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Building Product Manufacturers: Make Your New Year Resolutions for Designer Outreach
Over the last several months The VI has discussed several things building product manufacturers can do to expand their influence in the specified construction products marketplace. We’ve talked about messages and media, eight reasons for product success, ways to influence design professionals, and other related topics.
As the year comes to an end, product manufacturers should begin working on their marketing and communications plans for 2014. I would like to offer some general perspectives on things manufacturers can do to be successful in marketing to their design and specification audience. Over the years we have found these elements to be good practice, and generally to be very helpful to our client manufacturers. Perhaps they can help shape your resolutions going into the New Year.
1. Research the Market and Ask Questions
This is a matter of engaging with the architects, engineers, designers and specifiers that are so influential in the success of your product, system or technology. Ask them what they need, and identify un-served or underserved opportunities. Our experience shows that conducting compensated focus groups with experienced architects and specifiers can be very helpful in this process. As a general rule, folks like to talk about themselves and their work. Do you have questions for them about how they think, what they know or don’t know about your product, and what it will take to get them to specify it? Ask them, and you may be surprised by their answers.
2. Get Your Product Code Compliance Response in Place
The sooner you begin determining what’s required in terms of performance and compliance testing, development and approvals, the sooner you can break into the marketplace. Code-related testing and approval programs can cost a lot of money and can be one of the largest budget line items when it comes to bringing a new product to market. There really is no alternative; because if your product is not permitted by code, it cannot be permitted at all.
3. Develop a Marketing Game Plan
Developing a marketing plan must include the basics of price, product, promotion and distribution. Beyond that, you should develop a detailed communications plan. Determine what messages you need to convey about the product, which influencers to target, and through which communication channels. Careful thought spent on the communications plan will pay you back many times over. The traditional decision making tree of ‘print, personal or electronic’ is a great way to start the media planning conversation. Just remember that the required balance has changed over the last few years, largely due to growth in social media.
4. Get Your Installed Cost Data in Place
In this case, product manufacturers should focus on more than just the internal cost of production and realized selling price. Having installed cost data (that’s total, with labor, materials, and equipment figured in) for your product, ready to release and distribute is extremely important. Designers always have alternatives, and they almost always use installed cost as one of their decision-making filters in selecting products. The R.S. Means Company has a quality reputation in this area and there is great value in providing R.S. Means data to the design team comparing the cost benefits of using your products and technologies. Then take the next step and compare your product with other alternatives available in the marketplace.
5. Select Your Representation with Care
Personal relationships are profoundly important in this business. Some representatives will always be comfortable in front of a group of architects and design professionals, while some are not. Some will be more capable of understanding and supporting the design process than others. In any case, consider the capabilities of your human resources in this regard as you grow and develop your overall sales and marketing capabilities.
6. Support Industry and Professional Associations
Here we refer to the importance of AIA, CSI, ASID, IIDA, USGBC and others. Strong relationships on a national and local basis can have big paybacks. Some companies have their staff and local representatives join and participate in CSI and even incentivize them to sign up for certified product representative (CCPR) and certified document technologist (CDT) qualifications. When people are calling on their friends and professional associates, they make better progress than when they are simply calling on strangers.
7. Have Reasonable Expectations for Product Success
Because of long project design lead times, seeing success in the specified products market can take a while. Small successes will come first, and larger ones will follow. For all the relationship reasons discussed earlier, prepare for the long haul.
The VI always appreciates the opportunity to work with the marketing teams at client manufacturers and to hear about what works for them in the construction products marketplace.