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6 of My Favorite Building Products Manufacturer Apps

10 Dec

Are You Using All the Sales Tools Available to You?

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As of July 2015, there are 1.6 million Google Play apps, 1.5 million Apple App Store apps, and 400,000 Amazon App Store apps*. The building products industry is beginning to take notice of this phenomenon with apps of their own—apps that can be used to visualize, quote, install, and educate customers about various products and services. These are apps that can make a huge difference when selling and marketing building products, and they should become a strong part of your strategy both in working with pros and consumers alike.

I’ve put together a list of some of the standout apps in the building industry. Of course, the apps most impactful to you will depend on inventory, product relevance, location, and so on. But these are a good sampling of the types of apps you should be looking to as standard-bearers within the building industry:

  • Sherwin Williams ColorSnap® Visualizer: This app goes above and beyond the call of duty for most visualizer tools—what you would expect from a household name. Not only can users see how colors will look in a space, but they can also match colors based on images, scan colors in-store, and view entire color schemes based on a single color number. This app considers how people live and allows them to design their home around it. Plus, by letting a user pull color matches from real photos in their camera roll, they add a certain playful element that makes a user want to spend time in the app.
  • AZEK® Deck Building Products iPad App: This app can be used as a 2D or 3D visualizer of the entire AZEK product line so customers can see how it looks before any purchase is made. Users can take notes on their creations, save, and share them when necessary. You can imagine a situation in which you or one of your pros could create a visualization of a buyer’s space, share it with them, and more easily close a sale. Not only that, but a buyer could use it with a pro or dealer so they could recommend the best product for them.
  • RDI® Railing Designer App: This one is especially useful for pros, who can access the SRP back-end of the application to create customer quotes. Meanwhile, all users have the ability to create a simulation of their railing configuration and then generate a materials list for shopping. Once the design is finished, it’s simple for customers to save and print out the materials list, which they can take to their local RDI dealer.
  • Therma-Tru® Doorways: Like the others, this is another mobile visualizer, but it works on all mobile devices and integrates with social media so users can post their creations and get input from others if they’re stuck between multiple options (mahogany and oak, for example). Product information is automatically stored in every design, and users have the ability to search for the nearest dealer of each product, bringing consumers and dealers closer together.
  • Ply Gem Designed Exterior Studio: While not a mobile app (must be accessed in a computer browser), Ply Gem has put together a great visualization tool for home exteriors. Users simply pick their home style, select an area of the home to change materials and colors, then select from stone, windows, siding, etc. Ply Gem recently added a new feature called MyHome, which allows a user to upload an image of his/her own house to modify.
  • Eldorado Outdoor™ Design Tool: I love this tool from Eldorado Stone. Like the Ply Gem one, this visualizer is for web browsers, but it is a seriously robust platform. You create your space based on layout size, then you can add in everything from cabinets to walls and fireplaces, appliances, etc. before you apply the Eldorado stone and brick of your choice. Like the others, it offers an easy way to save, print, share, and get quotes. With all of these features at your disposal, Eldorado Outdoor is not your average design tool.

A recurring theme of the blog lately has been a discussion of how the building industry will need to modernize in the coming years (see here and here for more). Integrating manufacturer apps into your sales and marketing efforts is a simple yet strategic way to meet the changing needs of today’s increasingly mobile/digital consumers. Whether you’re a manufacturer, a pro, a dealer, or you’re at some different point in the channel entirely, apps like these will be important parts of growing your business—in 2016 and beyond.

[*] http://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores/

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Is Housing Really Back?

3 Sep

Why That Question Might Be More Complicated Than You Think

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As anyone who works in building products can attest, this is not an industry for the weak of heart. The last few years have required everyone—from the manufacturers to the distributors to the dealers to the pros—to weather a lot of ups and downs. As we all know, the economy is now recovering from those difficult times, and so is the building products industry. But the real question on everyone’s minds is simple: is housing really back?

It may seem like a simple question, but the answer is far from it; in fact, the July 2015 Building Products & Construction Industry report from Piper Jaffray offers some important information on this topic:

  • Residential product manufacturers are up 19.4% over last year
  • Lumber/wood product manufacturers are down by 11.5% from 2014
  • Homebuilders have experienced modest growth over last year’s numbers—about 2.8%
  • Builder confidence and remodeling spending remain positive as of July 2015—an exceptionally good sign for residential product manufacturers

As most in the building products industry can agree, the big number will always be starts. In its heyday, the building products industry was at around 1.5 million starts. As of July 2015, housing starts in the US are up to 1,206,000—the highest since October of 2007.

So the question remains—is housing really back? You’re not likely to find a single answer on this, because a simple, universally agreed upon answer doesn’t exist. There are glimpses of great happenings in the industry including multi-family growth and remodeling growth, but most of us in the building industry agree that getting back to 1.5 million starts isn’t going to happen. Ever. Those times are gone—and maybe that is a good thing. We are back to numbers that are reasonable and—dare I say it—sustainable. The trick is now, as building product marketers, to capitalize on these upward trends to promote further growth.

Here’s a quick digest of relevant articles about the state of housing. Give them a read!

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The Next Big Trend for Building Products Marketing

25 Mar

…And How It Can Boost Your Sales

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Having worked in building products marketing for close to 30 years, I’ve seen firsthand how changes in the economy and homeowner mentality can affect trends in the building industry, design, and more. As the economy bounces back and a new generation of homeowners enters the market (and others find new ways to turn their current home into their dream home), one of the biggest trends in building will be exciting, beautiful outdoor living spaces that bring the inside out. A recent article from Hardware and Building Supply all but confirmed the impact this trend will have on the industry.

