The latest earnings parade is nearly done, and it's gut-check time in home building's higher-production market arenas: volume growth? Or profitability? Outstretched, up-turned palm of your hand to the right: order pace. Outstretched, up-turned palm to the left: margins.
Which do you pick? How do you pick? Do you have to choose one or the other?
Add to this predicament a slew of vagaries ranging from fear-and-flight reflexes left over from traumatic years late last decade that keep kicking up--although we'd like to shed them for good--to a new crop of headwinds that might be meaningful in the the recovery's narrative of halting progress, or not. Time will tell.
Clearly, this business of waking up each day to uncertainty, ongoing challenge, and never-enough resources can tire and test even the most intrepid among us. The gut-check is every day. "Who are we?" "What are we?" "What do we want to be?"
These fundamental questions are even more trenchant among home builders--who, by the nature of their chosen occupation, embrace manufacturing, financial investment, project management, real estate strategy, marketing, retail, design, building science and engineering, political know-how, etc., are among business' multiple personalities, true jacks-of-all trades. Which doubly begs the question: who are we?
No doubt, clear answers to those questions need to be ready without hesitation or equivocation. Those answers are what will get companies through what will continue to be a testy, potentially costly patch of recovery's trajectory. As a matter of fact, irrespective of what your organization does on the marketing, advertising, and customer growth front, it may be one of the most critical disciplines home builders practice to answer those questions.
In the fewest words possible. One word, if you can. This may sound like a "branding" exercise. Yes and no. A brand is a promise, and an over-delivery on that promise which creates trust. So, yes, it's that. But it's also more basic than anything to do with customer-facing marketing. It's as basic as a business--large or small--can be.
Somewhere along the line in the early 1990s--maybe after a few years of especially effective comparative advertising--people got a notion that Coca-Cola competed with Pepsi.
Pepsi was doing Super Bowl adds with the famous blind taste tests, and these campaigns helped put Pepsi on the map as Coke's only major league soft drink competitor (in the cola category, anyway).
Along comes then Coca Cola marketing czar Sergio Zyman--a mercurial, suffer-no-fools, disruptive, task-master--who gets asked at a big marketing annual meeting with the powerful Coca-Cola bottlers, how are we going to come back and compete with Pepsi?
"We don't compete with Pepsi," was Zyman's response, essentially. "We compete with tap water."
Zyman was early to the game of understanding that "who we are," for Coca-Cola was not the "No. 1 cola brand," or "the world's biggest soft-drink company." Zyman's answer to the question "who are we?" was simply this: Refreshment.
The need, or desire, or urge we humans become aware of at certain moments is thirst. When thirst happens, Zyman wanted Coke to come to mind. Also, Zyman wanted images of Coke, and its classic bottle icon beading with crystal clear droplets, to make us thirst.
Can we home builders do that? One word, refreshment, speaks to the cause-effect-cause virtuous circle between people's need--thirst--and that Coke bottle.
Too, what happens when we see this image?
When we see the word Google in its logo format, we identify at a deep level, our need to be informed or enlightened, and the answer to that need. Google's bold business vision is that it does not compete with--never has--other search engines. It competes with life's ability to provide discovery and confidence in research that doesn't come from Google.
How about this image?
Nest--the Tony Fadell juggernaut that Google had to have in its portfolio--has begun to exploit a position, not as a competitor to other smart home technology players bidding for a niche, but as a competitor to every in-home source of temperature control. Nest's one-word answer to "who are we?" might well be "comfort."
And this one?
What Apple may have done better than any other brand in the universe is to have discovered and mined a profound, primal need in we modern day humans for a blend between work, play, and passion. No, Apple has not become a verb in the English language, as Google has, but Apple does conjure is a state of mind no other trust mark can touch: Simplicity.
If you have a one-word answer to this question, its simplicity, and clarity, and its ability to subtract all the promises it can not and should not make, will be foundational to how customers, partners, investor stakeholders, employee associates, and you yourself put trust and belief in what you're doing. Knowing who and what you're not (and how expansive and distracting and costly that turf is) is as important as the other side of the equation.
At BUILDER, our one-word response to the question "who are we?" would be: "connection." It ties to the community's basic need for a flow of reliable information, real-time, and specific to the time and place of our audience member. So that need has "connection" as its solution. We don't compete with other titles or information platforms. We compete with builders' capacity to connect to helpful information whatever tap it pours from.
You try. Answer "Who are we?" "What are we?" What do we want to be?" One word.