As a building products manufacturer or marketer, you’ll benefit from understanding the foundations of how to create an effective marketing plan. Some building products companies take the set-it-and-forget-it approach to marketing plans, or update it only when something goes poorly. After all, for many, their expertise is in the building industry, not in marketing strategy. We understand. That’s why we offer a handful of basic elements with which you can start. A new plan that builds on your past experiences and incorporates new changes in the market is optimum, but if you get the basics wrong, it’s tough to course-correct.
Here are some crucial basics to help you market building products (and services):
You know you need a deep understanding of your product or service, which we’re guessing you have, or you wouldn’t be where you are today. Before you begin laying out your marketing plan, be certain that current and potential customers understand your product, what it is and why it might be important or beneficial. List features and benefits that make your building product a better option compared to what your competitors offer.
Be specific about the benefit part. If a feature is low transfer coefficient or U-factor in your windows, think in customer terms what that means as a benefit. Is it that less energy is required to keep inside temperatures comfortable? Is it that a low U-factor means a widow is more insulating and more energy efficient? If so, make sure you are as fluent with the benefit as you are the feature. You have the curse of knowledge, but others may know less. Don’t assume it’s obvious. Research customer feedback to find the cracks in understanding and take notes for later (there will be a quiz).
And, please, don’t just tell your potential customers that your product or service is better. Show them with benefits.
Now, let’s nail the four Cs, which encompass the foundation of any marketing plan:
Always begin by looking externally and ask, “What is going on?” Most businesses and manufacturers look at themselves first and miss key factors affecting their industry, customers and competition. This includes culture. We aren’t talking opera and art history here (although they’re nice additions to many people’s lives). We’re talking about shifts in technology, economics (pandemic supply chain, anyone?), consumer concerns, such as greater demand for environmental sustainability, and geo-political issues. Look at cultural changes taking place, even small ones, such as baby boomers staying longer in the workforce and Generation X leadership values changing the workplace. Even if you don’t think cultural factors directly affect your building products manufacturing, look up and out first. You might be surprised—and better prepared to alter or expand your marketing plan, if needed.
Category (your industry)
You probably know your industry well, just as you do your product. But consider it in a deeper way than usual and document what you find and know, so that others on your team can benefit from the information. What are the relevant trends affecting the category – industry?
These might indicate your sub-industry is stagnant or a growth opportunity. Look at market movements, including the current and future size of the market overall, category penetration and usage, changes in share, and growth rate of population and sales. Examine category/industry marketing activity, including distribution channels, pricing (including pricing strategies) across channels, and how brands in your industry in general are marketed. What legislation or regulatory changes are afoot?
This can be where you find opportunities and threats. Based on your experience and surveys, what opportunities are there for you to gain a foothold and evolve in your market? What areas are industry leaders ignoring? How well can you handle industry threats if they emerge? Don’t ignore possible risks. They can take you from 100 to zero quickly.
You can’t afford to ignore your building product competitors at all. First, determine who they are and what products or services they offer. Are they direct, indirect or lateral competitors? Are they companies offering alternative products? What are your main competitors’ strengths? What do they do differently from you? Why do their customers prefer their products?
For key competitors, consider their market share (tough if they’re a private company, but still possible), product attributes, financial resources, production capabilities, and current and past marketing efforts. Also, look at their strengths and weaknesses within the category and in relation to you and likely future communication strategies. (Your most spot-on competitors are doing their research and assessments and they see what you should be seeing, even if you are not.)
You also want to understand:
- With which competitors to compete
- How competitors might react to your company’s actions
- How to influence competitor behavior to your company’s advantage
Think of competitive strategies as (usually) within these areas:
Customers, current and potential
We saved the most complex element for last, so we can emphasize it. In most cases, your building product will be targeted towards a specific market. When drawing up a marketing plan, you need to determine this market through thorough research so that you can know where to focus your messaging efforts.
Start with the basics of a building material market, such as are your target customers residential or commercial? Are they distributors, homeowners, contractors, or DIY enthusiasts? Are they into new construction or remodeling and repair projects? What building products are your target customers currently using? What are their main challenges with the product? What do they love about it? What would they like to be different with the product?
Also consider the B2B buyer’s decision process and the types of buying decision behavior, including:
Complex buying behavior
Occurs when a person has a great level of involvement in making decisions or the product is expensive, risky, highly market-factors dependent or purchased infrequently. If people must learn a great deal about a product or category (think steep learning curve) their buying behavior becomes more complex.
Dissonance-reducing buying behavior
This happens when people have a high-involvement decision to purchase but perceive little differences among brands or products. In the consumer world, it could be airlines or carpeting. These folks can be difficult to message well, as they tend to shop around and ponder deeply, but then make a buying decision quickly based on price or convenience (or some other factor that seems random).
Habitual buying behavior
When your customers have little involvement in making decisions and perceive little difference among products and brands, they don’t search extensively for information about the products or evaluate brand characteristics. They make buying decisions based on the same factors they always have for time immemorial.
Marketers can use sales or promotions to promote buying among habitual decision-makers, but it may be short-lived.
Also, identify the individuals who play roles in the buying process:
- Initiator − The initiator is usually the person who comes up with an idea and suggests the purchase.
- Influencer − The individuals who push for the purchase. They highlight the benefits of the product.
- Decisionmaker – These people (usually individuals) are those who make the final decision or the final call after analyzing all the pros and cons of the product. They may, or may not, be the buyer.
- Buyer − The buyer is generally the end user or the final person(s) who uses the product.
Who are the other participants in a B2B buying process?
Not always a formally identified unit within a business or organization, but rather buying roles assumed by different people for different purchases. A buying center includes all the individuals and units that play a role in the purchase decision-making process.
Users are members of the organization who will use the product or service. They often initiate the buying proposal and set specifications. Influencers help define specifications and provide information for evaluating alternatives (IT employees are an example of those who are often important influencers). Gatekeepers are a subgroup of the buying process, not always in the foreground of an organization, who control the flow of information to others within an organization or business.
It pays to understand who participates in the decision, each participant’s relative influence, and what evaluation criteria each decision participant uses.
We could create an entire blog post (short book!) on customers and all the ways they need to be understood to market successfully, but we’ll stop here for now. As a building products manufacturer or marketer, you can now create the beginning of an effective marketing plan, just by understanding the foundations of how to build one. Remember, you get out of it what you put into it.
Start with the four Cs. In future posts, we’ll go deeper into the next steps. Stay tuned.