The construction industry is a very competitive marketplace and the main way companies can stand out from the crowd is by building, and maintaining, a strong brand. Branding builds a unique personality for your business that cannot be copied or imitated, thereby attracting a defined type of customer. Brands are more than just logos and positioning statements but instead, brands symbolise what people think and feel about a business. This emotional connection, along with your brand reputation, is what helps in buyers’ decision making process. It might drive an architect or specifier to specify your product instead of a competitors.
An important element of successful brands is consistency. This builds customer trust and perceived value because buyers know exactly what to expect from your product or service before they buy it. Companies have to ensure that these expectations are achieved, or even better, exceeded.
Tell your brand story
Every company has a story to tell but it is how you tell that story that can make the difference. Nobody can tell this story better than you because you know your brand better than anyone else. Pick out the elements and values that make your brand unique and focus on these. Creativity plays a huge part and using digital tools to develop a great brand story across a variety of online channels is how you can stand apart from the competition. A brand that shows its ‘human side’ is much easier for customers to relate to and build a relationship with.
Social media provides a brilliant platform for businesses to give their audience an insight into the brand, what it stands for, the people that work there and your company culture. Don’t be afraid to use humour or be quirky (within reason obviously) as this can help you stand out online. Essentially, people develop relationships with other people. Companies who understand this, build successful brands that are trustworthy, likeable and relatable.
Focus on your audience
The digital landscape has opened up huge opportunities for construction companies to communicate with architects, specifiers, employees, customers, supply chain members and many others online. Part of building your brand online is using digital channels to create a dialogue with these key people. Social media should be seen as a 2 way communication opportunity, not just a chance to blast out your latest product information. Think before you post and aim to share content that is of value. This can come in many different formats and should generate discussion and interest. Sure, you will be posting the odd promotional message but make sure that this is not the sole purpose of using social media.
Due to the large number of available channels, with new ones popping up every few weeks, it’s crucial to make sure you are only concentrating on those platforms and channels that your target audience is active on. Take the time to research, listen and identify the online behaviour patterns of your target audience and construction your marketing plan around this. If your research reveals that most Architects use Twitter and Linkedin to find information about products then why are you spending most of your time on Facebook? Don’t try and define the communication platform and medium for your audience. Instead find out where they are, what they’re talking about and build your online community there.
Empower your employees
The real power behind a successful brand are the people. Employees are the life and soul of your brand and therefore are your biggest brand advocates. This is why branding involves the whole organisation and not just the marketing department. From product design to invoicing and delivery, every time a customer interacts with your company they are part of the branding experience.
Most of your employees are probably active on social media for personal use and some of them might even be blogging. Encourage them to share your content to increase the reach of your brand as each of them will have a different network. This exposure can dramatically increase your brand awareness and through your employees, your brand culture and personality is brought to life. Due to the nature of social media and the transparency that comes with it, it’s important to develop a social media policy first which will set guidelines for your employees. Letting them know their boundaries and the type of content they can, and cannot, share online protects your online brand reputation and empowers them to use it in a conscientious manner.
As I said earlier, one key ingredient of a successful brand is consistency. Your brand has to look, feel and act in the same way at every customer touchpoint and interaction whilst adding some kind of value to the buyer. The web has added an extra challenge for brands because they have to make sure their brand is now consistent both offline and online. No point in launching a new building product at a trade show or exhibition but having nothing about that product on your website when architects and specifiers visit it after the event to find out more information.
Creating multiple social media accounts can increase the reach of your brand online so that your brand message is spread to a wider audience. Direct traffic back to an online ‘hub’ (usually your website or blog) where people can find all necessary information in one place. For this to work, and contribute towards building an even stronger brand, all these social media messages and activities have to be integrated into your wider marketing strategy.
Look to the future
Online behaviour is constantly evolving and one of the major tasks for brands is to remain authentic and continue developing trust. Strategic thinking is required to adapt to the ever changing environment and ensure your brand remains relevant to audience needs now, and in the years to come. Strong brands stand the test of time because they think about the future and don’t just focus on short term results and outcomes. Gain insight into what is important to your customers by listening to the conversations they are having online and predicting how your product and/or service can evolve to meet these, and future, needs. Sustaining a strong brand requires adaptability and the flexibility to constantly learn and evolve quicker than your competitors. This can sometimes involve taking (calculated) risks, especially as technology is moving so fast and new tools and techniques are constantly being invented. You don’t want to be left behind!
A current example of this is mobile. 2012 will see a dramatic increase in traffic coming from mobile devices and tablets. What are construction brands doing about this? Have they looked at their analytics to see what proportion of website traffic is coming from mobile devices? Do they know whether engineers, contractors or architects are looking for product or installation information online when they are on site? If there is a significant proportion doing this then why are these brands not developing mobile apps and ensuring that their websites are mobile and tablet friendly? If you are still stuck in the mindset of ‘my customers don’t use social media/mobile’ then you will be left behind. This failure to adapt and innovate can have drastic consequences (take Kodak as an example).
I would like to hear your thoughts on this. How can construction companies continue to build and develop their brands online? Have you seen any good examples of brands doing this well? What happens to those that don’t embrace digital technologies?