pre-digital age, she pretty much had to rely on her own natural talent when dealing with mobs of photographers and journalists. And for the most part, she did so successfully, knowing the best angles to deliver amazing photos. But she could also use words and actions, said with her trademark innocence, to send journalists scurrying to publish their scoop. One of the most notable was when Marilyn herself shared an anecdote about being asked what she wears to bed. Not wanting to say she sleeps in the nude, she replied, “Chanel No.5” referencing the perfume brand. And the rest is history. It added to her brand allure as a blonde bombshell and is still synonymous with her today. A lucky break for Chanel, as well.
As a construction company, you can also utilise good PR to spruik your brand and your values. It can be as simple as sharing posts on social media about community work you’re doing or local sporting teams you’re sponsoring. Perhaps you’ve entered an award and been a finalist or winner. Utilise these opportunities by sharing them on your social media platforms, and if possible in other forms of media like trade publications or your local paper.
Prioritise quality over quantity to woo clients
At the peak of her fame, Marilyn purposely negotiated a new contract with studio bosses giving her creative control over her choice of film roles and directors, and reducing her film projects down to four over seven years. While she didn’t live long enough to see this contract out, Marilyn understood the power of scarcity and that one exceptional film was more valuable than an array of mediocre ones.
This should ring true for you as a construction business as well. Focus on quality over quantity. Both can be profitable but if you don’t have the staff or equipment to deliver quality on a mass scale, fewer projects done exceptionally well will do more to help you win clients than a barrage of poorly executed ones.
Marilyn’s white halter dress flying up over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch immediately evokes her personal brand. It became iconic because of the fanfare while it was filmed and the many references to it since.
For a construction business, your logo and brand colours can achieve similar memorability through repetitive exposure on signage, equipment, marketing materials, uniforms, projects and social media posts. Visual cues like colour schemes, fonts, and images simplify recognition so that just as a white dress and subway grate elicit Marilyn, branded assets can trigger clients to think of you. While this might not be a direct way to win clients, it can keep you front of mind, and can sway someone to choose you over someone else.
Foster partnerships to grow your client base
Marilyn was smart enough to know she couldn’t achieve everything she wanted on her own. She formed partnerships with people that could enhance her brand. This included a lifelong partnership with makeup artist, Allan “Whitey” Snyder, who ensured her signature look was always on point, right up until he ‘made her up’ in death. She also partnered with various photographers throughout her life to produce signature sittings that remain revered and valuable to this day. One of her most business savvy partnerships was with photographer Milton H. Greene, who helped her form her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, allowing her to break free from the studio system and explore more diverse roles.
As a construction business, you can also win more clients through partnerships with others. An honest examination of your skills and non-skills will allow you to see where there’s an opportunity to partner with someone. It could be another business/contractor that allows you to offer a more complete service, a bookkeeper to help you understand what direction you’re heading in, or even a copywriter like myself (had to cheekily throw that one in) that can help you with your construction marketing.
Cultivate cross-generational appeal
Though she lived only 36 years, Marilyn remains an icon to every generation that discovers her films, music, photos, or history. Her and her brand have withstood the test of time, and she has gathered fans from her heyday as well as new ones who weren’t even born when she tragically passed away in 1962, myself included.
As a construction company, you can emulate this by highlighting both your extensive expertise from years in business as well as your modern sensibilities around technology, design trends, and building science. A brand that moves with the times will always continue to win new clients because it demonstrates a willingness to learn, grow, and become better. By embracing new ways to deliver your services, you’re essentially opening yourself up to new markets.
While Marilyn was only in the spotlight for a decade and a half, she left an indelible impact on popular culture that endures 60 years later. The construction industry can certainly benefit by applying tactics from her pioneering and unapologetic personal brand. Though the details may change, the principles she embodied – confidence, consistency, and commitment above all else – are timeless for success.
Ready to create a construction brand with long-lasting appeal? Get in touch and let’s create a marketing plan.