What If Everything You Knew About Developing and Marketing Building Products Was Wrong?


I recently came across two articles that had me thinking about the path to developing products in the building materials industry and the path to marketing them in a new way. Both paths share a common thread: desire.

Building material companies could benefit from understanding both paths.

Each article offers ideas for how to take an existing building product or material and open it up to new markets. 

The first article suggests focusing on problems, not people.

“A Ridiculously Simple Tool for Building Products People Love” in Fast Company focuses on the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory of innovation introduced by Clayton Christensen, which matches products with problems, not people. 

Jobs-To-Be-Done is a different way for companies to look at B2B customers. It helps product engineers think about what a customer needs, not who they are, what their demographics are. It focuses on the circumstances in a customer’s life that create a problem to be solved.

“With an understanding of the ‘job’ for which customers find themselves ‘hiring’ a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.” Christensen Institute

The article includes a structure to help align product development, research, sales and marketing around a simple statement:

When ­­­­­­­­­_____________ (what is the situation?) I want to ­­­­­­­­­_____________ (what is the desire?) so I can ­­­­­­­­­_____________ (what is the outcome)

The example given in the article is how Snapchat took on the problem that people faced when they wanted to share intimate life moments with a select group of friends without compromising their public persona shared on Facebook.

“For example, Snapchat’s Job Statement in 2011 might’ve been:

When I’m experiencing something crazy/amazing/personal, I want to share that moment only with the right people and for the right amount of time, so I can share my life without compromising myself publicly or professionally.” Fast Company

The temporary nature of Snapchat flew in the face of convention when it was developed. At the time, other apps were focused on generating high res keepsake images rather than fleeting images meant for few eyes.

By focusing on a problem and not a person, the developers of Snapchat were able to design a solution that people desired.


What Does That Mean to You?

Let’s take a hypothetical look at a company that makes a vapor barrier product and apply the J2BD statement to it. Does it allow us to look at product development or how we market in a new way?

Here is one way it could:

When ­­­­­­­­­I bring my newborn home from the hospital, I want to make sure it is to the healthiest environment so I can relax and enjoy my family instead of worrying about getting sick from mold.


When I buy a home, I want the structure to be protected so I can reap the financial rewards of my investment.

Most vapor barriers are sold based on what they do, not what problem they solve. As a marketer, filtering my messaging through either one of these statements makes for more personal and powerful communications. It also identifies a counterintuitive media buy—baby magazines.

Entering parenthood is an exciting and anxiety-filled time. Every parent’s greatest fear is that they will somehow unknowingly harm or hinder their child. It’s easy to get the right car seat, choose organic baby food and make sure the crib is free of blankets and pillows [MF8] as per current pediatric safety guidelines. The anxiety lies in what you don’t know that you don’t know until it’s too late. The first sign of mold spores in the air might be a difficult-to-diagnose allergic reaction.    

And, if I were a product engineer, I would think about adding a color such as pink or blue to the product—people could select one to match their baby’s gender. Or color it green for the environment, good health and money.

Maybe this is a million dollar idea.

Maybe it isn’t.

Either way, using the J2BD statement made me think in a very different way.

How could you apply the J2BD statement to your product?


Lines of Desire

Another way of thinking about paths and desire came from an article shared by a client: “Tracing (and Erasing) New York’s Lines of Desire” in The New Yorker.

What are desire lines and why would a building products distributor be interested in them?

“Desire lines, also known as cow paths, pirate paths, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), and Olifantenpad (elephant trails), can be found all over the city and all over the world, scarring pristine lawns and worming through forest undergrowth. They appear anywhere people want to walk, where no formal paths have been provided. (Sometimes they even appear despite the existence of formal paths, out of what seems to be sheer mulishness—or, perhaps, cowishness.)” The New Yorker

Desire lines both fascinate and infuriate landscape designers and property owners alike. What it comes down to is this: Despite the fact that they came up with a well-thought-out, creative and visually pleasing plan, desire inspires people to create their own pathways.

My client asked us to think about the concept of lines of desire in terms of marketing his product. Were we attempting to shove specifiers down a path with our preconceived notions of how it should be rather than how it was? Expansive thinking from a smart client is always welcome. Are we making assumptions?

When reviewing the customer journey for building products and materials, I often find that manufacturers are caught up in what it should be, rather than what it is.


In the building materials and products industry, a clear path to on-site installation has been mapped out and is widely accepted as truth. The manufacturer hires a sales team of reps who introduce architects, designers and builders to their products and materials. They, in turn, sell them to homeowners and property developers. Once the product has been specified and approved, purchasing agents buy the products and they are installed. End of story.


If we look at the lines of desire path, we see that it is not as straightforward. Some sales are driven by installers, some are driven by property owners and some by purchasing agents. The more frequently a product in question needs to be reviewed for performance, price, installation, lead times, etc., the greater the back and forth and increased opportunity for manufacturers.

We have a client whose 3D laser scanning service is specified by architects BUT whose value is appreciated by property owners. Developers have the most to gain by using this service as it can save them hundreds of thousands of dollars on some jobs. It is basically an insurance policy to greatly reduce the number of in-field changes. Those who know and understand its value have created their own lines of desire and request that the architecture firm use this service for their projects. We followed the path and set up a marketing campaign to leverage desire and amplify the message to those who did not know.

Marketing directly to purchasing agents is another line of desire path that many companies overlook. Purchasing agents are often viewed as a point of weakness in the journey because they often make substitutions if the specification is written as “Same” or “Equal.” And, even more maddeningly, they sometimes change out building products or materials for a better product.

Case in point:

A boutique hotel hired visionary interior designers to bring their brand to life. Unfortunately, the design firm specialized in residential design. Specifying furniture that can stand up to the wear and tear of a family is one thing, specifying furniture that must stand up to thousands of touches every single day for several years and still look stunning is another thing entirely. In this case, the purchasing agent was wise enough to have the same furniture custom-made but by a manufacturer who specialized in FF&E for commercial hospitality.

This same purchasing agent is very careful to change specifications for most products imported from Asia for several reasons:

  • Long lead times

  • Poor quality control (including receiving some blood-stained carpet)

  • Incomplete shipments

If you have a building product or material that is manufactured in the United States, purchasing agents need to hear from you. Follow their line of desire to grow sales through increased specifications.

2017 is shaping up to be a great year for building materials and products sales only if companies don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Remember Snapchat. By being anti-Facebook, a software company was able to become the next billion dollar app and capture a market (youth) with a lot of buying power. Innovation takes innovative thinking. I challenge you to put Jobs-2-Be-Done and Lines of Desire thinking to your product and company.


Susan Milne

Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING SPECIFIED: HOW ARCHITECTS AND INTERIOR DESIGNERS SPECIFY ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS AND BUILDING MATERIALS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call: 804.377.0106.