These haven't been the best of times for the construction industry. No news flash there. However, it's fair to say that more weathered contractors- those construction companies with a few more years under their belts-are probably doing better than newer companies. After all, years of experience and the right relationships gives seasoned firms an advantage when they're looking for new business opportunities in any economy.
Too often, newer companies without those inroads choose to jump headfirst into what they believe will enable them to get their message across: snappy 30-second commercials or a public relations blitz. Unfortunately, success rarely happens this way (in any industry). In fact, it quite often backfires.
Advertising and public relations activities can and do work well for the construction industry in getting its message heard, but, just like in building, they only work when a strong foundation is already set. Smart businesses take a deep breath and begin preparing long before a new website or ad campaign is unveiled with these five important steps:
1. Construction Market Research/Competitive Research
Know your target audience-those who'll be asking for and buying your services. Know what they like and dislike about your competitors. Know how they like to receive messages (are they TV watchers, social media followers, radio listeners and/or mail or newspaper readers?). Know their price points and know what influences their buying decisions. Market research is a key first step in any business endeavor, and often the most overlooked step. Focus groups, online industry surveys, mail surveys or telephone surveys geared to your particular audience can reveal priceless bits of intelligence for a new construction firm.
Many times, the intelligence a new firm garners from construction market research saves it from making costly mistakes. For instance, when they find out that their target audience rarely watches television, they don't leap into expensive television commercials. Market research can reveal information on the buyer's perception of competitors, which can later be exploited. Market research can and usually is worth its weight in gold (and it is not as expensive as most executives think).
Firms don't start to build without a blueprint. Likewise, they shouldn't start an ad or PR campaign without a plan. New construction companies should create a business and construction marketing plan that lists strategic goals and the tactical roadmap toward reaching them. Every manager should be made aware of the plan-or contribute to the plan as appropriate. When everyone is signed on and singing the same song, it's much easier to reach goals within a designated time frame and budget.
Research is done and a plan of attack is in place, but it's not time to open the floodgates yet. Construction companies need to understand who they are and how to communicate the essence of their brand in the most compelling way. If a firm doesn't have sound messaging, or if the firm's brand is ambiguous and seems like "all the other companies out there," or if key talking points can't be delivered properly, then the company is likely wasting time, money, and potentially its reputation by communicating to its buyers. It's invaluable to do a half-day messaging session to cover the essence of who you are, why you're different, and why your construction business is the best choice. Inscribe this for all of your employees to read, learn and live by.
Because you only get one chance to make a positive first impression, we also suggest that directly after messaging, company executives take part in some facilitated mock pressinterviews, so they are comfortable communicating the message in a clear and compelling manner.
4. Construction Business Brand Development
With the research, plan and message created, a firm now has the tools it needs to create a brand identity (logo look and feel, tagline) that truly matches who it is. The brand images that are created will be a bold and direct reflection of the company's values and its promise to its target audiences. Invest in your brand, as it is often your most valuable asset (think Coke or Nike). Don't get caught up in the drive-by idea of brand building, such as those create-a-logo-in-10-minutes types of websites. The old adage that "you get what you pay for" is true. Construction businesses are wise to consider hiring a firm that has successfully built brands for construction companies and one that specializes in thoughtful, strategic brand-building for the long term.
5. It's time to communicate
Firms that have invested the few months it takes to complete steps 1-4 can confidently embark on an integrated communications phase that is central to its construction marketing plan. Depending on the business and its circumstances, communication can mean PR, including: speaking engagements at events for the company's CEO, exhibiting at industry trade shows (or speaking at them), thoughtful media outreach such as a series of bylined articles penned by a company executive or newsworthy press releases issued and pitched to targeted reporters. It can also mean an event that a firm hosts to launch the company, a cause-related campaign backed by the firm, or any number of newer social media options.
Depending on the marketing plan and what was learned during market research, advertising might entail a direct mail campaign, television commercials, radio spots, e-mail advertising and/or website ads (all of which will contain the right message with a consistent brand image).
New construction firms have the best chance to positively engage the market in any economy when all five marketing steps are followed. Seasoned firms may also find that a brand refresher is a smart way to re-awaken the construction market to the benefits of hiring their companies as well.
Construction Business Owner, 2010 April