Consumers are sold on doing good.
The building industry can learn a lot from purposeful
brands. Almost as much as purposeful brands can learn from builders.
While “purposeful” is new, the term “brand” may be one of
the most overused words in the marketing dictionary. When I ask builders what
their brand is, many will respond by handing me their business card or pointing
to their sign; equating their logo with their brand. In fact, your logo, your
colors and other physical things are part of the process of branding, but your brand is much bigger than
I like to define a brand as the emotional response a
consumer experiences when interacting with your business. That includes the
sight of your logo, to a conversation with your warranty team. It’s not just
your intention, but also the consumer’s response to it.
Before I lose you, I know that most builders don’t think
brand matters that much to their business. Or they only care that their brand
is equated with “quality.” It’s hard to argue with the idea that brand is less
important to a builder than it is to consumables like Coca-Cola – where
consumers make daily purchase decisions. Homes are not bought that frequently,
and consumers can sometimes buy solely based on location and in spite of a builder’s brand.
A preferred brand gives a builder at least two specific
advantages. Unless you’re fortunate enough to build where there’s zero competition,
you might care that your brand can be what allows you to edge out the
competitor who builds a fairly similar house. A well-established appealing
brand, as it’s reflected in your entire customer experience, can be one of the
most valuable tools in securing referrals. Brand matters here most of all for
The strongest brands appeal to a consumer’s identity. They
buy from a company because it is who they are. Buying from another
company would force them to change their perception of themselves. This is
where purposeful brands mean business.
A purposeful brand is one that has a demonstrated mission
other than profitability; a brand that is driven to do good, sometimes
charitable, things and measures those activities as an important part of its
success. These brands are sometimes referred to as double-bottom-line companies
– a profitability bottom line and a
“social good” bottom line.
“Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to
sustainable energy.” Tesla is a car company without the word ‘car’ in their
mission statement. This is an extreme example, but an example nonetheless, that
a purposeful brand is about something bigger than the consumption of a product.
But, seriously though, don’t take the word ‘home’ out of your mission
You may know of the brand Toms. “With every product you
purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.®” Mostly a
shoe retailer, Toms has made giving a primary part of their message.
Surveys have shown that purpose driven brands are more
desirable to most consumers, and that consumers are even willing to pay a
little more to do business with them. In 2016, consultancies BBMG and
GlobeScan, reported on a consumer category they called “Aspirationals,”
accounting for 40% of the 21,000 people surveyed. “Aspirational consumers are
looking for brands to stand for something bigger than product benefits. They
want brands to embody an inspiring ethos, to bring a strong point of view, and
take action to make a positive impact in the world,” said Raphael Bemporad,
founding partner at BBMG. According to Keith Weed, the chief
marketing and communications officer global consumer products brand Unilever,
“In the US, responsible consumption products have grown around 9% annually in
the past three years. For our brands, we outpaced the global average with a 10%
increase in sales for those communicating on sustainability.”
It’s true, Tesla and Unilever have little connection with
the housing industry. And while these brands do an excellent job of
communicating their purpose, it is home builders that have the advantage for
demonstrating a second bottom-line. Builders and developers are contributing to
their communities at almost every turn, but rarely talk about it, and get credit
for it even less often.
No one is doubting that builders are capitalists, and
businesses are run to be profitable. But profit is rarely the only good that
comes from what we do. Builders have an opportunity to position themselves as a
purposeful brand just by talking about those impacts.
- Builders preserve acres of land to offset density.
- Builders plant thousands of trees.
- Builders upgrade nearby roads and intersections.
- Builders allocate land for new schools in master
- Builders create jobs and support the local businesses
surrounding their communities.
- Builders invest in community parks, playgrounds and
- Builders replace older, energy-wasting houses with new
- Builders create enduring architectural statements that
become part of a community’s culture.
Say it everywhere.
To become a purposeful builder brand, incorporate these
things you’re already doing into your messaging and communications; not as an
afterthought, but as a core part of the conversation. Details of your
contributions should be part of the story on your website. It should be
reflected in your advertising. It should be present in your sales office and
Speak in numbers.
Make the numbers relatable.
Calculate the total number of trees your company has planted
in a community, or since inception. Tally the total square feet of parkland or
public space in a new development. Then, provide a relatable metric to help the
consumer understand the impact. For example, “Last year, ABC Homes planted over
12,000 trees, offsetting the annual CO2 emissions of more than 240 SUV’s.”
Those aspirational consumers will be paying attention.
The purpose is part
of the story, not the offer.
Homes are not like soap and soda. Location matters. Don’t
expect a consumer, no matter how aspirational they are, to buy from you if
you’re not building where they want or need to live. Your advertising still
needs to communicate where, what and how much.
This is our story.
Builders and developers are leading purposeful progress
every day, but we’ve let the opposition and the cynics take those narratives
from us. The act of home building is noble and innately purposeful. Our
industry provides the shelter and the environment where the most important
moments of life happen. As part of our everyday business, we’re directly
contributing to our communities. Let’s talk about it.
Dennis O’Neil has spent the last 17 years selling and
marketing new homes. He is President of ONeil Interactive; a full-service
advertising and marketing agency for home builders best known for their
innovative digital products and website design. Dennis can be reached at
410-584-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear Dennis speak at IBS 2018.