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When Selling Building Products, Opt for Simple

21 Apr

Lessons Learned from the 2016 ISC West Show

ISC West

As building products marketers, are we overcomplicating things? Do we consult with people down the channel—including customers and even our own sales teams—to make sure we are delivering the best information in ways that are easy to consume? Most importantly, who can we look to for simplification inspiration in the building products industry?

I recently attended the 2016 ISC West Show, the largest security industry trade show in the United States, with technical reps from more than 1,000 exhibitors and brands in the security industry. While there, I explored and learned about the rapidly growing segment of the connected home and the integration challenges of hardware and software in the security and door hardware industry.

The attendees of the show are typically security dealers. They sell in consumer homes, similar to a lot of building materials products. And, like a window or siding rep, they have to “win the kitchen table” if they hope to sell their product effectively down the channel.

One of the tours that did a great job of demonstrating how to “win the kitchen table” based on their product offering was the Tektronix® Connected Home booth. There, I learned how their integrated system connects the video doorbell to the alarm, the sprinklers, garage door, network-boosting light bulbs, and so on. Obviously, Tektronix is not the only company doing this, but for manufacturers not thinking about what homeowners want, this is where they need to start looking.

What I found amazing was one of the final items on the Tektronix tour, which displayed their “upsell kit.” It’s what a marketer might call a sales rep kit or in-home kit. Over the years, we’ve probably created dozens of these for clients, ranging from somewhat basic to very complex and expensive to produce. You’ve likely done these as well.

The upsell kit Tektronix showed at their booth is their most requested and used of all time. So what makes it unique? Triple fold-out panels with a wiring schematic that integrates all the cool features? Maybe some electronic component that connects via Bluetooth to the reps phone?

Nope. It’s simply a printed image of all the pieces that might normally go into the kit.Unknown

Yes, you read that right. The sample kit doesn’t have physical samples. It has pictures of them and a call out image on the inside flap of the box. It’s very light, so it’s easy to carry. It’s very cheap to produce so dealers can have several of these for all their reps.

These are home security items—technology items. These are items that protect the homeowner’s family. But even with all that, they don’t require a physical sample. I realize they aren’t picking a color or finish, but compared to what most in the building products industry have always done, many might consider it a “fake” sales kit. But for Tektronix, it works well—and suits both their customers’ and sales teams’ needs just fine.

So, I’ve challenged our team and I’m challenging you to think about this when developing your in-home sales kit and other sales enablement tools. Have you talked to the dealers to see what works or why they don’t use one item or another? Have you ever tried a completely different approach? Have you asked why your company does it that way?

And most importantly, have you asked yourself if there is a simpler way to do this? That’s what drove this change in their upsell kit. We can do this too—find things to simplify in our increasingly complex lives, both as people and as marketers.

 

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Lessons From The Builders’ Show

18 Feb

An Open Letter To Trade Show Exhibitors

Dear Friends,

According to the Convention Industry Council, trade shows added more than $280 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, drawing more than 225 million participants. That’s a staggering set of figures and it underscores the importance these shows play. As marketers, we all know exhibiting at trade shows can be vital to our business—to see and be seen, to market products and services, and to nurture relationships.

Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a variety of trade shows across numerous industries, the most recent at the building industry’s combined 2016 IBS & KBIS in Las Vegas.

And over the years, I’m struck by one constant of booths, regardless of time, region or industry…

Chances are, your booth sucks. It’s cramped, cluttered, and really boring.

While harsh, it’s also probably true. Worst of all, you probably know it. But take heart because you’re most certainly not alone in this. Everywhere, at every show, are long swaths of cluttered and uninspired landscape—overwhelming collections of shapes and colors, fixtures and messages, all masquerading as brand. It’s as pervasive and inescapable as it is predictable.

Why? When did this happen? When did it become okay to develop a trade show booth as if someone pitched the idea “You know what people will want to do after spending thousands of dollars and traveling hundreds of miles? To stand inside our 4×9 brochure!

