In episode 5 of the Built With Billd podcast, Chris Doyle sits down with Billd’s Director of Marketing, Jon Katz and Axle Eight’s founder and CEO, Kim Grennan, for a discussion on the best practices of branding for subcontractors. Kim and Jon dive into some of the actionable steps you can take towards building a strong personal and company brand. They also share advice on how to identify your ideal customer and build better personal relationships with GCs.
Chris: Hey guys, welcome to the Built with Billd podcast. Today we are going to talk about marketing again, our second podcast in our three podcast series on marketing. We’ve got Jon Katz, our Director of Marketing here at Billd, and Kim Grennan, the founder and CEO of Axle Eight. Nice talking to you guys again. Yeah, so we had some great feedback on our first podcast and excited to drill in a little deeper on some of these topics. So, you know today I think what we wanted to talk about was understanding your customer and how you brand your business in particular as a subcontractor. And so yeah, let me let me just start off, Jon, what do you think is most important from a branding standpoint for a subcontractor?
Jon: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think branding is so important, and a lot of people don’t really know what branding means. But it’s very important that you have a persona when people think of your business, when they think of you as a business owner, they think of something if they don’t think of anything, you don’t necessarily have a brand. So how do you build that is the question and I think it starts with really focusing on a particular for a subcontractor or a particular trade, a particular type of project, you know, a particular location so you can brand yourself as the go to person for let’s say, you know, an industrial warehouse in California, or in a specific location within California. And then even more specifically, whatever you do, whatever trade you do, if you’re flooring, if you’re electrical, you know, being known as the go to person in that particular area and becoming an expert at that really starts the process of branding. I think one of the challenges is people like to expand beyond what would be considered focusing, and it just ends up diluting your brand and it makes you kind of somebody who can do a lot, but maybe isn’t focused on one particular area of expertise.
Chris: Yeah, so let’s, let’s use flooring for example. If you’re a flooring contractor, maybe you really hone in hard on just tile on just schools, which is maybe a bad example, but what you’re saying is within your trade, focus on something specific and maybe even the types of projects
Jon: Right. I think if you have to understand the market as well, right, there has to be enough demand. Because you obviously don’t want to pick something that there’s just one project a year on that wouldn’t make sense for you. So you do need to understand how many projects of these are going on per month, per year, whatever that case is, you have to be able to feed your family. But if there is enough of that, you should be the go to person and you want to strive to be that go to person. And I think there’s a lot of benefits to focusing at that kind of granularity. I think number one, and if you’re great at a particular trade, and specifically, like you mentioned, tile flooring in let’s just say schools, well when a new school is being built, or it’s being renovated, and they’re going to do floor, well, if they know that you’re the go to person, you probably could even charge premium prices, markup a little higher than maybe your competitors would. And because you’re known as that, that go to person you have an expertise in that. A lot of people are willing to pay a slight premium for that expertise. So you definitely can benefit from higher prices, higher margins, and then you also become more efficient and effective at your own job. Right? So if you what someone else could normally take two weeks to finish, maybe you could finish in a week and a half or less, right? So you become better at that job. And so there’s a lot of benefits to focusing.
Chris: So outside of focus, what are some broader items that you can focus on that any contractor should look at so like, for example, safety? What are some options there?
Jon: Well, we definitely know or believe that you know, GCs that are hiring, you care a lot about safety, right? And so if that’s one of it, that’s also going into knowing your customer, which we’ll get into in a little bit, but if you know that your customer deeply cares about the quality and the safety of the work well, you can differentiate in different ways. Let’s say I want to be known as the most, have the highest level of safety precautions. And specifications for my crew in this particular area, you can be known as that you are a very safe crew, right? That’s a great way to differentiate. You know, so I think safety is a huge thing.
Chris: I think one of the concepts of branding that is missed a lot of times is consistency. Because brand is a way you run your business as a way you communicate with your customers, the way you can communicate internally even. And it’s difficult in this kind of relationship driven industry, sometimes to force yourself to think about branding, but I know one of the things that I always think about is a company I used to work for about 10 years ago, commercial construction subcontractor. And there were probably about 100 people, 100 field workers, and every single worker would have, the supervisors would have a blue shirt on, superintendents. The actual like, skilled workers had red shirts on. So the crews were four or five people. And there were red shirts and there’s a blue shirt, the one blue shirt. And when you talk about that many people, that many jobs, over 10-15 years, the industry is kind of small. And you just know this company was on the job site because the shirts stayed the same. They’re all really simple. hardhats the same, that’s the same, trucks the same. And when you saw them, you just knew what company it was. You didn’t have to look at the logo. I think those types of things in construction, you can explore those concepts too. They may sound boring, but they actually do matter over time, especially when you’re trying to instill that consistency piece with your customer.
