Can it be… that the post-pandemic world is really approaching? Just this March, we were all scouring the aisles of our local grocery stores for toilet paper. Do we even remember the BeforeTimes when people used to “zoom” in fast cars and only wore masks during Halloween? According to new projections, up to half of all Americans could be vaccinated by June of 2021, while another third of the population by then may have acquired immunity.

So, will we all be back together at trade shows by next summer — unburdened by the pandemic — even if we’re claiming that, “it’s not the same as before”?

The world that emerges in 2021 will be altered — in subtle, or perhaps dramatic, ways. Now is not the time to be overconfident… as likely shifts in the way we work, our residences and buildings, the drivers of the economy and the delivery of media may have been forever altered.

After virtually every previous recession, we’ve “licked our wounds” and realized that our wealth had been bruised. That the housing market had suffered a tough, body blow — or even collapsed, as was the case in 2007.

According to Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker, “The housing crash set back millions of Americans on the path to having their own place to call home, whether they owned or rented it. Between a wave of foreclosures, rising rents, and under building of new homes, the housing market became much harder to crack into from 2006 to 2017.” He added, “the sooner we can put the pandemic and 2020 recession behind us, the sooner access to housing can resume its expansion.” 

And particularly reassuring as a follow-on to Tucker’s recent forecast, November housing starts were just reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,547,000… 12.8% above the November 2019 rate year-over-year, according to the U.S Census Bureau. 

The New Home Pending Sales Index by Zonda — formerly Meyers Research — rose to 168.9 in October… up 45.8% on a year-over-year basis. “Housing demand is not letting up, and the best thing about today’s market is that the strength is largely fueled by real families looking to take advantage of low mortgage rates to buy a home and fulfill their American dream,” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda.

Graph showing the trend of home sales from 2016 to 2020.

Yes, home prices are setting records. And many upper middle class audiences — who our clients traditionally target — have money to spend as a result of this year’s delayed travel and vacation plans. What’s more, low interest rates and a surge of family-forming millennial households may well provide a strong boost to next year’s housing momentum. As the availability of buildable land remains a challenge — and a shortage of skilled labor continues to plague our industry — demand looks like it will continue to outpace supply. 

For the first time, supply chain disruption is reported as our channel’s greatest challenge — beating out economic uncertainty and recession and further hinting at an optimistic outlook for 2021 — as manufacturers ramp up production in response to demand. Appliances and cabinets are most impacted, while other luxury products are facing delays in lead times and backorders as well. Increased pipeline demand is yet another promising indicator — with 53% seeing larger pipelines of projects and orders in Q3 2020 — compared to the same period last year.

While social movements and climate-related events are apt to continue to raise their disruptive attention, there is nevertheless much we can control… as the new year dawns.

Content will continue to be just as important as ever. However, it’s important not to be complacent by emphasizing quantity over quality. It’s never been about the more you have. The Internet, after all, is loaded with content. “Great” content is another matter. Audiences will continue to be starved for information — and if your Building Product brand can be the one to provide it — you increase your odds of winning attention, loyalty… and resulting sales. So, if providing quality content is one of your marketing New Year’s Resolutions — and it should be — here are some tips for doing that.  

Meet them where they already are  
Create your own bubble and own your community. Audiences watch YouTube videos. And spend time on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. So, it’s critical to invest time in understanding where potential customers aggregate… and meet them there with great content. Be amazing online. Audience members are willing to opt in by allowing your brand into their world… if you provide the information, entertainment and value they desire. A great example of this is Lowe’s — our Building Products Brand of the Year award winner — which unveiled a series of mini-stories on Instagram.

Putting everything in context  
Do you still believe your audiences will respond to feature/benefit sales pitches in 2021? Too many marketers, unfortunately, will persist next year in relying upon this once impactful, but arguably dated, strategy. Commit to not being one of them. Instead, be fully immersed in the understanding of what your product or service really means to prospects — and create the context that surrounds how they use it. Tell better stories… that will in turn, resonate better with your target audiences.

Ambassadors are not just for countries 
Yes, brands are expected to be well represented in the marketplace by their products. But the very best brands… are also represented by influencers. Influencers who should be the target and/or subject of great content. After all, you’re not merely a product or service… you’re a belief system. And audiences are attracted to others who share the same values as they do.  This “just like me” theory builds audiences, advocates and strong communities. Influencers can be used to reach prospects — putting a human face on your brand. But don’t limit ambassador programs only to outsiders. What about future employees as well? In a recent campaign, 84 Lumber compared the qualities of the people they look for… to those of astronauts. 

Know thy audiences 
Instead of mass markets, seek niche audiences. Building Product brands have more than one purchaser or specifier. So, rather than developing universally-targeted content, consider instead what makes each audience segment unique. Make an effort to understand their distinct pain points — what solutions each audience is looking for and what media and tools they prefer to use for communicating. Only then can brands like yours develop messaging that will truly resonate with each segment.

A common way to accomplish this is to develop (or refresh existing) buyer personas — creating representative “characters” that align with a specific buyer type – project manager, architect, interior designer, etc. Personas help to ensure that each segment receives messaging and information that is focused upon their unique needs and perspective… which is particularly critical in cases where several decision-makers are involved. Personas also allow your brand to connect with these distinct audiences on a deeper level and create an emotional connection that will endure over sales life cycles and contact changes. 

Timing is everything 
Not everyone is moving through the buying journey at the same pace or looking for the same information at the same time. While some prospects are in the “discovery and information gathering” phase, others already know what they’re looking for and are ready to hear why your product or solution best fits the bill. In the case of your existing customers, they already know your brand but might be seeking additional products or services.

