Marketing in the post-COVID era: what tile and stone companies can do now

Marketing in the post-COVID era: what tile and stone companies can do now

September 2020

The Corona crisis has hit the construction sector hard. Yet, as the industry awakens, it is clear that we’re entering a different world.

NBS - the global technology platform that combines the best content and connectivity for anyone involved in the design, supply, and construction of the built environment - asked construction materials manufacturers about their experiences: three-quarters had seen a drop in sales and two-thirds a reduction in specification enquiries.

With the inevitable financial impact, it’s clear why many firms are reducing their marketing and advertising.

While this feels sensible, it might not be a good idea.  Looking at recessions dating back a century, and analysing advertising investments, those companies which increased marketing spend outperformed their competition.

So what does this mean in 2020, especially if you’ve got less for marketing?  Here are a few practical ways to ensure your company can maintain market share, even in these uncertain times.

Digital-first: Many manufacturers are re-investing their trade show budgets into digital approaches—a wise decision. A third of manufacturers we spoke to said they’d seen an increase in customers asking for digital information with two-thirds currently, or soon to be, providing more material in e-formats.

This is a bigger trend; McKinsey & Company researched UK B2B business purchasing. It found digital sales have doubled over traditional ones since the start of COVID-19. Digital is now the preferred research route for B2B purchases with the supplier website being the most important part.

All this underlines that now is the time to audit your digital assets.  Are they up to date and consistent?  In 2019, we did a joint study with the Construction Product Association (CPA).

This confirmed that, like everyone else, specifiers start research online.  If you google your products, what happens?  Can this be improved?  If you’re chosen by the installer, they’re moving online too.  Can they find and buy your adhesive or grout online easily?

Digital information is what specifiers need, including BIM components. Again, now is the time to plug the gaps.

Your product information needs to be in the correct format, ready to be dropped straight into the project specification. This is often where the final decision is made and recorded. A very powerful way to get specified is by using NBS Source, which presents information this way, making it really easy for designers to find and select your product when they need it.

What happens if there’s a question—can you answer it?  If your team is working remotely, where does the advice line divert to?  When someone needs help, they want it now, and the norm is being able to call, email or chat.  Don’t miss out on sales that have come to you.

This links to the next point, which is putting the customer at the heart of what you do.  We frequently hear from architects and installers about how frustrating and difficult it can be to get what they need from manufacturers.

Ask your loyal customers why they come back to you time and time again, consider creating an advisory panel to provide feedback and road test new lines.  If you lose a sale, see if you can get feedback on what can be improved. Listen, learn and tweak what you do.  

Ensuring your company gets chosen as many times as possible involves thinking holistically about your marketing. The days of print brochures and trade shows are over, so building, maintaining and establishing relationships digitally is crucial. However, while we’ve talked about making sure your website is fresh and technical product information is accessible (along with BIM components), this is only part of the journey.

The key is to craft a content strategy which can draw people to your website, using a wide range of channels such as social media, digital PR, email marketing and digital advertising. Have information available which ranges from explainers and how-tos through to trends and inspiration, all of which should be backed up with easy ways to find out more. As we marketers say, “make it sticky”.

Distribution and pricing: People are buying more online. Can your product be purchased this way? If it can’t, you’re missing out. Look at how you price what you do—is there a place for canny use of promotional or introductory pricing while keeping your brand equity high?

Learning: If your brand is chosen by specifiers, a great way to reach them is by helping them out with their development. Specifiers tend to be members of professional bodies such as RIBA, so they’re required to keep their skills up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). We’ve recently seen webinar attendance soar as people focus on sharpening their skills.

Specifiers and installers are still hungry to hear about the latest innovations, see inspirational projects and understand the technical details. As a manufacturer, it’s a great opportunity to remain relevant.

And now it can all be done remotely, which has a myriad of benefits as we exit the crisis. These include: reaching people across the UK and beyond, greater efficiency as travel time is removed and scheduling sessions to suit practices (you can even keep pre-recorded content fresh with live Q&A sessions).

Keep up relationships: Beyond CPD, ensure you and the sales team are in contact with specifiers and fabricators you know personally to find out how they’re finding things. It’s a worrying time, so a human touch is welcomed, especially one without an overt sales message. We’ve enabled a new feature in our cloud specification platform, NBS Chorus, which allows manufacturers and specifiers to write a specification together online and in real time—a powerful way to build a digital relationship.

Get ready for new regulation: As well as coping with the continued fallout of coronavirus and Brexit, there is new regulation coming down the line, with the government having published the outline reform for building regulations in April. It’s wise to prepare for it now.

This will have a direct impact on manufacturers, especially around product information.

The requirements will be for standardised formats with detailed performance data, as well as providing third-party accredited performance data. Specifiers will be able to make an informed choice between similar products easily.

Opportunities are there, although doing business will be different. While your audiences are now online, there are still many ways to build relationships.
In conclusion: think digital, drive sales.

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