Archives for building products industry

Building Materials Brands Gaining Critical Advantage, by Design


Building materials brands, both large and small, are gaining critical advantage by leveraging something that may surprise you. Although companies are enjoying better numbers and expanding operations again, there is an abundant resource available that, when left untapped, leaves big money on the table. This missed opportunity is design.

During a conversation with Festool Marketing VP Michael Williams, I asked him what is the driving force behind the company’s growth? His answer, “We design tools that will have an impact on our customers lives. We have a common vision.” This resonates in Festools credo as well:

“At Festool, we design our power tools…
To solve problems.
For the way work happens.
With your comfort in mind.
To save time.
For quality, reliability and flawless execution.
For healthier environments.
To work together.

A key word in Williams’ answer is DESIGN. In a sea of “quality” and “solutions” and “customer service”, here is just one example of a company in the building materials industry that’s leveraging design to gain critical advantage over their competition. But isn’t design just about logos and annual reports and websites? True, these communication tools are an important part of your brandhood, however, there is something much bigger at work here.

We can learn a big lesson from, not a design pioneer, but a technology geek–Steve Jobs. He wasn’t trained as a designer or engineer, but was a user of technology himself. He was a visionary. As Jobs told Inc. magazine in 1989, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try and give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” It isn’t necessarily about market research anymore. It’s about prolific thinking. It’s about focusing on the customer at all times and staying true to your brand truth. Design plays a major role in everything from marketing and advertising to production processes and supply chain.

“From GM to 3M, in boardrooms
and on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley
and on Madison Avenue,
design matters more than ever.
-Linda Tischler, Fast Company

A perfect example of this is the 99-year old quietly creative innovator, 3M. Why would a $27 billion dollar giant, best known for it’s notes, tape and sponges, have any need to hire a 26-year old designer from Milan? They were already successful. What would design ad to the mix? Sales, that’s what. From the redesign of their mini-projector to his new line of tape dispensers, Mauro Porcino has had a profound impact on 3M’s bottom line. Think “double”.

So, do you spend hundreds of thousand of dollars on brand awareness or take a step back and design a better experience. I believe in starting with the experience. People ask me all the time, “So, I have X to spend on marketing our brand…what should we spend it on?” My answer is always the same. “Slow down and take look around you before you start throwing money at a billboard campaign or hosting a golf tournament.” What’s worked in the past? What’s currently in play? How do customers feel about your brand? Where do they go? What are they talking about? What would serve them? When was the last time you walked through your buying process “like a customer?” If all that’s in order then let’s take a look at the customer touch points and design a strategy. There’s no faster way to erode brand equity than to throw a bunch of money at brand awareness only to have customers irritated or disappointed once they respond.

What’s Working Well

At one time Festool had a monster marketing budget and sold many things to many people. This worked well for a long time, but they knew it could be better. By aligning sales, marketing and upper management, the Festool team speaks the same language now. They know exactly who their customers are and what drives them. They also know who their customers aren’t. No more selling all things to all people. Design is driven by design. Festool took a step back to design a better approach. To have a better understanding of customers needs and desires. Their attention to detail is second to none. Their system of tools is not only extremely efficient, but beautifully designed—not to mention highly coveted by building professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Design Matters

You don’t have to be Apple® to realize good design matters. From marketing strategy and product design to photography and messaging—company’s in the building materials industry are thriving on design. What used to be considered an after-thought or “something your nephew could do” is now at the center of what’s driving corporate America. Finding an edge is becoming harder. As Farenheit 212′s Mark Payne notes, “Design is differentiation made visible, visceral, and experiential. Creativity and innovation are emerging as disciplines because we have no other choice.” Design, in other words, can be the critical competitive advantage.

Driven, by design?

Here’s to creating a sensation.

Allison DeFord POSTED BY: Allison DeFord| Leave a comment

The Benefits Of Not Knowing

Sade, accidental success

Helen Folasade Adu, better known as Sade is a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, composer and record producer. Active in the music industry since 1983, she characterizes her career as an accidental success.

Sade has been nominated six times for the Brit Award for Best British Female.

In 2002, she received the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace for services to music. She dedicated the award to “all black women in England”.

In 2012, she was #30 on VH1′s 100 Greatest Women in Music.

She is the most successful solo female artist in British history.

Make your presence felt.


Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

Trust Yourself

Do it.

Lori Sallee POSTED BY: Lori Sallee| Leave a comment

What Contractors Want from Manufacturers

Mind Meld

Contractors want the lowest prices, quality products and maybe a cool T-shirt now and again. Right?! Unless you’re a mind-reader, how do you really know what they want unless you ask them.

Recently, Tradesmen Insights asked contractors what they want from manufacturers and produced a series of interviews and podcasts highlighting their answers. Their intention: find out what manufacturers could do to better support contractors in the field. Those interviewed were a mix of electricians, plumbers, HVAC and general contractors. Here is a sampling of some of their most common wants (aka: opportunities for manufacturers):

  • Quick Response to Questions - access to knowledgeable tech people for problem solving.
  • Regular Site Visits - have your salesman make regular visits. Most contractors say they very rarely see the manufacturers. Great way to build relationships and identify possible product problems or shortcomings.
  • Application Training  - quick tips on doing a process better/quicker. If not in person, via email.
  • Best Way to Communicate with Them - mobile phone or email.
  • Not Super Social Yet - (Twitter, Facebook).
  • Recognize that they are professionals.