Jon: Yeah, no doubt. I think branding is consistency and branding is really a promise to deliver. That’s what a brand is. You build your brand by consistently delivering what you say you’re going to deliver, the quality of your product, and everything in between. And so really, when you’re building a brand, a brand doesn’t start with one time. It starts with consistency and it starts with maintaining that reputation over and over and over again. And to your point, every day if those people were wearing red or blue, and you know that that’s that crew, that’s part of building a brand. So another thing that I was thinking about, I mean, and a lot of contractors have been doing their trade for a long time. They’ve got their crew, they’ve been doing it for years. You’re probably already doing things that are very unique, very differentiated in terms of how you go about your business, whether it is the safety, whether it’s the actual execution of your product and of your delivery, you are probably doing some unique things that are not normal to the industry. So take a step back, think about it from the outside perspective and say, “What am I doing right now that I can differentiate and I can show, Hey, this is how we do things.” because not every recruit is going to do the same thing.
Chris: Yeah, that’s right. I think there are so many subcontractors out there that focus so much on quality and their reputation that they haven’t looked in the mirror and said, “Well, yeah, I’m already doing this, like, I need to promote it. I need to market this.” Well, but what’s happening is, that is actually building the brand. They don’t even know it. They can make more of it by by promoting.
Jon: Yep, exactly.
Chris: Yeah. So Kim, what do you think about this on how a contractor can better brand themselves?
Kim: Yeah, absolutely. So I think it really starts with your own personal branding. So make sure that those relationships that you are creating are genuine and human to human contact. So people love that, get out, call people, call GCs that you love working with. Make yourself personable from a branding perspective. It starts with you if you’re the face of the company. So I think that’s really important. LinkedIn is a great tool for that as well, if you aren’t one to kind of give a call, or if you’re really looking to reach out to new people, LinkedIn is a great tool to do that. Otherwise, your website is going to be your digital footprint. So that’s a really great place to at least have some sort of consistency across who you are really showcasing your value propositions, why you are, you know, maybe focusing on safety for the crews and why you’re the best at that. But I would really start with you. And your footprint online also is a great representation of who you are, because that’s oftentimes where people might go if they don’t have a direct relationship with you, or they might be looking at reviews. So a lot of things like that, I think will go a long way.
Chris: Yeah, so you mentioned knowing your customer, that’s our next big topic here. Can you talk a little bit more about that or, you know, how do you go about doing that and what’s the benefits of knowing your customers like can you break that down a little bit more.
Kim: Yeah. So, you know, I think it starts with thinking about it from the perspective of “who is your ideal GC to work with?” Spend five minutes, write that down. And what you might find out is you’re spending 80% of your time with GCs that are only really equating to 20% of value. So figure out those exact GCs that you like to work with. You know, what’s their size, what are the characteristics of them, and figure out how you can find more of them. So focusing on these ideal personas will add a tremendous amount of value. So, you know, if you could specialize, that’s where you might be able to have this opportunity to increase your margins, you might be able to charge more because you are a specialized person in XYZ. So the way that you can do that is, you know, take a couple of minutes, see if anyone would be willing to you know, grab some coffee, go get a drink, grab lunch, just get to know them. Understand what makes them tick and what they’re looking for from a successful relationship with other contractors, for example, if not give them a call, you know, there’s a ton of GCs out there that you know might answer if you’ve just cold call them and just get to know them about what they’re looking for, and see what you can learn and take those learnings and apply it to really understanding that target market that you really want to attack.
Chris: So you mentioned something that I want to call out is there’s no shortage of you know, going to lunch with your customer in construction or going to have a drink. But you mentioned asking what they want, because that doesn’t happen enough. What are you looking for in a subcontractor? Right, a very direct question. And if you can’t answer that on behalf of your customer, then then there’s a problem. A lot of times, I think this isn’t specific, even to construction, people assume what their customer wants. They’re right in front of you just ask very, very specifically.
Chris: I think a lot of subs would be surprised, you know what they’re really looking for.
Kim: Totally agree. Yeah. And you learn so much, you may have these expectations, you may think that a GC may want XYZ, when in reality, they’re really putting more emphasis these days on a completely different aspect. So it can help you with your pitch to really take those learnings and apply it to everything that you’re doing or, you know, bring it to the surface from a marketing perspective, or how you’re speaking over email or text or a call. So absolutely take those learnings and run with it. Like we were talking about earlier, focusing on learning that customer I think, will drive so much value and will help you essentially not need to work as much if you could focus on the little quick wins.
Chris: So Jon, what do you think? Let me turn it over to you. What do you think are some things that you can do to help brainstorm that a little bit more on exactly what your customer is looking for, and then building your business around that?
