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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Getting your (initial) marketing signals right

Middle Tennessee isn't Malibu, but it certainly is beautiful. Ironically, and unrelated to this posting/question, I have a sixth sense we will be working in Tennessee ourselves in the not-to-distant future.

Yesterday afternoon, a contractor responded to my Construction Marketing Ideas e-letter offer to provide answers to this question: "What is your number one construction marketing concern?"

I did have a question that you might help with. It may be a little basic, but here it goes. What is the most effective way to distinguish my company from the rest of the competition here locally? I am a builder that has spent 25 years in a very high end residential market (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Malibu, Ca) and moved to an area (Middle Tennessee) that has a lot of “builders” that don’t even build to code (no code enforcement in the counties).

The demographics are thankfully changing with people moving in from parts of the country that are more demanding. How do I then get the message out to potential clients that there is a difference in quality and that the additional costs of building a quality product will result in a net gain for them? Many of these clients hire the “locals” thinking they are getting a good price only to find they were really buying an education in who not to hire. Any ideas that you can offer will be appreciated.

Fair question, so I took my first step in answering any question -- seeking a little insight into the person making the inquiry. I Googled the contractor's name and found a couple of tiny references, including one to what appeared to have been an expired or cancelled free ad posting. No website, and the person who had written me had used a regular personal Internet account.

So how does he expect to find any business? Has he taken even the first step to differentiate himself from the local folk whose marketing probably succeeds even if it is as bad as the now-infamous handwritten scratch note we found at our door in Canada some months ago?

Now, it is important this contractor not rush to put up a crappy website -- this requires thought, effort, and planning (or a worthy consultant who knows how to set up contractor websites!) But I think the stuff you could post here would include testimonials from previous clients (even out of state, if they are willing to stand behind their testimonials), some basic images showing the quality of his work, and if he wishes to get more sophisticated, some other differentiating marketing material. You don't get in the game unless you play on the web these days -- especially if you are looking for clients willing to pay a little more than the bare minimum.

Here is a relevant thread on the forums describing: What makes a good company website?

Note, simply having a great website still won't solve the problem here, which is even deeper. Marketing to the high end takes reputational excellence -- word of mouth is going to define success here -- and of course you can't get much word of mouth unless you have some clients in the first place.

So, it seems, he may have the classic chicken-and-egg problem. "I"m good but don't have local experience/reputation. But no one will give me that experience/reputation without my needing to beat my head against the wall on price. So what should I do?" Well, you could go on price, selectively, if you sense your early client(s) would be true centers of influence -- but the danger here is you are setting yourself up for more of the same. The other solution is theoretically really smart marketing differentiation/planning, but I doubt this contractor is anywhere near that level -- at least from what I can see of his non-website. (Unless of course he has this in mind and is actually planning and working on his strategy.)

So, is there anything else I can suggest? One possibility is joining the local Home Builders' Association. Membership fees are likely not that high, and the contractor will gain a network of contacts, the opportunity to tie in with additional resources and, if he really works at it, assume a leadership role.

Finally, the letter writer needs to be realistic. He is in Tennessee, not Malibu. Although marketing principals are consistent everywhere, markets are not. He may be able to differentiate his place in the market by selling to new immigrants to Tennessee wishing the higher level of service/quality from his former West Coast location, but is going to need to communicate to these new arrivals his expertise, professionalism, and that his pricing, while a little above the norm locally, gives a whole lot more in quality. But he needs to dress the part. Where is his website, business phone, well appointed/decorated company van/truck . . . where are the signals to the potential client that he will indeed deliver what he says he will deliver? In the long term, the delivery is always the most important thing, but at the start, you have to have your signals right -- if you don't have a pre-qualified and ready-to-go client base, that is.


Sebastien said...

Hi Mark,
I just read your reply and it, once again, made alot of sense. I however think you didn't fully capture the essence of the question.

The way I saw it, this builder is having problems justifying his pricing to potential buyers in his new region. If his competition is not building to code and cutting cost to build a proper home, they to probably don't have websites. I do agree with your point that every business should invest in having a respectable presence on the web.

If I were that builder I'd apply all of your suggestions but before that I would instruct my sales team to feature what buying a home is all about. Making sure they hit on the reasons why a quality home will in the long run be a much better financial investment for the buyer. That saving a few thousands of dollars might be appealing right now, but when you take in consideration that you'll stay in your home for many years and what you'll need to invest in repairs during that stay will cost you alot more than the inital savings made.

This builders first step to gain credibility and respect should be to provide homebuyers with the tools, guides, fact sheets which will help them evaluate the quality of a construction and the repercussions of a bad construction. Buyers are then given the power to decide what's most important to them, price or quality. At the end of the day if he truly is ahead of his competitors he'll get the resutlts he's looking for. Now that would make for great testimonials on his new Website!

Sebastien Lessard

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Thanks for these points and suggestions. I think even more important than marketing materials (though these need to be there) is community 'presence' and respect -- and here the local HBA may be the place to start (or if he wishes to get closer to clients directly, to relevant church, community, or special interest groups.) I don't think he can compete directly with the 'under the table' guys -- he will need to focus on his niche, but needs to keep the marketing both simple and inexpensive.