A Special Series from North American Wholesale Lumber Association
By Mark McLean, Roseburg Forest Products
Congratulations! You survived the Great Recession. Like many companies in lean years, you might have achieved cost savings by slashing your marketing budget. If that’s true, now is the time to start building it back up.
But when you invest in marketing this time around, consider what you might do differently. Here at Roseburg, we have traditionally focused on product marketing. What that meant, practically speaking, is that we centered our promotional and advertising activities on our product lines.
Two years ago, after internal deliberations and consultation with our agency partner, we decided to take a different tact. Products are still important (after all, someone has to buy something for a company to stay in business), but our front-line marketing activities have shifted from product marketing to brand-building. Telling our company’s story has become just as important as listing the products we sell.
Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say you’re an auto manufacturer. From a product-marketing perspective, you want to distinguish your vehicles from others. That can mean the difference between a truck and a convertible, or the difference between two different trucks or two different convertibles.
With a brand-marketing approach, you want to distinguish your entire company from others. In our previous example, it’s the difference between buying a car from Audi, Ford, GM and so on.
Why should you focus on brand-building? Before the Internet, it may have been advantageous to promote your products in ads, especially print magazines. They were a customer’s main source of information, so in a sense you had a captive audience. Things have changed to the point where you could say advertising has become “opt-in.” Customers have many sources of information, so the purpose of advertising has changed. Now as far as I’m concerned, the whole reason for marketing communications is to make people aware of your company. An awareness of who you are precedes detailed knowledge about your products.
There’s even more to it than that. A strong brand can make a difference to the bottom line. In the 1980s, Dr. David Aaker popularized the concept of business equity, which he defined as “a set of brand assets and liabilities linked to a brand name and symbol, which add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service.” In theory, brand equity can reduce advertising costs over the long run, as your brand becomes a stand-in for all the benefits you were trying to promote. Or it can help reduce customer turnover by fostering long-term loyalty to your brand.
So when I say customers should know ‘who you are,’ I don’t mean simply the name of your company. Your new challenge is to forge an emotional relationship between your brand and potential buyers. You want to be the first company that they think of when they need something. That’s difficult to do if you’re just talking about products. When we decided to emphasize our brand, what we really wanted was to tell our story, to let people understand who we are and to communicate our values.
Did I mention that brand marketing only works if you’re clear about your story and your values? Before taking your message to the marketplace, think about what you stand for. At Roseburg, we operate around three values. One is “sawdust in the veins,” which means our employees need to have a passion for this industry. Two is “handshake integrity,” by which we mean that you say what you’re going to do and do what you say. The third value is “driven to win.”
For us to communicate those values meant talking about our employees. People relate to people, not to ‘products.’ So we decided to launch a promotional campaign that highlighted our employees. For our “Working for You” campaign, we ran advertisements on various platforms. Each ad featured a photo of an employee, their name and title, and an invitation to visit our website, where buyers could read detailed stories.
When customers come to your website, it’s an opportunity to deepen their connection with your brand. The experience they have browsing your website is part of the brand-building process. A clearly organized, well-designed, easy-to-navigate site supports a positive perception of your brand. At the same time, a site that’s difficult to use will reflect negatively on your brand.
And onward from there. Once you start thinking about your brand, you can see how it touches everything in your company. So take a good look at yours and think about how you can build on it this year.
– Mark McLean is director of marketing for Roseburg Forest Products, Roseburg, Or., and a member of NAWLA’s marketing committee.