For manufacturing companies, spurring market share growth is not always about developing new products, but also about refining and improving your existing products—as well as how you distribute and advertise them—to expand your brand recognition and market share among trade professionals.
Continuous product design and product improvements are necessary to align with changes in contractors’ research and buying habits, as well as what they need from manufacturers, according to the 2022 Building Products Customer Guide we released in partnership with Venveo.
In 2021, the building products with highest purchase incidences among trade professionals included tools, hardware, interior building materials (up 10 percent compared to last year), and paint. Exterior building materials along with windows and doors saw the biggest jump in purchases since 2021, each with an 11 percent increase.
Improve the Quality of a Product to Capture Contractor Market Share Amidst High Brand Switching
Market research should also be the backbone of your efforts to improve existing products. We know that 2021 saw challenges with product availability for contractors. However, data also shows that trade professionals were open to purchasing a different product when their original preference was out of stock.
The question is, how can you capitalize on this trend, which is expected to persist in 2022? How can your product line become the preferred choice and how can you fill the void for new customers who are switching brands?
The first step towards improving an existing product to increase market share among contractors is to listen. Listen to what is driving trade professionals’ selection and preference:
- What is the role of Availability relative to other factors
- Where are they getting Information
- How do contractors define Value
- How do they define Quality
- Where are contractors purchasing products
In our latest research, without exception, the majority of contractors who switch brands (with 42% having switched due to lack of availability) across product segments report that they will continue purchasing that new brand. Now is the season to capture market share from availability and having product features that customers are seeking in a long term solution.
How Do I Sell My Product to a General Contractor or Specialty Trade?
There has been an increase from 2020 in the percentage of contractors who have tried a new supplier in the past year, and as high as 30 percent of professionals have tried a new brand, depending on the product category. The main reasons contractors are using new retailers or brands include availability, pricing and online ordering.
If you have a product that is better quality than your competitors’, now is the time to push that message, as quality is a top driver for trade professionals when switching brands. 1 in 3 contractors are driven to a new brand right now based on price and sales, but evaluate extensively if discounting your product is worth the potential brand perception damage that discounting can cause.
Another trend to keep in mind when it comes to product improvement is that if you can get contractors to try your brand, they’re likely to stay. You have a significant opportunity to get new business, as long as your products satisfy the needs and preferences of trade professionals.
It’s also important to consider where contractors are making their actual purchases—as opposed to just conducting research. Residential contractors are purchasing a higher share of their materials from big box stores. Commercial contractor purchases, on the other hand, are slightly more varied across distribution channels.
What Strategies Attract Younger Contractors to Existing Products?
There’s no silver bullet for attracting new customers, but customized market research delivers the data you need to effectively address the purchase motivations and buying habits of various contractor segments. Whether it’s tenure, size of company, or type of work.
It’s important to look at how demographics within the building and home improvement industry are changing, as you work to plan years in advance. For example, millennials now form a significant portion of the professional workforce. Soon, Gen Z will also play a major role in your branding, product development, distribution and go-to-market strategies as they start taking up jobs in the trades. Efforts to capture market share in these generational categories among Contractor buyer personas need to be underway.
You must offer in-depth, clearly communicated information, easily accessible whenever the mood strikes these younger professionals, a seamless digital purchase experience, consistency across physical and online platforms, and engaging tools, such as product visualizers, cost calculators and 3D imagery, according to our Builder Products Customer report findings.
How Do You Target a Contractor with an Existing Product?
Sometimes it is how your product is packaged, distributed and marketed that gets in the way of appealing to potential customers, not necessarily your product itself. As the saying goes, perception equals reality.
Consider research to understand:
- Who is and is not using your product?
- What brand, perceptions, product attributes come to mind among customers?
- Have iterative product improvement adequately addressed the use cases necessary to become the preferred brand?
- Do contractors gain credibility by association with your brand?
Then consider the same questions regarding your direct competitors. Your company can modify the way it’s selling to contractors in order to reach them with an existing product and compel them to make the purchase against their lineup of options.
Reaching Trade Professionals With Your Message
Data shows contractors remain busy with new projects, despite increasing costs for products and raw materials. About 56 percent of contractors are booked out at least one week, while 34 percent are booked out at least one month.
Corroborating our findings in the Building Products Customer Guide according to the November findings in our Pro specific Monthly Home Improvement Tracker, these busy trade professionals tend to go where they are familiar, both in person and online, so from a marketing standpoint, it can be difficult to get their attention.
Your marketing must be delivered in a convenient, digestible medium that meets the customer where they are.