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the reality we’ve all seen time and again—and sadly, what we’ve come to expect and attendees to accept. Throngs of people shuffling past a booth, each scanning over it and moving on. And that’s after you’ve spent—what?—tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of marketing budget, ostensibly to get exactly their attention.

So now that I’ve pointed out the obvious problem, let me point out the not-so-obvious remedy. The secret, the greatest missed opportunity, comes down to a simple idea that the majority of exhibitors overlook which is…want a hint? Here you go: International Builders’ Show, Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, International Consumer Electronics Show, SHOT Show, Club Industry Show, Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show…

Notice anything in common? They’re trade shows. And what is a show? It’s an event, a spectacle, something to witness and enjoy. It’s active, not passive—and that’s the key. If you were invited to “dinner and a show” you’d naturally expect to be entertained, and yet at trade shows, we invite people to come see us and then reward them with opportunities to stand around and read something. Where’s the spectacle? Where’s the pizazz?

Face it, contemporary trade shows are overgrown ice trays of bland inactivity. But there is hope, bright morsels of brilliance among the milquetoast masses.

As recently as the IBS/KBIS in Las Vegas, I found a few who got it right and as a result, got noticed—some with every chair filled and some with onlookers clogging the aisle (drawing even more to come and see what the buzz is about). Others would do well to follow their lead.

CertainTeed

IBS Certainteed

If you have the budget, go big and use celebrities. CertainTeed brought in HGTV star Mike Holmes for an appearance and photo opp, plus constructed a climbing wall. What does a climbing wall have to do with their products? It was lost on a lot of people. But see the woman in the foreground…she’s capturing it on her phone, probably sharing it with others. She’s sharing images of a B2B trade show booth unsolicited. Money shot, indeed.

GAF

IBS GAF

Don’t have big budgets for big talent? Go traditional and use models and simple RTW giveaways. Your own team is paid to be productive experts, but hired talent is paid to be charming, inviting, and generally attractive. At the GAF booth—just inside a major entry point—a smiling woman with a bubbly personality was getting grown men to register to win stuffed animals. And it worked; in the few moments it took for me to grab this picture, two men asked where to sign up.

Plastpro

IBS plastpro

I walked by the Plastpro booth a few times and each time I did, people were standing-room-only to watch a pro install a door. To most people, this would be a punchline, but to attendees it was interesting, valuable, and yes, entertaining. The presenter was upbeat and personable…and he presented, not simply talked. I’ll admit, I stuck around and learned how to square a door much easier than I used to (and I’m not even the target audience).

Okay, so it’s great if you have the resources for a 30×40 booth with big events and headline talent and boxes of prizes. But what about the 10×10 along the back wall? What about those who spent a third of their marketing budget just to get it all to the show?

Bad Dog Tools

IB baddog

For more than 10 minutes, I watched two men at Bad Dog Tools do nothing but demo their product and answer questions. No brochures, no giveaways, no models. Yet people were constantly lined up on two sides of the booth to watch drill bits bore through everything from rasps to brake discs. Bad Dog Tools could have made a video of it and had it looping while two of their salespeople sat on bar stools and watched attendees shuffle by and not stop, but instead they made the product the show. Brilliant.

What’s the takeaway? Don’t settle, make a spectacle. Create a booth that’s a destination, or at the very least, an interruption. Remember that people can get information about your products or services at your website, so use your trade show booth to interact with them in a way you can’t otherwise—and in a manner that doesn’t feel like you’re pressuring them to buy a timeshare.

And here’s one final thought to consider…

“People will pay more to be entertained than educated.” –Johnny Carson

So come on, marketers. Show us what you’re made of.

Sincerely,

Matt Hillman

ER Marketing, Creative Director

hillman

 

 

 

 

 

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IBS 2016: Innovation Starts at the End of the Channel

4 Feb

Why I’m Demanding a Disruption in Building Products Development

Trendsetters

It seems like every meeting I have been in over the last few months has the same common theme. When asking any building materials manufacturer what they want to be famous for, the one word I hear over and over is “innovation,” or being an “innovator,” or being “innovative.”

