Marketing Building Materials Starts With Insight


I love my business. I’m so grateful to be able to work with companies in the building industry. Building is positive, it’s hopeful—it’s the perfect combination of art and science. Design and building make order from a chaotic world. I am proof that living in a beautifully designed house can change your life. Most days feel like a vacation getaway in my home because it just works. Great design is pure magic.

Every day I sit down with my team to create sales and marketing materials for manufacturers.  Whether the sales journey is through specification by architects, designers or builders, or through contractors to homeowners, the materials we create must build desire in the targets for the products.

Before a company spends a dime on a new website, a sample program or a trade show booth, they should invest in a diagnostic. A “diagnostic” is agency-speak for getting out and talking to a customer at every point along the sales journey—you know, research.  A diagnostic makes sure that marketing materials are authentic to the customer experience.

Using insights from a diagnostic as the foundation for marketing and sales materials is what makes a brand feel deep and personal to a customer.

A lot of companies push back on doing a diagnostic because they are unsure of what they will get. It is hard to justify the expense of a report when a website or a trade show booth is something real—something the customer experiences.

They’re right about pushing back—if they’re not willing to grow.

Some manufacturers don’t want to grow because growth requires change.

If a company has a culture that does not reward change, the investment in a diagnostic will not pay off. Diagnostics need action.  

For those who can change, the payoff can last for years.


The Benefits of Doing a Diagnostic:

Find out what your customers think. Customers tell us things they wouldn't tell you. Our conversation gets honest, fast. Our first rule is that we report all interviews anonymously so customers feel free to tell us their experience—the good, the bad and the ugly.

  1. You will understand the voice of the customer—in their own words. While customer interviews are reported without identifying information, we do include paraphrased quotes. The quotes set the tone for the messaging strategy. This is where customer personas come to life—who they are, how they see the world, and what’s important to them.

  2. A diagnostic articulates what problem your building product, material or service solves for your targets from their perspective. This is important because it tells a company how customers want to be sold to. The findings translate across sales materials to informing sales scripts and the customer journey touch points.

  3. Gain insight to know what features and benefits matter so your company doesn’t put time or money toward something the customer doesn’t care about.

  4. Close gaps. Is there something that is preventing customers from having a preference for your product? Is there something better that your company can do to meet their needs? A diagnostic puts a spotlight on areas that have room for improvement and growth.

  5. Customers see the future because they are on the front line. Every day they are out there selling products to homeowners or developers. They see trends and know what’s coming down the pike well before anyone else does. Diagnostics can reveal which products need to be refined or even developed to meet future trends.

Diagnostics come to us in many ways: Some companies have existing research to share, others hire us to conduct the research ourselves.  While still others partner with an independent marketing consultant and bring us in after the research has been completed. Some use a hybrid approach—they buy industry research and supplement it with online surveys and a few customer interviews. Our job as marketers is to take the data and make it actionable, regardless of where it comes from.


Building Products and Materials Diagnostic FAQ:

When is the right time for my company to commission a diagnostic?

As with anything, timing is everything. Diagnostic triggers include:

  • Merger or acquisition

  • Launch of a new product line

  • Market expansion

  • Lagging sales

  • Changing economic conditions

  • Launch of a sales and marketing program

  • Before a significant investment

What do we actually walk away with—what do we get?

  • Findings Report

  • Strategy Plan

  • Customer Verbatim

  • Competitive Analysis

  • Marketing recommendations

We have a good relationship with our customers and I don’t want them to be offended. Do I get to approve the questions beforehand?

Every diagnostic is different. We always submit a list of questions for approval before we interview customers. With that being said, our questions are open-ended. We are engaging in conversations that can take a different direction than anticipated. In that case, we will continue to probe until we reach a conclusion. If you are not comfortable with this process, you are not ready for a diagnostic.

What type of questions do you ask?

  • How did you find out about the product/material/service?

  • Why do you choose/specify this product/material/service over another?

  • Which is your go-to product/material/service in this category and why?

What does it cost?

Cost for a diagnostic depends on scope. Ours run from $15K to $50K. Although, I have been a part of a team that has tackled ones for companies that were so comprehensive they invested $125K+. A diagnostic can include the following:

  • Online survey and analysis—great if you would like to interview a large customer or sales group

  • One-on-one interviews

  • Ride along/lunch and learn with salespeople

  • Focus group(s)

  • Findings report

  • Competitive analysis

  • SWOT analysis

  • Recommendations

  • Will audience know what this is?

Can you give me an idea of what a typical recommendation could be?

Good question. For one client, we found that the person who made the specification decision was not the one who benefited from the service. In fact, asking the specifier to include the service as part of their bid created more headaches for them. Our recommendation was to provide the specifier with copy and images to insert into an RFP that spoke to the benefits for the developer who was the purchaser in this instance. We also recommended marketing to developers to build awareness. 

For another, we recommended that they create a new brand to market their products instead of including them under the existing corporate umbrella. The new brand had to be more sophisticated and command a higher price point than the parent company was capable of doing.

Can you share an example of a diagnostic that you did for a client? 

We can share a diagnostic for a non-competing client or industry that has been edited to remove sensitive or proprietary information. While it will not shed light on your industry, it gives you a good sense of what to expect.

I’ve yet to do a diagnostic that failed to uncover important and actionable information. A diagnostic has several side benefits as well: It creates excitement and buzz around a brand and unifies the vision and strategy plan going forward for the company. It’s well worth the investment.


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.