In store displays are working as are digital means such as Installation videos, transparent pricing, in-depth product specs, and such tactics are straightforward ways to accomplish this task. You don’t have to overcomplicate your marketing; you just have to make it easy for trade professionals to find the information they are looking for during research and installation. They have a job to do efficiently and to proper standards. Help them with that aim.
Residential contractors are more likely to go online to do preliminary research, price shop and check the availability of products relative to other industry professionals. With that in mind, figure out how you can best inform prospective customers through digital platforms.
As the reports point out, this ongoing shift to online research should be an eye-opener to the industry, especially because an effective reviews strategy takes time to build. Present information on your products in a way that mirrors a site your customers regularly visit and trust, such as Amazon. This helps build confidence in your brand and your products.
On big box retail websites, your products will appear right next to your competitors. Make sure you put extra thought into answering questions and speaking to pain points. Each product listing should also push your product’s unique value proposition. Further, be honest about what your product isn’t best for or can’t do up front so that trade professionals can self-service along their own purchase journey.
As alluded to earlier, social media is becoming an important resource for contractors—more so for commercial contractors than residential contractors. YouTube, in particular, is used by nearly half of trade professionals for research, while 31 percent rely on Facebook.
Just because online sources are increasingly important for contractors’ product research, however, doesn’t mean you should neglect in-store marketing strategies.
Trade professionals are still conducting research in stores, where they can touch, feel and see the products they’re considering. Pricing and availability are also major concerns for residential and commercial contractors.
As contractors bounce between online and in-store for conducting product research, make sure your messaging is consistent, you reduce context switching, and your marketing strategies for these different environments complement, rather compete against, one another. (Competing promotions and offers as an example).
Commissioning Custom Market Research to Improve Existing Products
Market research helps you discover what problems contractors are trying to solve, as well as how they use the products and what features and benefits are most important to them. What improvements do they desire to existing products? How much do features impact product preference, or is it mostly about leveraging product availability? There are both qualitative and quantitative research methods you can use to gather the data you need to strategically improve product quality and to test different product concepts.
Here are a couple research tools to help you improve an existing product so it appeals to more trade professionals:
1. Customer Usage, Attitude and Behavior Research
If your product doesn’t currently attract as many customers as you would like or satisfy their needs in the way you expect, a change is needed. But how will you know what that necessary change is without diving deeper?
By researching customer usage, attitude and behavior, you collect data and insights that allow you to assess a customer’s purchase behavior and understand what really drives and motivates their decisions across their buyer’s journey. This information is a useful guide for product development.
Part of usage and attitude (U&A) research has to do with product selection and satisfaction. In other words, what impacts a customer’s decision to purchase a particular product? What attributes of a product impact overall satisfaction? This data gives you insight into what attributes are essential, which can assist you in making meaningful and effective improvements to an existing product that isn’t performing well.
2. Product Development Research
Another step to improving one of your company’s products is to conduct product development research, thereby gaining a better understanding of customer motivations, feature and benefit preferences, and appealing packaging options for an enhanced or modified product.
There are three main components to product development research: discovery, concept testing and pricing research. During the discovery stage, you uncover the uses, needs and opportunities for the product in question. How are customers currently using it? Where? Why? Do the products that are now available (including yours or your competitors’) meet all their needs? What don’t they like about your product? What improvements do they want to see? What solutions have they implemented to solve for shortcomings of the product?
The next step is concept testing, or evaluating which ideas for product improvements are worth pursuing and investing in. During this stage of market research, you can investigate what customers think of your new concepts, which are preferred and why, and which new features resonate the most. You’ll also discover how willing customers would be to try your product, once certain improvements are made, and how likely they would be to buy it. Some of the research techniques used for concept testing include A/B or monadic testing; product usage trials; and MaxDiff scaling.
Finally, you need to engage in pricing research. If you’re going to modify or enhance an existing product, what is a reasonable price that will ensure it remains competitive while covering the cost of your investment? During the pricing elasticity and feature valuation phase, there are various market research and modeling methods to give you a clear idea of which combinations of features are most desired and at what price point. With that data, you can develop an improved product and accompanying pricing strategy to increase your sales.
Additionally, you should keep your eye on external factors that could influence the need or desire for product modifications. This can be anything from widespread current events, like the pandemic, to state and federal legislation.
Marketing to Trade Professionals in 2022
Changing trade professional demographics, and subsequently the segment’s research and buying behaviors will influence the building industry in the short and long term. It’s important to invest in product improvements and new marketing strategies that take these trends into consideration. As contractors and trade professionals are increasingly open to trying or switching brands, there are new opportunities for manufacturers.
For more information on the factors and trends shaping the construction industry in the near future, request access to our 2022 Building Products Customer Guide.