So as building products marketers, how does this trend affect us? It means we need to adapt. According to the article, “today’s homeowners are coming into the deck planning and building process more informed than ever before.” In other words, thanks to Pinterest, Houzz, and the rise of good content marketing, they’re able to travel incredibly far down the sales funnel before ever making contact with dealers. This heightens the need for more content and an increased push to social—despite the argument I often hear from those in the building industry, which is that social doesn’t apply to their audience.

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But it also means we will need to change the way we market these products. It will no longer be enough to show pictures of a nice pergola with some clever copy and expect to make a sale. It’s important to depict what that pergola can do for a buyer—that it can be wired for speakers, that it is a great place for a fire pit where homeowners can gather for late night drinks with friends, or a table for outdoor dining. And the copy needs to match the image, highlighting all the ways that these products contribute to an overall lifestyle that frees homeowners from the confines of their living or dining room. It’s a fundamental messaging shift that can’t be ignored.

Another standout fact is that regardless of their size and budget, homeowners want more than the traditional square space for decks and patios. That means that even if we are marketing a decking product, for example, the images we use should feature not only multi-level decks, curves, and cantilevers, but also accessories (chairs, grills, fire pits, dining sets) that define different functions and align with consumer interest. Ask yourself: how will they use this product in day-to-day life?

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Homeowners are now looking at their outdoor living space as an extension of their indoor living space, and have proven they’re more than willing to invest in high-quality building products to make that extension a reality. Homeowners want to spend money on these kinds of building products. So what are you doing as a marketer to capitalize on this trend?

To get all the insights from the article, click here. (Note: You will have to register to read it in full.)

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Colors That Will Guide the Building Products Industry in 2015

4 Sep

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The New Sherwin-Williams® 2015 Colormix Collection

As building products marketers, it’s important to stay ahead of the latest trends in the industry. The Sherwin-Williams® Colormix 2015 Collection offers a variety of color palettes for designers and other pros to consider when determining what looks will sell best in the coming months. By researching trends in art, fashion, science, and pop culture, the marketing team at Sherwin-Williams has produced four palettes of varying colors to forecast the design trends that will influence those in the building products industry and beyond in 2015.

The following four palettes should be a good starting point for those in the building products industry moving forward:

  • Chrysalis: Off-blacks, chalky neutrals, and dusty blues that evoke a sense of calm and comfort
  • Voyage: Vivid teals, greens, and purples that draw on science fiction, space tourism, and underwater adventure for more vibrant customers
  • Buoyant: Light and deep greens, corals, and purples inspired by vintage, quirky florals
  • Unrestrained: Saturated colors like yellow, turquoise paired against black and white to enhance rooms with bold, ethnic-inspired flavor

For more on the colors Sherwin-Williams is featuring in its 2015 Colormix Collection, check out this great article by K+BB.

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5 Big Myths About Building Product Branding

16 May

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What you don’t know could be hurting yours

Brand is a fun topic and lots of people have opinions about it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad information out there and that makes it more complicated than it should be, not to mention the fact that many people throw the term “brand” around without really understanding it. So here’s a short list of five simple myths about brand that every building products marketer should know:

#1 – Brand is a name or logo

Well, kinda. Those are certainly things a brand is associated with, basically the trigger for a brand, what identifies one brand from another. But to understand brand, we need to go deeper. My favorite explanation of brand comes from Marty Neumeier, who suggests brand is “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.” And that’s an important distinction to make, especially when we consider Myth #2…

#2 – You own a brand

Nope…and that is completely counter-intuitive. You see, you might own a name or logo, plus a tagline, website content, etc., but those “gut feelings” people have are uniquely theirs. You can’t own that, and yet that is the essence of a brand. So what you CAN own is the elements that impact the experience people have with your product or service—and you should, because it’s exactly what everyone else is using to develop their perception of your brand. From obvious things like quality and innovation to subtler items like website design and on-hold wait times, the elements that impact your brand are all around you.

#3 – Branding is putting our name or logo on things

It’s certainly a part of it, but only a small one. Want to know the biggest, baddest, most impactful way to build a successful brand? Here it is, free of charge: Make the experience match the expectation. There it is, the Golden Ticket to developing your very own Google or Apple (or Therma Tru or Masonite, for that matter). Of course, knowing it and doing it are completely different challenges. But the fact is Apple is known for innovation, Google is associated with results, and Amazon is trusted, not by accident, but because way more often than not, those brands have delighted people by delivering beyond expectation. That’s a positive experience consistently delivered, which builds trust, which builds brand.

#4 – Branding is the same as marketing

They are certainly related, but definitely not the same. Think of it this way: marketing is about delivering the message to your audience; branding is about delivering TO the message FOR your audience. In fact, an effective way to think about branding is “experience control”—all the work, effort, and strategy to ensure that what people experience is on target. That can be everything from how CSRs answer the phone to the quality of paper used in sales collateral. Consider that no matter how slick and new an airliner may be, the company logo sparkling on the bulkhead, that isn’t the airline’s brand; the surly flight attendant who snaps at you and screws up your drink order, for you, THAT is the brand. Ultimately, everything in the brand experience needs to deliver to a single message to build trust and preference.

#5 – There’s no such thing as bad press

This lazy approach to branding has seen some impressive names disappear over the years, even more so with the emergence of social media and the easy sharing of experiences. Today, unrestricted by any professional oversight, every blogger, every Yelp star, every Google “+1″ is all potentially a part of what people think (and feel!) about your brand. And the worst thing to do when something negative is shared is to do nothing at all, hoping the problem will go away. It won’t. So it’s important to keep the experiences and the conversations focused on the positive.

So what does this mean for you and your brand? Well, awareness is the first (and biggest) step. Always consider your brand from the audience perspective; not by what you’re doing, but by what they are experiencing. Knowing and understanding that perspective is critical to building a brand experience that can meet the expectations of those who will build—and talk about—your brand.

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