Interview – Alan Slaney, Diversity & Trust Mark

Alan Slaney

Alan Slaney, chairman of marketing and CRM agency Diversity and a director of Trust Mark, the government endorsed scheme for all trade in and around the home, tells us how brands within the built environment can be successfully engineered to become industry sector leaders.

Representing some of the UK’s leading names in the construction and RMI sectors, such as Dulux, Velux and British Gypsum, Alan Slaney has worked across the board with manufacturers, specifiers, contractors and trade associations in a career that has supported many construction industry giants in building solid, enduring brands.

In an industry worth over £110,000 billion per year supporting over 3 million jobs, and 10% of UK employment, the building services and construction industry offers massive commercial opportunities.

So, what is it that determines which brands become prevailing landmark structures, while others offering similar products and services, crumble and fall?

According to Slaney, if we are to liken a brand to a building, its essence and strength comes from the inside. It is the building’s core, the foundations and steel girders that keep it upright and maintain high performance.

Similarly with a brand, the façade of glossy marketing brochures and digital “wow” factor may be eye-catching in the first instance along with flashy price promises, but it is the substance within and the ability of the brand to consistently deliver upon a promise that will ultimately determine if it is built to last.

This is an industry where consistency is everything.

To succeed within this particular marketplace a building brand must be trusted by the trade and must deliver upon expectations one hundred percent of the time.

A tradesman relies upon his professional tools and supplies to do a good job; otherwise it is a poor reflection upon his own professional skillset.

Therefore, a good brand experience will create a loyalty from that building professional. Once brand loyalty and trust have been earned they will almost always trump any marketing tactics, including aggressive pricing strategies when specifying building materials.

For the building professional, business comes from reputation, so inconsistency or variable quality products can prove too high a price to pay to be sustainable in business.

Trust permeates the entire supply chain and extends far beyond the product. This is a people business and good relationships are the absolute bedrock of that business.

“Successful brands make Customer Relationship Management (CRM) the crux of communication strategies in this industry”, says Slaney.

“It is crucial on both sides – a tradesman needs to know that there is support and back up from the brand, and the brand needs the tradesman’s feedback.

“Any savvy building brand will know that their customer is ultimately their most valuable marketing tool; word of mouth is very powerful and this type of third party endorsement cannot be bought, only earned.

“The holy grail of communication is when the manufacturer, supply chain and tradesman work in total harmony. A good CRM system can help facilitate this as it has empathy for and looks after the interests of each party creating effective channels of communication”.

Building a building industry brand differs significantly from other industries; even those that demand a similar level of brand loyalty to thrive, such as retail.

Unlike retail, endorsement in this sector is very personal to the end customer. If we consider the type of language used to refer to a tradesman it is usually possessive: a customer will refer to ‘my builder’ or ‘my plumber’. This is also one of the few industries where a service provider is invited into a customer’s home – so trust is always paramount.

Despite traditional roots, the building services and RMI sectors are open to change. Business is increasingly competitive and tradesmen will do what they can to stay ahead of the game, including embracing new technologies, if they can save time and become more efficient.

Within the RMI sector especially, there are many family businesses where the older generation maintains customer relationships with traditional practices, and the younger generation use quick, instant media to communicate and work.

Slaney believes that it is a well-balanced organisation, operating an integrated multi-level approach to their communications that is usually the one that will succeed, ultimately combining sound ethical foundations, a good supportive infrastructure, firmly cemented relationships and a dynamic façade.