It’s easy to get lulled into complacency when the housing industry is at the top of its game. In fact, The National Association of Realtors Affordability Index, which looks at three key metrics — home prices, mortgage rates and wages — and boils them down into a single number, hit 173 last month. This is notably one of the “most affordable” levels since records began in 1971. At the same time, the country is actively acclimating to a new set of realities.

Yet, resting on laurels can spell doom for any brand… even successful ones.

Remember Blockbuster? Was it really that hard for the once undisputed “category captain” to recognize the opportunity that streaming video service providers clearly saw?

Were they clinging to a past… that didn’t exist anymore? Or, maybe, they just kept doing things the same way — for no reason other than — well, that’s how they had always done things. And simply locked themselves into a niche, that the world ultimately left behind.

Every brand and every business is different. But all building product brands can fall into the same traps.

Here are eight critical mistakes that must be avoided to remain relevant… in an always-evolving industry landscape.

Defining your brand too narrowly

The great rail companies of the 19th and early 20th centuries were the most dominant business entities of their time. And, as such, most saw themselves as offering the most cost-efficient bulk delivery option for their customers. Rather than… considering the potential to transform industry by delivering an innovative, integrated supply chain opportunity.

As roads improved and internal combustion engines grew smaller and cheaper, the successful rail companies understood that they had to evolve into intermodal solutions — from ship, to rail, to truck — without the need for unloading cargo.

Ask yourself: Is your branding too narrow? Are there bigger pictures you may be missing? Will your brand be able to change with the times? Is your brand agile enough to shift and expand… as it may well need to, in the future?

Defining your brand too broadly

General Electric (GE) started out in 1880 as a collection of Thomas Edison’s various lamp, electric motor and electric socket manufacturers. By the year 2000, GE was the most valuable company in the world. With top tier business units involved in everything from television production to mortgages to plastics to computers. In fact, GE was one of the first 12 companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

In the subsequent two decades, however, the company was removed from the Dow Jones Index… with collapsing profits and red ink dominating its balance sheets. GE had expanded — then collapsed spectacularly — as it ventured into unfamiliar territories. And, ultimately, lost sight of what it actually did well.

Ask yourself: Is your building product brand trying to be too many things at once? What are you really good at? What is your Unique Selling Proposition?

Limiting your brand to a single distribution channel

From the ‘50s to the ‘80s, the plastic storage containers stacked in cupboards in most American kitchens were Tupperware. At the time, the iconic brand was promoted as an exclusive item that only could be purchased at a “Tupperware Party” where a hostess demonstrated the products. And took orders. Tupperware clung wholeheartedly to that distribution model… despite a radical shift in American lifestyles and shopping habits.

Of course, Tupperware still can be found on shelves next to Pyrex and Corningware. But its presence has been dwarfed by numerous competitors selling through big box retailers and online discounters.

Are your loyalties to particular distribution channel partners limiting your brand’s potential for growth? Are there new methods to go-to-market… without negatively impacting your core business?

Loss of brand value due to economic conditions

In uncertain times — or when stakeholders seek increased margins to compensate for fear of channel forces — cutting back on marketing can begin to look like a tempting way to limit costs. But repeated studies show that constricting marketing initiatives… can actually reduce revenue over the longer term.

A case in point: In the 1920s, Post was the industry leader in ready-to-eat cereal. Yet, during the Great Depression, Post significantly reduced its marketing efforts. Meanwhile, its chief rival, Kellogg’s — in response — doubled its own advertising budget. And invested heavily in a seemingly obscure media channel… radio.

So, how did the challenger brand leverage its cereal product without the requisite breakfast table advertising visuals? Well, Kellogg’s launched its “Rice Krispies” by investing in a signature “snap, crackle, pop” mnemonic and resulting tagline, with corresponding brand mascots. Which elevated that radio campaign into a true cultural touchstone. The result? Kellogg’s profits grew by 30 percent and the company became the category leader… a position it has maintained ever since.

Is your marketing plan “grandfathered” with sacred cows? Instead, set specific metrics for your marketing and track results against those objectives. Determine new channels — based on audience analytics to create disciplines and engagement. Then, focus on those. Ensure that, regardless of the economic realities, your brand stays visible.

Not delivering on brand promises

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Period.

How often has your cell phone provider’s “unlimited data” plan proved to be something less than unlimited… after a couple of weeks of heavy use, when your data speeds are abruptly throttled? During the recent lockdown, did one of your kids “borrow” your phone and use it as a hot spot to download the entire run of “Gossip Girl?”

Similarly, what do your warranty exclusions say to the channel… about your own building product brand?

Keep your brand promises clear. Elevate your user experiences.

Commit to better framing expectations. And exceeding them.

Not focusing enough on core brand benefits

All refrigerators keep food cold. People know and expect that. Yet, with great marketing… you can make them even cooler.

Instead, think in terms of what unique benefits to consumers your brand can deliver. Does your refrigerator incorporate a new technology that keeps food fresher longer? Does it consume less energy? Or make the fastest ice on the planet? Make sure to promote those brand differentiators.

Concentrate your messaging on benefits your competitors miss or can’t deliver on. And gain competitive advantage.

Making too many “good points”

More is not always better. Audiences have a short attention span… and mere seconds available to capture it. You may think your product’s features and benefits outweigh the competition. But a list is not going to impress even the most ardent skeptics. However, a unique selling proposition — that is engaging and memorable — will make a difference.

Ask these questions of all of your communications: Does our content quickly and clearly communicate the most compelling reasons… to choose our brand? Is it believable? Is it “authentically” ours, to own?

Not keeping up with industry shifts

Always remember — that no matter how big your advantage may be today — it could be severely diminished tomorrow.

Kodak was once synonymous with snapshots and film processing. But Kodachrome eventually yielded to smart phones… which gave the marketplace high-resolution digital cameras, as an added-value. How successfully can one compete with… free?

“World Books” were once the state of the art in encyclopedias … and were found in nearly every home and classroom. But along came the Internet — and Wikipedia. Now, nobody under the age of 50 even recognizes brand names like Encyclopaedia Britannica. Let alone… Funk & Wagnalls.

Remember when America Online (AOL) was, arguably, the first tech titan. And was once so powerful, that it bought Time Warner in the largest corporate merger ever seen. But its walled-garden approach to the Internet doomed it to irrelevance while Google seized the opportunity to advance to the forefront.

Rise to the Challenge

Yes, marketplaces are competitive — that’s what makes them so exciting — and so challenging. Competing effectively means your building product brand must remain agile, and aware, on the jobsite today. While always keeping one eye on tomorrow. 

The job of leadership is to “look around the corner” and evaluate every possible brand engagement through a filter of potential, actionable insights.

For example… Is a new opportunity related to our core competency? Will it be solving a problem directly related to our current area of expertise?

Will this opportunity help build — and reinforce — our reputation? And will it contribute to our sustainability into the future?

Does this opportunity have the potential to help us leverage adjacent capabilities that complement our equity in our positioning strategies?

That’s why, more than ever… it’s important to partner with the right source to help develop strategic — and highly impactful — branding investments. Whether you’re looking for help with a new product launch, someone to analyze your market channel and customer journeys, or a brand refresh… K&A can help. Send an email to Steve Kleber at to learn more.