By Mark Buckshon
Publisher, Ottawa Construction News
Note: This story was originally written in 2008-2009, but the principles here are timeless.
You need to look hard on the map to find Courtland, the home of Reid and Deleye, a mid-sized general contractor serving communities within a 50-mile radius of its offices near London, in southwestern Ontario. After a few hours working with company vice-president Greg Eyre and his staff, you know they’ve achieved branding – and marketing — success.
We were profiling Reid and Deleye in a special feature article in Ontario Construction Report. A good sign that this company’s brand is excellent is that dozens of suppliers, without questioning the value of their marketing investment, quickly agreed to support the feature with their own advertising contributions.
In early part of the last decade, we published dozens of these features each year, but Reid and Deleye stood out from the crowd. I immediately noticed some important positive distinctions about this business. For example, I noticed how Greg Eyre, in working with me on the feature article, covered the essential ground quickly and efficiently and reviewed changes and proofs at a speed that I’ve rarely seen.
His staff were equally quick in responding to our requests to facilitate the feature. (I believe if you were a client or sub trade working with Reid and Deleye, you would receive exactly the same attention and responsiveness.)
Later, suppliers and other contractors agreed with this perception: Hundreds of people voted in favor of Reid and Deleye as the Ontario Construction Report’s Readers Choice Award Gold winner.
Your great brand – it is all about trust
Reid and Deleye, in fact, has achieved true branding success. They have developed the speedy and relationship-focused responsiveness that allows clients, employees and suppliers to conduct business effectively and rapidly. Most importantly, through their actions, they have earned trust — the cornerstone of truly great brands.
Branding is the perception, backed by real experience of current and previous clients, that you will deliver your experience resulting in genuine value and satisfaction. With brand trust, you can command higher prices, and earn a reasonable profit for your work.
Knowing your brand
You may already have a great brand but not be conscious of your success. For example, your clients know you deliver your services with the highest integrity and quality. They bring repeat business, and refer their friends. However, if you are like many contractors and professionals, you may price your services like a commodity. You think that the “lowest price wins the job” and you must be “competitive”. In other words, you under-value (and often under-price) your services.
Your goal in marketing your construction business is to understand and elevate your brand’s value. As its value increases you will capture even higher prices and margins. When your brand is well above average, you will command a significant premium over price-focused competition. Clearly, if you can charge more for your services than the competition, your profits will be higher. (And if you have a great brand, but only now are realizing this fact, you will see your margins skyrocket when you learn how to price your services at their true value.)
Client trust that is truly earned and reflected in your business brand is worth thousands or even millions of dollars.
Branding and the real world
Of course, market conditions change. In slow economies, desperate people, even contractors with good brands, bid low to survive. This is usually a mistake. Equally, some people think that it makes sense to chase public bidding opportunities that are supposedly assessed objectively. You may think that if you put in the best bid, you will win.
However, the real world is much different. For example, I recall speaking with a midwestern US contractor who consistently submitted low bids for a local hospital and always won. The contractor and the hospital staff had a mutual understanding that their scope-of-work definitions would allow for profitable change orders. So the contractor always bid low on the public tenders, and the hospital managers approved the pre-arranged change orders, and thus the contractor’s profits.
Some might think this practice unethical. However, the legitimate basis for these unofficial understandings is that the contractor’s brand is strong enough. Having worked together on many projects, the hospital and contractor’s staff trust, respect and relate well to each other, and know the projects will not only succeed, but also fall within the true budget objectives.
Your marketing goal should be to achieve similar branding success, not just with one client but with many. Then your business will thrive in good and bad economies.
Earning the brand trust
To achieve branding success, you must earn this higher level of trust. With trust comes clients’ confidence in you. They won’t worry about your price because they know they will be treated fairly and receive real value.
Note that successful branding is not primarily about advertising, logo design, and “marketing materials”. The most important elements in your business are your client relationships and their experiences with your employees.
If you have enjoyed lasting success in business, your brand is undoubtedly good. For example, if you are like the majority of contractors and architects who earn most of their business through repeat and referral enquiries, you have reached the point where your current and previous clients trust you enough both to return for more, and to recommend friends and colleagues. That’s the sign of a healthy brand. So your challenge is to improve on a good thing. In future articles, I’ll show you how and why.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have repeat and referral business, and you are always chasing jobs with the lowest bid price, you may have underlying business problems. You will need to attend to them before you start advertising, promoting and marketing your company.
Branding: Passion and leadership
You will find that your achievement of a more successful brand relates closely to your personality and passions – and those of your employees in their interactions with each other and your clients. Outstanding business success usually starts with the excitement, talent and passion of the founder and then radiates through the company’s employees.
Great branding is the sum of all the experiences your clients have with your business – from the receptionist’s greeting to the way your staff handle final inspection and clean-up.
Brand Harmony and your business culture
Steve Yastrow’s book, Brand Harmony, provides some essential insights into effective branding. At first glance, this book is far removed from the construction industry. Yastrow’s examples relate more to the consumer and hospitality industries.
Taking an example from Yastrow, let’s say you arrive at a hotel expecting to have a comfortable room, a restful evening, and then perhaps a great day with your family or some solid business meetings. Instead, you encounter long line ups at check-in, less-than-enthusiastic clerks, and your room isn’t quite as it appears in the brochures or the hotel’s website. Perhaps you will tolerate the place. Maybe there isn’t another convenient hotel at the price range nearby. You might stay at that hotel again, but you won’t rave about it and you won’t feel any satisfaction. You may well say the place is terrible. You may even share the bad news with friends, family and business colleagues.
Although the details may differ, the same issues apply to architectural, engineering and construction companies. Perhaps the two biggest complaints – and the easiest to fix – are complaints about unreturned phone calls and messy job sites.
Of course, there are other aspects of your company that may affect well or poorly on your clients or suppliers. Are your employees cheerful, respectful, responsive, and do they genuinely enjoy their work?
Do clients have the impression that you grudgingly do the bare minimum to “get by” or do they sense you are truly interested in their project? The interactions you and your colleagues have with your client reflect your overall attitudes to everyone around you, including your suppliers and sub contractors.
Branding is individual and client-centric
Branding is an individual, client-centric thing – it is not some “marketing department” stuff. It is the sum total of interactions between your business and its clients.
In an email to me, the late Sonny Lykos wanted to get the marketing and branding message to contractors who struggled to get by, earning little money for much work. He observed:
“(Branding is) what I call the strongest foundation in the world – what an inverted pyramid rests upon. For these highly successful companies, it’s the founder of the business, or rather his character, personality and the culture he creates around him, like an aura.
“That aura is the foundation from which the company grows and spreads during its growth. And that aura is infectious only to others with the same philosophy. And then they, in turn, also attract other like-minded people as the company grows.
“It is the perfect example, and defines the term, ‘brand harmony.’ Hard to create such a business. Harder yet to maintain the reasons for its success. For these companies’ employees, (brand harmony) does, as you surmised, ‘come naturally’.’”
Discovering your brand
To achieve construction marketing success, you have to discover and develop your brand. I advocate achieving branding success by capturing your own passions and strengths, sharing these with your employees and clients and encouraging the same level of work satisfaction and accomplishment among the people who work with you every day.
Once you appreciate the good brand you already have, or learn how to develop it, you’ll be ready for more advanced marketing strategies. However, you must ensure your brand is healthy first.
This material is excerpted from Construction Marketing Ideas: Practical Strategies and Resources to Attract and Retain Clients for Your Architectural, Engineering or Construction Business, by Mark Buckshon. You can obtain the full book from Amazon.ca or through the Construction Marketing Ideas blog (www.constructionmarketingideas.com).