Marketing to Specifiers

Posted 08.09.16 in News

Here, in this new insight, we set out the history of marketing in construction products and how it has developed (or not!) over the years, followed by ten ideas as to how a marketing plan can align to a digital age.

The successful marketing of construction products and materials is essential to the growth of a brand.  Manufacturers want specifiers to not only to be aware of their product but to also understand it. This is a crowded marketplace and the products are complex, so often it is hard to be heard.

In years gone by, the marketing of construction products was very one dimensional. Display ads were used in magazines such as the Architects Journal or Building Design and manufacturers would then produce spectacular ring binders to shout loudest on the library shelves. These libraries were installed by the RIBA and updated through monthly visits by an efficient librarian. The printing of binders and brochures was huge and incredibly wasteful - the strategy was usually to throw enough at the target and some will stick.  Technical support was at the end of a phone and the specifier would have to call to ask queries and wait for the specification would be "faxed" over. Sales reps would make visits to specifiers offices, drinking coffee and bringing samples.  Trade shows were also very popular. The bigger and better the stand the more impressive your product was. Giveaways were an essential part - you would return from events laden down with pens, mugs, notepads and even the odd Gonk.

All of this cost millions but no one ever stopped to think if it was actually having any impact - it's just what everyone did.  If your brochure was a little bit shinier or your stand was a little bigger or your freebies a bit more expensive, then you were leading the way.

The reality is, as the generations have changed, the marketing hasn't kept pace.

Due to increasing technology and recession, much of the experience in the industry has moved on. This means the industry and its specifiers are younger.  Specifiers are increasingly Generation Y, however, marketers from the manufacturers are often baby boomers or older Generation X. They don't understand Generation Y or their dependence on the Internet.

In a recent meeting with a leading manufacturer, they were very keen to show me their new campaign which revolved around a mug, coaster and glossy brochure. They were somewhat surprised when I told them what happens to the tens of thousands of pounds of investment into their campaign.  Most of the mugs will go into the back of the office kitchen cupboard with the thousands of other identical mugs. The coasters will probably just go in the bin. Why would you put a flimsy branded coaster next to your £600 iPhone - which you have bought because it looks great?

Your beautiful brochure will at best be flicked through, left on a desk for a while because they don't think it is right to throw it out straight away, then around two weeks later it will go in the bin. There may be one or two baby boomers in the office who might keep hold of it just in case - they will put it in their drawer where it will probably stay until their retirement. This information is out of date as soon as it is printed and would never comply with any quality process.  Even if someone did want to keep the brochure there would be nowhere to put it. Designers no longer have libraries. They have come across a thing called the Internet. They can get everything they want by typing in a couple of words into their computer. Not only can they get an up to date brochure but they can get a digital object and all of the data which can be used to design the building.

No longer do specifiers want this information available just at their desk - they need it everywhere, anywhere and all of the time! This is how they get all their information. They don't keep takeaway menus in the drawer anymore they order online from the car using an App.  If they want to specify a tap, they want to do it when they think about it not, when they get to their desk.

We are in a digital age where emerging generations expect the Internet of Everything. This has affected every industry.

Many in construction have seen this change coming and are ready. They are taking market share because they understand what their customers want and how they want it served. They are the companies who have a culture of innovation and who will prosper in the future.

Unfortunately, there are many others who are dominated by people who don't want to understand and will not be around in a few years time. They will pack up their trade show stand, bin their branded pens and burn their glossy ring binders.


Everything on the planet is going digital - this includes construction and how specifiers absorb information. This means we need to rethink how we market and sell products to a growing dominance of Generation Y. Below are 10 ideas to get manufacturers marketing aligned to the needs of Generation Y.

1.    Build a digital plan

In a digital world, nothing you do should be in isolation. All information should be linked and aligned so that data can be collected and used effectively.  Traditionally, we would have a number of campaigns which would be completely independent. The objective must always be to increase the number of times the product is specified and therefore purchased. A framework for data needs to be put in place so that information for all future campaigns can be gathered and interrogated. A decision needs to be made as to where all of this interest is focussed and what information you want to collect from your specifiers.

2.    Burn the brochures

In our industry we like to print brochures - I'm not sure we know why but it’s something we’ve always done. The nearest industry I can think of is the travel industry where brochures are still produced even though most holidays are reviewed online.  There is no place for brochures in a modern construction industry. They have a huge environmental impact, huge cost and are given to specifiers who don’t know where to put them. Everything you do needs to be digital so it can be stored by specifiers in their own digital library - this may be in the cloud or on their own device.

3.    Everything in one place

Specifiers want information quickly, easily and accurately. They need to be able to move from pretty pictures to performance data and specification information quickly. They need digital versions of the component so it can be used in their model. Rather than websites, microsites and brochures, all information and communications need to come from a single source. This can be consumed anywhere, in any way, on any device.  A cloud-based database can be accessed via multiple apps or web applications. Augmented and virtual reality, as well as BIM, can all be included.

4.    Ditch the freebies

Marketing departments love a freebie. Branded corporate goods are a great way to spend your budget. The reality is it makes your brand look uninventive - if you have a branded pen or mug you come across as being in the pack. Why not try and do something different? Set yourself apart.

5.    Stand out marketing

If you do anything make it stand out. Don't just market for the sake of it. Background noise is expensive and doesn't generate impact. If you are going to do something, link it to your brand. Be first to your customers with an idea. Send them a Kit Kat to take a break. Send them some chewing gum to chew things over. Many of these things are gimmicky but their purpose is to get noticed. It doesn't have to be relevant to the brand.

6.    Grab the data

Modern marketing is all about the data. Make sure anything you do collects data. You need to track return investment. All of this data needs to be stored in the same way so that it can be mined in the future. Often we gather information which we’re not sure if we will, but just because we may find it useful in the future. As time goes on, the information will mature and marketing will become more precise and targeted.

7.  Live in concert

Anyone who enjoys music will know that for artists to make money, in an Internet world they have to go on tour. The same is the case with construction marketing. The offer needs to be multi-channel. Smaller, more local events are more appropriate than huge trade shows with large footfall. Get down with your market and communicate your personality. Hold events, seminars and talks. Make them different and memorable and add some value.

8.  More mobile

Whatever you do - make it mobile. We already know that glossy brochures are long gone. Everything needs to be accessible in anytime, anywhere. The modern specifier will be consuming information all day long. Encourage them to engage and build a relationship. Give them a reason to visit your app. Entice them with incentives or prizes, but don't forget they need to be cool. No branded mugs!

9. Don’t give up on the oldies

We talk a lot about baby boomers and how they struggle with all of this online stuff but don't write them all off. Many will see the balance shift and will get on board themselves and may even validate some of these commitments. Those with more experience in the industry may even surprise, so don't stereotype them.

10. Get out of the rut

Don't just take the easy route and do what you have always done. Don't just make your brochure better or buy a better mug. Make bold decisions. Cut out the analogue. Understand what your customers want, not what you think they do. Do things differently and make the changes you need to.

Go digital!