Istockphoto.com suggested this image of a Berlin building when asked to provide images related to "marketing differentiation". While obviously far geographically from the question below, the building symbolizes the distinctions and globalization -- and is a reminder, as well, that geographical focus remains a valid and vital differentiating quality.
Here is a challenging and thought-provoking question sent by a long-established and successful North Carolina contractor:
I think your newspaper's best service will be to identify the next trend we will need to survive - my opinion is that LEED is already becoming commonplace and BIM will sweep the scene right behind it. What's coming after that - what will we have to embrace next to stay in business?For the contractor's first question, the answer of what's next on the horizon, indeed, is a combination of Building Information Management (BIM)technology, and new trends to P3 or Public-Private-Partnership business models. Both are, for want of a better word, disruptive. The are strong enough to test the bounds of existing, long-standing business relationships AND create new bonds that can tie and set long-term sticky connections and relationships.
Also, I would love to know what other general contractors are doing to educate their existing and prospective clients about the services that differentiate them from other GCs in the marketplace...what tactics/actions get through to our customers? And which services really ARE differentiators in this day and age?
Since BIM involves the integration of the building concept drawings into a multi-dimensional and organic, interlinked perception, whoever has access or ownership of the BIM database for the project will be well placed to build the project, handle renovations and updates, and additions -- and of course, if the template is strong, then the model can be replicated in more than one location, again providing market power and control to the player(s) who are well connected to the technology and its rights.
P3 projects, meanwhile, change the scope of relationships between owners, designers, and contractors -- in some cases, the designer/contractor can become the owner by arranging the financing and pulling together the consortium to build the project. Here, rules vary by state and region; and the ground is still murky -- both creating opportunities and risks for everyone involved.
The contractor's second question is more challenging, yet in some ways, simpler to answer. To differentiate effectively you must play on one or more of your core strengths -- related to our passions and values (and of course these must match the interests of your marketplace!) Your differentiation may be your years in business (long standing tradition and reputation), your geography (we are the number one contractor in our rural area), or specialty (we are the leading builder of mini-storage facilities. These elements, combined, give you your strength.
So if you are the number one builder of Mini-Storage Facilities and have been doing this from the beginning, say 50 years ago, you'll have a compelling story to tell. Generally, the more specialized your area of expertise and differentiation, the wider your geographical coverage is -- but you can reverse the specialization by focusing on smaller geographical areas. "We only build within a 50 mile radius of (town)" is a valid distinction, and allows you to do all kinds of work within your region, either directly or through joint ventures with specialist contractors who have achieved their own niche reputation.
One important word of warning here: If you don't think your current differentiation is working, be very careful before throwing away your brand and focus, with some grand vision to change. You may be giving up your soul for an uncertain and unnecessarily risky future. Your solution may simply be to keep pace with the must-haves in business which will allow you to retain your differentiating advantage. (So, yes, make sure your staff is LEED certified if you wish to do any commercial or institutional work.)