We have a simple approach to marketing: Marketing dollars are investments, and should be spent accordingly. Did that investment help the company outperform the market, and most importantly, did it help optimize the profitability of the organization?
Much of marketing today revolves around what something looks like, versus how it aligns with and enables the company’s strategic path and business goals. Great creative is not about winning awards for the agency, it’s about being able to merge amazing visual impact and creating relevance to key audiences — and ultimately deliver measurable (and pre-forecasted) business results. We do amazing creative for our clients (and yes, we win many awards), but we judge the success of our work based on enabling our clients' business success.
Seems pretty simple, right? So, why do so many marketing investments and campaigns go on to be unsuccessful or under-deliver?
Find the Why
Building material marketing traditionally sells the features of the products, versus selling the subsequent benefits — or the Why (Why would using the product make a customer's life or workday better?)
In our branding process, there are three facets in creating a relevant positioning statement: 1) What, 2) How and, most importantly, 3) Why.
The product or service is the What —what do you manufacturer or provide to the market. The features of the product are the How— how the product functions, its technology, how it is different from other choices. If you stop there (where most building material manufactures stop), this thinking leaves no room to emphasize the relevant benefits of the product and what it can do for the end-user, which is the Why. Without this Why focus, a company never really develops a powerful positioning story for each audience in its channel. If you stop at the How, you get caught up in the sea of sameness with your competition. The Why is what develops the emotional connection, thus creating a level of loyalty to the product and your brand.
Without this powerful connection, there are limits to what the audience can emotionally connect to. It’s been proven in many studies that emotions translate into deep loyalty and ultimately enhanced profits. The more you can tie your product to the user in an emotional way, the higher the profit you’ll be able to achieve.
An example would be in the entryway door category. The door itself is the What, merely a product to fill an opening. You may classify it as wood, fiberglass or metal, but it’s still a functional door. The How is the product's features. For example, a fiberglass door is energy efficient, resists moisture, capable of customization, durable and so forth. The Why in the story for a homeowner, however, is that a fiberglass door creates a sense of comfort, security from the elements, beauty of wood but not the worries of wood, more time to spend with family and personal life. The Why for the trade of a fiberglass door is creating beautiful homes starting at the door, more profit opportunity and fewer call backs.
Really Know Your Audience
Most companies are unclear of the specific audience to whom they’re actually selling their product. Each audience has multiple levels of needs and, therefore, each has a different “Why.”
We’re amazed at how many building materials companies don’t have deep profiles for the audiences with which they believe their products are a best fit. There are few products that appeal to all trades and audiences the same. Even the most commodity products — drywall and finishing materials — have differentiation to multiple audiences. For example, the builder wants drywall that has no callback issues, is durable to construction and potentially can create differentiation — and upgrade profit opportunities — in their homes (such as CertainTeed’s AirRenew™ product, which actually takes VOCs out of the air.) An installer wants the board to cut well and install fast — and the finishing products are probably the most personal to the installer, as finishing is more of an art than a mere construction technique.
This gap has provided an opportunity for us to provide audience-profiling data for our clients within our strategic process. It’s not enough to say you sell to builders, contractors and architects. When it’s defined this loosely, the positioning will be generic and, ultimately, irrelevant.
There are even different levels of Why inside each audience segment. A builder is not simply a builder, nor is an architect simply an architect. Custom-home builders have different needs and process information differently than a regional or production builder. An architect who focuses in health care has different requirements than one focused in education.
In simple terms, customers want to know what the value is, specifically, to them and their job.
For a supplier’s marketing approaches, what does this mean? First, Instead of trying to save money by creating one piece for numerous audiences and channels, define where the biggest opportunity lies, then find the best way to spend these dollars to talk to those audiences that have the biggest effect on the purchase process.
Secondly, profile those key audiences. Internal sales teams and distributors should be armed with specific profiles of the types of customers that best fit the product’s value proposition. This will make the focus target process and filter out those customers for when your product will have less meaning.
Lastly, every product or service has a path to market. Usually, it goes through multiple channels to get to the final end users. Within the path to market, there are numerous impact points to the product’s success — influencers, gatekeepers, purchasers and end users. Each of these areas consists of audiences, and each audience has specific needs to accomplish their jobs.
In addition, each of these audiences has multiple touch points, or places where they gain information for decision-making. Each audience segment usually has multiple layers of people and positions within them as well.
Most suppliers treat a builder as one interaction, or one person with which to engage. This is a short-sited viewpoint and can be detrimental to success and profit opportunity.
In reality, the builder has many functions inside of its organization that influence the final products that go into homes. Most sales representatives only know and call on the builder’s purchasing agent (PA) because they believe that is the level at which the product decision is made.
The PA is, in actuality, the end of the sales process for the builder. The PA always starts and ends their conversation with suppliers around price. There are many other positions within the builder that a supplier needs to engage with to enable the success of their product.
The marketing group is judged on increase TPU/home (upgrades), the GC/operations on reduced time/build, the builder sales representative on closings and upgrades and the selection associate on upgrades. These are the people who should receive education on and get excited about your products.
We usually have the first conversation with the VP of marketing, where we address the unique factors and benefits for their homebuyers and how it differentiates their homes from their competition’s. We also talk with the GC/operations VP on optimized productivity; we help the builder sales representative and the selection associate understand the features and benefits.
Sadly, nearly 90% of manufacturers in this industry DO NOT have comprehensive needs assessments of their key audience, nor do they have detailed audience profiles for their sales team and distributor partners to follow.
Just Because You Did it Before Doesn’t Make it Right
We’ve found, more than 80% of the time, marketing dollars are spent on initiatives that have been going on for years — doing the same things with some mere tactical updates that follow what a competitor might have changed. This is exactly why most product categories are stuck in the “sea of sameness,” where most marketing tools look the same from every competitor — sometimes, the only differentiation is the logo.
The market, audiences and trends are all constantly and frequently changing around us, and changing where and how they get information. And so must the approach to marketing.
Where people get their information and engage into the industry is what we call touch points.
Touch points have changed dramatically, even over the last couple of years. Architects once only needed a binder of information and a few samples to stash in their bookshelf along with all the other dusty binders. Up until only a couple of years ago, architects asked for 80% of the information from suppliers to be hard copy! Today, it’s completely reversed.
We’re in the midst of a quick and frequent evolution of how audiences are getting information. This is a big part of the diagnosis, assessment and input into the commercialization plans we develop for our clients. We don’t simply tweak what our clients did the last few years; instead, we start from zero-based budgeting to engage with your key audiences in the relevant points.
We also tell our clients what they should stop doing — which is sometimes the most difficult thing for any organization to do. When you’re forcing yourself to stop doing what is no longer appropriate, you find time and resources to implement new, relevant solutions.
If you’re going to spend marketing dollars, spend them wisely. After all, you get incentivized by the revenue (and hopefully the profit) you bring into your company. Marketing investments need to have a return like any other investment a company would make (sales, operations, etc.) Start from a zero-based approach each year that aligns with business goals and focus on the audiences and match your marketing investments to those that are most critical to achieving your goals.
Stop trying to do everything — instead, focus and work closely with agency partners who understand you’re held accountable to enhance business results.
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