Is it time for construction marketers to rebuild trust in their communications?

I recently spoke at Changing Communications, a biennial event hosted by CIMCIG, which followed on the back of the Construction Media Index research to update people on some trends within construction communications.

Gavin Tadman Joint MD

Gavin Tadman07.11.2019

I looked into the subject area of information sources and the wide choice to choose from:

• Exhibitions and events
• CPD presentations
• Online information networks (YouTube, Slideshare, etc.)
• Online Forums
• Online Product Directories
• Industry leaders/Influencers social channels
• Media outlet social channels
• Manufacturers/Brands social channels
• Online Search Engines
• Direct contact to a distributor
• Online chat support
• Manufacturer website
• Email a manufacturer
• Phone a manufacturer

An initial observation is that with much of this information now often freely available, as well as paid for, some are complaining of ‘information overload’. Add to this the fact that the quality of the information can differ widely, it is hard to know which information to trust.

So, as marketers communicating product benefits to specifiers, how do you pick through the choices of information sources apart and prioritise your time, resources and budget?

Referencing the findings from CMI survey, it shows that manufacturers websites and search engines are the most popular source of information and advice, followed by other forms of engagement, such as direct contact by phone or email with manufacturers.

The wider survey also reports that reputable industry magazines are still a vital source of information. Therefore, it is still important to provide these magazines with a supply of news and information releases, case studies and technical features, plus any formats to support digital publications, videos, animations etc.

I believe that this trust in established magazines (and related on-line sites), is for two reasons. Firstly, they are expected to be up to date and correct in the information they provide and, secondly, because the industry is so fast moving and changeable that there is a need to source the latest information, views and procedures.

In the same vein, all subscription-based information sources have a higher perceived value simply because there is a cost to them and the expectation is that the information is well sourced and factually correct.

However, as seen from the survey, access to free information is an obvious attraction, but this again has to be well sourced and credible, with the most outstanding figure I came across (as the change was so marked from the previous survey 2 years ago), that 90% of architects say that manufacturers websites are their first choice, or are regularly used, for product information and ideas.

Therefore, it is vital that as information providers, marketers need to make sure that they are delivering credible, reliable information, so that specifiers will continue to put their faith in product manufacturers.

Delving further into the survey, knowing who has provided the information adds to the level of trust - it does help if you are a well-established brand.
This establishment comes through all of your others comms activities

  • PR
  • Social
  • Advertising
  • Events
  • Literature
  • CPD’s
  • Sponsorship

A previous relationship will also add weight to this, as does face to face and direct contact being as important as ever in an ever-increasing digital industry. So regular sales calls, events, speaker opportunities and CPD presentations can should be maintained.

In the survey around 50% of architects regularly use CPD’s as a key information source. From experience, I know that bad CPD’s are just direct sales presentations and are thus rendered valueless. On the other hand, good CPD’s are at least effective in imparting knowledge. At best they should contain a hidden message – you want the specifier to be wary of making the wrong decision and therefore you need to identify what makes your offer different and stand out and justify all the clauses in a specification that match your offer – so start that way around rather than a broad sales message about your company. It’s in the detail that specifications are won and held.

If we take it as face value that a specifier puts a high level of trust in those companies providing the information, then what role does the marketer play? Quite an important one in my opinion.

As the selection and use of products is done by qualified professionals, architects, engineers, consultants, it is their duty to be on top of information and abreast of any changes, as to protect their professional integrity and be mindful of their professional indemnity.

Therefore, the onus passes on to the manufacturers to supply reliable information sources; they become the expert that the specifier relies on. But, if professionals put trust most highly in manufacturers information as the best source of information, the duty on the manufacturer to deliver correct, up to date information has never been more important.

Therefore, in any part of the technical offer, everything that is published has to be cross checked, verified and, most importantly, up to date.

There have been many instances where manufacturers deliver CPD’s, or offer specification details on products that are false, or misleading. Now, there is no malice intended on the part of the manufacturer, it is often an oversight on the details – simply not updating test results in light of new legislation, or referring to out of date building regs. Many are guilty of signing-off a piece of information and then delving back into it when needed. This could be the case for CPD presentations, pdf’s of technical information and most obviously technical content on a website.

Added to this there may not be a handover procedure from one person in a position of authority, in marketing, or technical, to their successor. The new person in the role may lack the knowledge, or simply assume that everything is up to date and publishes this loyally, yet blindly, leading to misinformation.

This may be excusable, but when it comes to accountability, especially where health and safety, or risk of fire may be an issue, more critical problems may come into play. Therefore, it is incumbent on the publisher to have the most up to date information available. Think – who has the responsibility within your organisation for this…

..should you have some procedure in place for fact checking – either internally, or to give it to third party experts to cross check?

This is even more pressing as since the publication of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt following the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK construction industry and fire sector have been working hard to meet the various challenges set for it. In the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Judith outlined a number of recommendations to improve the fire safety of buildings in the UK.

One of the key proposals is to improve the product testing and labelling process to give greater clarity to decision makers on the quality of building components – especially where changes are made to the approved specification. This includes a recommendation to minimise the use of ‘desktop studies’ as assessments of fire performance in lieu of testing. The report advises that these should only be used where full-scale testing is not feasible, due to the nature of the system.

In further support of the issues raised by Grenfell, The Construction Products Association set up a “Marketing Integrity Group” to specifically address Chapter 7 of the report, which challenges how product information is made available to the wider supply chain.

The CPA created a Marketing Integrity Group, with a core team of 20 marketing, communications and technical professionals from across the supply chain.
A survey has been conducted, to cover areas of interest, amongst them:

  • Ease of finding information
  • Product substitution
  • Completeness and correctness of information
  • Products as part of a system, or use in a variety of applications

The CPA’s Marketing Integrity Group recently published its findings which are available here.

And what of the future?

The survey states that currently only 15% of respondents use virtual, or immersive tools.

However, this is expected to accelerate, with 40% envisaging that their usage will increase in the coming year, with Hololense and Daqri, being the preferred tools.

So the trends show those surveyed moving to ever more digital tools – AI and VR, but as yet these haven’t had much take up by architects and less so by main contractors. However, on a purely digital scale, communications and transfer of information and knowledge through blogs, video and podcasts is on the rise.

In summary

  • You should know your products, their benefits and the best way to deliver these to your target audience
  • You need to keep this information up to date, especially any technical details, datasheets, CPD’s website
  • Offer variety in where you allow access to your information – don’t neglect the opportunity to get your information out there – make sure you use every means possible to get specifiers to visit your site.

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