Jon: Yeah, I think of it as kind of like what’s called account based marketing, right. And so account based marketing, you’re focusing on a particular business that you want to go after. And so in a subcontractors case, they may have 5 or 10 subcontractors that they really want to work with because they know that they do the particular job that they’re interested in doing. But they haven’t worked with them yet. They don’t necessarily have a relationship with them. So the question is, how do you go build that relationship? And so in that instance, like, again, you could cold call them, go to a job site that they may be on, find a way to get in front of them, talk to them and really understand what are they looking for? Is it safety that they’re most concerned with on their subs? Are they currently having any safety issues with any other crews? Is it price and staying under budget, having fewer change orders, making sure that things are getting on time on budget? Well, if that’s the case, then make sure that you show that you can deliver on that, and make, you know, promises that you can keep. But, you know, understanding that customer and really focusing specifically on that particular GC, I think can really help grow your business.
Chris: Yeah. Well, what, what are some? So we’re going to change topics a little bit again, but kind of bringing these together, what are some actionable steps you can take on this positioning and differentiation of your business?
Jon: You have to understand, first of all, how you want to be branded. If you want to be branded to safety, well, you have to now show the world that you have that level of safety requirements that people are looking for. Right? So how do you do that? Well, number one, take pictures of it, right. So when you’re on a job site, if you’ve done something a little bit more innovative or something that a lot of people maybe aren’t doing, take pictures, capture it and post it to social media. You know, really highlight that and don’t be afraid to boast about you know, your crew and your project and what you’re doing and your safety numbers, right? is there is there anything that you can look to and say, “Hey, we haven’t had any safety issues in the last whatever number of projects” or, you know, if you can say that boast about it, and you boast about it through your website, on, you know, social media, your Facebook page or Instagram page. So definitely highlight that, right. I also think if you’re focusing, let’s say you’re focusing on schools, and you’re focusing on tile floors, for you know, new schools, well take a picture every single day you’re there of the progress of what you’re doing. And then when you get a new job, and it’s a new school, promote that, that you got another school and get, get all that to your website, get it to social media, write blogs about it, talk about it. And the more you can do that, the more you’re actually putting your brand that you’re trying to create out into the world and you create your own brand.
Chris: Kim, so what are some things that you think contractors should do as actionable steps when they’re differentiating their company in that market positioning?
Kim: Yeah, so we talked a little bit about, you know, making sure that your website is reflective of that differentiator. But I think it’s also a huge place for a lot of these, you know, GCs are gonna be online, if not physically in person. So I think you should absolutely be talking about it in person. So what you say they may take at face value if you already have this relationship, so just making sure it’s part of that conversation pretty frequently, they’ll understand “Okay, you know, Jon’s crew is the go to crew for safety” or whatever it is. I think that’s really important, this face to face relationship. You know, making sure that the copy on your website is reflective of that. Jon mentioned also, you have data to support that. I think that’s critical. You know, putting some things up on for reviews or on social, talking about it, but really putting that front and center for everything that you’re doing, I think is going to go a long way. So outside of that, I think you could start dabbling in things such as paid media and advertising but that’s definitely kind of a tier two, tier three stage. First and foremost, keep it front and center.
Chris: You know, one thing we haven’t talked about is, what’s pretty common in construction, is in continued education. And there are a lot of options for what I would call like a micro credential, that of course you have your licensing, which is required and sometimes you can go above and beyond that, but in every trade, there’s also normally trade associations, continue education, all kinds of stuff that have, you know, whether it’s like a 20 hour or 40 hour online, something like That you can do that specializes within each piece of that trade. I also think that’s just a great way to differentiate yourself as a commitment to what you’re doing. And that also becomes part of your brand that says, hey, again, we’ll stick with flooring, what may seem like a more of a commodity type trade, it’s, look, I’m the best at it. Right? And we’re part of this association, and we do this and we’ve taken this training and all of our crews have this level, and then being able to continue Jon to your point to boast that, whether it’s online or you know, even as simple as stickers on your hard hat, right, which is pretty common. I think that’s just so important for people to continue to press the envelope there, because I think it instills this. You mentioned, Jon, the first part you said “brand is a promise to deliver,” it makes that promise that much stronger because it just brings that confidence to your customer.
Jon: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. Any certifications, any classes you’re taking, you know, definitely highlight that, highlight that on your website, highlight that on social media. I think that’s a great point.
Kim: Also, just to add to that, look around for local associations or groups of, you know, there’s tons of different associations out there where you could have the opportunity to network with other people or possibly be on a panel and talk about it a little bit. So even saying that you’re a part of a particular Association might give you credibility to whatever your goal might be, as well.
Chris: Well, great. These are great topics I’m ready for our third podcast. I’m excited, Kim, Jon, thanks so much for joining, and I think our audience will really love hearing these ideas. Thanks a lot.
Jon: Well, thanks for having us.
Kim: Thank you so much.
Jon: Thanks for tuning in to our podcast today. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you liked what you heard, be sure to subscribe, rate review and share the show. We’ll see you next time.