No matter the iteration of the word, they’re saying the same thing: they want to come to market with products that chart the path for the industry. The question is: what is anybody doing to really accomplish that? Just stating the word does not change the product development process or disrupt the industry with new and truly innovative products.

That’s why while I was at the 2016 International Builders’ Shower (IBS) and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), I was delighted to run across a company doing exactly that. Cosentino® is a building products company that develops stunning quartz and stone options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. One of their products, Silestone®, is a beautiful high-end surface made of 94% quartz.

But what makes this product so innovative is not just the advanced bacteriostatic technology or its incredible resistance and durability, or even its numerous designs; it’s the way Cosentino develops those designs.

Through the support of their Silestone Trendspotters, a diverse group of top designers from across the country, Cosentino creates new looks every year inspired by some of the most cutting-edge and forthcoming designs in the market. How do they accomplish this? Cosentino goes straight to the other end of the channel to talk to the people using their product (and, presumably, their competitors’ products), and then gets their insights to develop a product that will set the course for tomorrow’s trends.

Let’s be clear: these designers aren’t just choosing colors. Manufacturers everywhere bring in a designer or two to pick out colors; that’s nothing new. The Trendspotters is a team of designers from all different places across the country, from different points in their careers (some veterans, some up-and-comers), from different styles and backgrounds, from different philosophies and clienteles.

Cosentino made a bold move in picking them, flying them to Italy, and turning them loose to work with engineers, product developers, and others on the manufacturing team to create a product they collectively thought reflected where design is headed. The magic of this is in how fearless Cosentino was in being open to the opportunity of what could be made when this diverse team of forward-thinkers got access to their resources, intelligence, and the inspiration of Italy.

Here are two of the new looks from the Etchings collections created this year by the Trendspotters:

  • Ink EtchInk: This jet black design is a classic, clean, and simple showstopper in most decor. By complementing the boldness of the Etchings design with a timeless shade, homeowners can feel confident their choice won’t go out of style any time soon.
  • AquaTint EtchAquatint: Look familiar? Our Art Director, Stephanie Voss, wrote a blog last year about how calming blue hues like Pantone’s Serenity will influence the building products industry in 2016. Proof pudding.

This approach to product development and design is brilliant precisely because it seems so obvious—but it’s not. Not everyone in building products is doing this. In fact, a lot of manufacturers either base their designs on focus group input or simply create designs based on studies published through standard trade outlets. Both options have their place, but are also inherently reactive—not always the best option for companies who seek to be innovative.

But who better to tell building products manufacturers at the top of the channel where design is going than some of the top designers in the country? By using these designers’ “on the ground” knowledge, Cosentino’s Silestone product is poised to set the tone for other designers and consumers in the coming years.

It takes time, energy, patience, investment, and courage to utilize an approach like this—an approach that empowers someone outside of your company to not only influence product design, but to create it. But that is true innovation. It’s listening, it’s using resources, it’s collaborating, and it’s understanding the channel on every level and using those insights to better your product and better the entire industry. Using focus groups and studies is also necessary for understanding today’s trends, but setting tomorrow’s requires further channel insights—exactly what Cosentino is doing with its Trendspotters.

I’m certain that this new line is going to be a hit, but I’m even more certain that the process will open the building products world to even more innovative creations.

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 2/2)

28 Jan

Part Two: 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016

Indoor Outdoor Living

Every year, the International Builders’ Show (IBS) is the best place for marketers to keep a finger on the pulse of where the building products industry is going. The ER Marketing team and I attended this year, and we were able to learn everything from the latest marketing trends to a general economic housing outlook to the latest products that will impact everyone down the channel.

There’s no question that tech and high-performance homes are big, overarching trends to look for in 2016. But the show proved that neither of those trends can come at the expense of design, so the onus is on marketers at the higher end of the channel to educate their customers how these products can integrate into a home’s design beautifully and seamlessly.

