As someone who has spent a significant amount of time helping home builders and contractors optimize their online presence, there's one common misconception that I hear time and again that I'd like to discuss. I ran into it again, just the other day, while I was in a discovery session (our version of a pre-construction meeting) with a potential new client.

This particular person was in the process of starting a company, and we were discussing certain steps he could take to hit the ground running with his strategic plan going into 2020. He had a company name but hadn’t yet designed a brand and he knew he needed a website. We started talking about his brand when I asked him what he wanted it to convey. He said he wanted it to convey that his company is professional and experienced. I then asked if he had done any market research. He said the following:

"Oh, I've done a great deal. I looked at my top three competitors on Google and all their sites have a red and black color scheme. So naturally, that's what we're going to do, too, and--"

That's when, as politely as possible, I told him that I was going to have to stop him right there.

While market research into your competitors is certainly important, what that startup founder was describing is not what the term actually means. If you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, the last thing you want to do is look exactly like them. You're trying to stand out in a crowd, not blend directly into it.

But more than that, market research is a far broader term than this client - and a lot of other people - suspect. In fact, it's not something that should start with your competitors at all.

Instead, it should start with the people you've dedicated yourself to serving.

Breaking Things Down

When you're talking about a field as carefully focused as home building and contracting, one of the core goals of your brand and your website should always be making it easy for customers to make a decision about which company they are going to choose.

Naturally, you want to position yourself in such a way that you come out on top in any head-to-head comparison that someone happens to make.

To get to that point, you need to do market research - meaning that you need to know as much about who is doing the comparing as you possibly can.

Think about your ideal customer and ask yourself questions like who is this person? What do they like? What are they looking for? What do they care about? What problems do they have and how can I help them solve them? How can I uniquely make their lives easier in a way that my competitors can't?

The answers to those questions are what I mean when I say "market research," and they should absolutely drive the majority of your marketing decisions moving forward.

When someone comes looking for a business like yours, your website needs to immediately put them at ease. It needs to confirm as quickly as possible not only that they're in the right place, but that YOUR business is the one that can give them what they want. You can't do this without market research, and you certainly can't do it if you simply copy what your competitors are doing and assume that it is working for them.

Put the focus of your website not on your business, or your services, or even yourself - but on your customers. You need to make them feel like you and you alone understand their needs and to do that, you need to do as much market research as you can BEFORE designing your brand or building your website.

Back to Your Competitors

While we don’t start with your competitors in market research, we definitely do want to include them as part of the overall process.

When you go looking at your competitors, look for three key things:

  • What they're doing wrong,
  • What they are doing so well that you don’t want or can’t compete with,
  • What they're doing well... but you think you can do even better.

Is there some element of their messaging that you absolutely hate? Terrific - take the opportunity to improve on that idea with your own efforts. Is there a gap in their services that exists - some raw value that is missing from what they provide? Perfect - that's an opportunity that is just waiting to be taken advantage of by someone like you.

This is what we mean when we say "market research" and, make no mistake, it's more important than you think. If you don't do the right type of market research - or worse, if you don't do any at all - you'll be making decisions based on little more than false assumptions and gut feelings. Both of those things can result in failure.

More often than not, you'll be leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table because those false assumptions will add up to a brand or website that may look great and function well, but fails to connect with the people you got into business to serve in the first place.

This is also why, despite the fact that you already have a full-time job as a home builder or contractor, your SECOND full-time job needs to be that of the savvy marketer. Yes, it takes a tremendous amount of time and yes, it's something you have to think about every single day.

But if you train your brain to see the situation in this way, and you make decisions based not on gut instinct but on actual research, there's literally no limit to what you can accomplish.

If you don't have the capacity to make marketing your full-time job, that's perfectly okay too - there are plenty of marketing companies out there that are more than willing to help. If you don't have the ability to do everything yourself, don't be afraid to find someone who can. Rest assured, that's the type of partnership that will serve both of you well for years to come.