There are some prime opportunities here for manufacturers to up their game.  Our recent research yielded similar findings. Contractors want to be recognized and engaged with regularly—and not just about “what’s on sale” or “what’s new,” but how your product affects their bottom-line. Here are 10 ways to make your contractor experience richer and more rewarding:

10 Ways to Give Contractors What They Want

  1. Responsively designed Web and Mobile Sites -  Sites crafted to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors to tablets).
  2. How-to Videos, Demos and Easy Installation Instructions - Short, concise, available online / YouTube channel
  3. FAQ Section – Easy to find online, expansive and always current
  4. Live Tech Support – Knowledgeable, friendly, easily accessibly, separate 800#
  5. Email Communications - Rich consistent content that educates, inspires and reaches contractors on a deeper level (think “substance vs. sales”)
  6. App – Contains useful tools, specs, inventory and more they carry in the palm of their hand (beyond what’s on your site)
  7. Campaigns - Themed effort with a central message, communicated in promotional pieces and activities to recognize and unite contractors
  8. In Person – Live on-site visits and events
  9. Support - education and information about best practices to inspire and empower
  10. Forums & User Groups – Create an online community that supports, unites and celebrates contractors (excellent way to listen too–bonus!)

Tradesmen also shared this powerful statement, “There wasn’t a contractor I talked to that would turn away a visit from you, the manufacturer.” That sounds like opportunity knocking!

With sales people already spread thin across accounts, it can be challenging to fulfill the face to face need on a regular basis. Luckily, there are numerous ways to satisfy a Contractors’ craving and so much that they can have seconds.

Allison DeFord POSTED BY: Allison DeFord| Leave a comment

Check the Expiration Date

Check the Expiration Date

Feelin’ it? 

That buzz…that energy in the air. Business is rocking’ and rollin’ in the first quarter and Spring has sprung (or maybe there’s just less smog in the air) whatever the reason, this is a great time to check the expiration date. No, not in your fridge or on your shelves.

Your customers expiration date.

Inspired by a recent post from Seth Godin, I was reminded how precious customer shelf-life is and how many companies aren’t paying attention to it. 

Whether you’re audience is B2B or B2C, there’s a real opportunity here–to pay attention. To surprise and delight our customers. To keep them for a lifetime instead of taking them for granted. (Read Seth’s full post here: ) After all, what is the average customer expiration date? If the expiration came and went, what are you doing about that?

What’s one new thing you could do to deliver on your brand promise? What would make your customers stop and take notice? Feel how much “you get them.” Feel special, understood, supported?

On that note, I challenge you to try something new. Fun, free and, promise, it won’t hurt. 

The Challenge 
Make an appointment with yourself and your team and once a week spend 30 minutes brainstorming how you could surprise and delight your customers. That’s it! Just 30 minutes! The cost is zero and the payoff is priceless. A few ground rules: put it on the calendar, cell phones off and laptops closed during, just a pad of paper and a pen/pencil. Be present and remind your team, “there’s no bad idea.” The results will surprise you. The real key here is what you do afterward…put the ideas into action. Immediately! Talk is cheap.

As Seth says, “think lifetime, all the time.” 

I think this goes for more than just our customers… What do you think about that?


Allison DeFord POSTED BY: Allison DeFord| Leave a comment

It’s The Way We’ve Always Done It


When challenged with a new idea or doing things differently, have you ever uttered the phrase, “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” Yep, I have too. In this day and age it kinda makes me feel like my granddad. That was his pat answer. He was comfortable with the familiar and change might require time, energy and possibly $$. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?! Sure, keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get more of the same results.

But what if you want different results?

A dear friend and colleague of mine always says, “If you want something different, you have to DO something different.” So, what to do? What results do you want? A wise business coach told me, “When the why is clear, the how to will appear.” Ultimately, the answer is adapt. 

The other day I ran across an interesting article about our nation’s first bookless public library. I have to admit, being a book lover, I felt a little sad when reading about this computer based facility. But, on the flip side, I totally admire the creativity. This doesn’t mean books are going away. They are just changing and perhaps disappearing in the formats with which we’re familiar. A book is really about content, and content doesn’t have to exist on the printed page in a binding. Yet while other libraries, bookstores and newspapers are all fighting change, this particular library is embracing change and making the necessary adjustments in order to stay relevant and alive. On the local level so many public library systems are talking about removing some very valuable services, including access to online databases, because of the cost.

Big mistake and the opposite of adapting—cutting some of the more important, relevant services, all in the name of maintaining their traditional business model: books. I’m not suggesting physical books aren’t important, but libraries, like newspapers and other traditional media outlets must adapt. The way they’ve always done it doesn’t work anymore.

The best businesses are the ones that adapt. Did you know that Taco Bell started as a hot dog stand, Marriott was a root beer stand, and Nintendo was a playing card company?

These and many other companies started with one focus. You know I’m a fan of differentiating. Of doing one thing so well that nobody does it better. Clearly though, Marriott decided to fulfill a need, adapt, and shift their focus from feeding people to putting them up for the night. Still a form of hospitality, just a different focus. Ultimately, a great shift!

Take a good, long, hard look at your business. Are you making it easier for customers to buy? How could you adapt and serve them better? 

Root beer float, anyone?!

AllisonDeFord(image courtesy of Trip Advisor)

Allison DeFord POSTED BY: Allison DeFord| Leave a comment