Take the time to consider what your audiences already know. What more they wish to learn. And how they want to learn about it. Identify where they are in the sales funnel — awareness, consideration, intent, trial. Or retention and loyalty. Then focus your messaging and content delivery accordingly. For example, when prospects are in the awareness or consideration stage, it makes sense to connect with them through their current situation — letting them know you understand their challenges and reassure them that your brand knows how to solve those opportunities. Which helps you to build credibility and engender trust.

As prospects move further through the funnel, you can shift gears and share how your specific product/offering can meet their particular needs. When your sensitivity is authentic, prospects will feel like you “get them,” which goes a long way in building affinity for your brand — and will increase the chance of conversions.

Set your brand apart 
To be effective, your messaging should clearly differentiate how your offerings are better than the buyer’s existing solution — and your competitors’ offerings. Will your product or service help prospects save time or money? Reduce risk? Help them gain market share? Achieve better margins or higher ROI? Clearly state what makes your brand stand out from the commoditized offerings in the channel. And, validate those claims with social proof… including testimonials, case studies and infographics featuring relevant stats.

First and foremost, you want your messaging to be relatable. Use the language and terms that your prospects and customers use on a daily basis, avoiding jargon. And, make sure you deliver your messages consistently over time across all of your communications channels. New Years is the ideal time to revisit your messaging.

Acknowledge what you’re not. Keep in mind that too many messages can become confusing for prospects and customers. Unique Selling Propositions get jumbled up, becoming challenging to keep it all straight. Likely, there will be some overlap in what your different target audiences care about. Focus on the commonalities, and then look for different ways to communicate them.

Make your messaging count 
There are a number of ways to see if your messaging is resonating with your core audiences. For example, you can look at “open” and “click-through” rates for your email campaigns. Are landing page and micro site traffic trends consistent? Or have your results been sliding? Pay attention to your website analytics. Are visitors staying on your site and exploring it? Are your bounce rates increasing? If so, the end-of-the-year is an opportunity for a messaging refresh plan.

Over the course of 12 months, priorities shift, market factors change and new challenges arise. Make sure you’re in touch with your prospects’ and customers’ current needs and what they’re looking for right now.

Even subtle changes in your messaging strategy will demonstrate that you’re paying attention and will help to build a more authentic connection with your prospects and customers.

In preparation for 2021, make a resolution to re-evaluate your brand’s messaging to make sure it’s still hitting the mark. Keeping your messaging fresh and relevant will go a long way in helping to ensure your Building Products brand is satisfying your stakeholders’ needs — now, and in the New Year.

Take stock of your sacred cows 
This is the time of year when people assess their lives and make promises to themselves to be better. They make resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, read more and a myriad of other self-improvement goals. It’s also a time for businesses — especially marketers of Building Products — to do the same. Every marketing organization has a number of practices and approaches that are being challenged by the changing dynamics of an evolving marketplace. Yet, they still too often cling to the familiar… because “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

We like to call them sacred cows. Those marketing tactics that have been used forever, despite their declining efficacy. The end of the year, and the beginning of the next… is the perfect time to examine those tactics and adjust as needed.

Like the garage — are there big, space-consuming parts of your marketing plan that are becoming less and less useful — and are in need of rethinking?

One way we like to avoid this predicament is by following our own 80/20 rule. Committing to that rule, we identify the 20 percent of our activity from the previous year that didn’t perform as well as other campaign results, and cut it out. Of course, in order to really evaluate results … every program must be measurable. With that 20 percent gone, we have more “blue sky” and brain power with which to innovate. We look for new ways of doing things. New approaches that will keep us ahead of the curve and help us reach new heights in the year to come.

What’s in your 20 percent? Are your sales people creating their own marketing materials? Is your print advertising stagnating? Now is the time to re-evaluate all of your marketing activities. Be honest with yourself about what’s not working, and don’t be afraid to slay the sacred cows. But, the thing is, the time to do this is not just before the New Year.

Make innovation a year-round process 
When most people make New Year’s resolutions, they are gung-ho about sticking to them… for about six weeks. Then, for most, comes the backslide to old habits. The same thing happens in marketing. Marketers often go into planning mode in the fall, doing all of their innovation under the specter of looming deadlines and defined budgets. And a ramp-up to February’s International Builders’ Show — this year to be experienced virtually. Then, in the new year, little changes. And sacred cows flourish in the pasture… soaking up precious resources for minimal gain.

This is something Building Product brand marketers must guard against. Instead, be intentional about making innovation a year-round endeavor.

One of our regular practices is to set aside time each quarter for developing new ideas. It’s built into our calendar… which prevents our client-agency partnerships from getting stuck in any potential ruts. That process has many benefits, including consistently bringing in fresh ideas. It also frees the practice of innovation from the shackles of timing and budget. And allows new ideas to grow and be considered, based on their merits. Most important, it keeps brands fresh, and helps prevent our clients’ sales and marketing teams from sliding back into old, ineffective practices.

The year 2021 puts us fully two decades into the new century. And we’re a far cry from the Fed’s policies of raising rates — in the Greenspan era of Y2K — which stood at 6.5% that year. Rather, we are peering across the New Year with a surge in home buying and renovation, and record home-mortgages rates, which are now down to 2.7%. Yes, the pandemic will be with us a while longer. But, remember, the plague of the Middle Ages was followed by the great rebirth known as the Renaissance. And the Roaring Twenties followed the flu of 1918.

We hope that the New Year brings you new hope. And your brand a successful and enduring future.