Using our own team hashtag, #IBSDoubleTake, we captured the things that made us stop and take notice during IBS 2016. And they’re things you should take notice of, too—they’ll be impacting the way we market these products as we get deeper into 2016 and the coming years. Here are some of the design trends spotted at IBS 2016 by my team:

Top 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016:

  1. You are no longer in the building business. You are in the technology business. As customers at the end of the channel nutonebecome more and more tech-savvy (and tech-reliant), so too will their homes and the products they choose to build it with or put in it. Even down to seemingly simple products like this Nutone doorbell with 250 MB of space for custom doorbell rings/music, tech was the showstopper. Nutone did an excellent job of showing how a fun piece of technology can also inspire a clean and simple design aesthetic.
  2. Tech is big, but so is functionality. And new tech needs to integrate seamlessly into any design, including traditional, to be truly functional for customers. Wellborn Cabinets did that well with their remote control island—super functional, super classic, super innovative.Kohler Bath
  3. Lighting is big. Kohler highlighted the fact that whether in the home or in the booth, eye-catching lighting will be important for building products marketers to account for in 2016 and beyond. Consider how you might use unique lighting tactics to modernize your product photography as well.
  4. The style of the New American Home was “Rustic Modern.” What does that mean for building products marketers? Focus on a design that combines natural elements, textures, and colors with clean, simple, and crisp lines. In fact, the home executed this so effortlessly, it appeared to be a part of the natural landscape!New American Home 1
  5. Wondering how outdoor living plays in? Don’t worry—it hasn’t gotten away. In recent years, outdoor living has meant bringing amenities you would normally expect indoors (fireplaces/pits, speakers, covered seating) to the outdoors. Now it’s about bringing outdoor elements in with seamless, even tenuous, transitions from the indoors to the outdoors. This means floor to ceiling glass, pocket doors, cable or glass railing, clean lines, and corresponding design elements (like using recessed lighting and using the same flooring styles inside and outside, for example).

If you missed our post earlier in the week, make sure to read the Top 5 Marketing Trends building products marketers need to know from IBS 2016.

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 1/2)

27 Jan

Part One: 5 Building Products Marketing Lessons from IBS 2016

This year, several members of the ER Marketing team and I attended the annual International Builders’ Show (IBS) and KBIS in Las Vegas, NV. As anyone who has ever attended can attest to, this is a big event that can be overwhelming. We’re not talking your average trade show. It’s one of the biggest—if not the single biggest—event of the year in the building products industry. While there, you see all the cutting edge technology that will be setting trends for the coming years….not to mention educational sessions, model home tours, and more. And hey—as a bonus, it’s in Vegas. Who can complain?

While there, the ER Marketing team was using #IBSDoubleTake to share all the things that made us do a double take at the event—the things that really caught our attention. Here is a quick list of the top 5 marketing lessons those in the building products industry need to know.

Top 5 Marketing Lessons from IBS 2016:

  1. When it’s not easy to explain your products or services in a booth, sometimes it’s a good strategy to go all in on your brand. ARCAT did that well with their booth.
  2. When you can manage it, taking your booth from product showplace to play place can work well. CertainTeed’s wall climbing demo and celebrity guest, Mike Holmes, proved it; they had high traffic and buzz throughout the event.
  3. If your product is easy to install, don’t just say it—show it. Plastpro doors drew a crowd with some fundamentals of door installation. It just goes to show that good lessons are always interesting to those in building.
  4. Speed is now a matter of trustworthiness. Whether in marketing or customer service (and some would argue those lines are getting blurry), responding quickly is proven to increase trust with your audience.
  5. Booth tech makes a difference, especially when prospects can engage with it. Johnsmanville had a spray foam simulator at the event that felt a little like a game. We competed, using the actual install gun, virtually pointed at a screen so users could spray the fill area with a virtual, 3-inch expanding insulation. What a smart way to showcase this product!

If you want a taste of what it’s like to experience the IBS show in person, we also put together a short walkthrough video. You can view that video here. (Dramamine recommended—we cover a lot of ground.)

Look out for part two of this blog series—coming this week. We’ll be discussing the Top 5 Design Trends from this year’s IBS that building products marketers need to be aware of in 2016 and beyond.

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