Have any builders actually achieved brand status? What brands exist in the new home marketing environment? How about high-tech, building green, affordable homes, senior-buyer-ready homes, X-generation homes, concrete, log, etc.? There are builders throughout the country that build what could be defined as green homes, but I know of no builder that has captured the brand: green builder. Xerox on the other hand, so owns the copying brand that we refer to them as xerox copies.
Who owns the brand for the soft paper nose-blowers we refer to as either Tissues (Tissue Brand) or Kleenexes (Kleenex Brand)? The ‘green’ market is so wide open at the present that the NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders) has created their own set of standards called the National Green Building Standards(TM) to clarify exactly what it means to claim the title “green builder.” Many builders use high-tech products, but I know of no builder, in any market, who owns the brand: high-tech builder.
I believe there are several reasons. The most obvious is that building homes is largely a regional marketing endeavor; often limited to a state or countywide area. Even though the builder may be national like Lennar, Pulte, and Centex; most of their marketing is the result of local advertising and marketing, not national. Few builders have tried national marketing and even fewer have succeeded. How often do you ever see a builder television commercial targeting a national audience? You don’t, with the exception of a name recognition campaign, new home marketing is most effective locally. Can you even name five of the top ten builders? I bet you can’t. According to BuilderOnline, for 2006, the top five builders based on closings were D.R. Horton, Lennar Corp., Pulte Homes, Centex Corp., and KB Home. Do you even know who KB Home is?
Is your company’s name a brand?
Builders fall into the trap of believing that their name is a brand, but at best, their name may trigger a brand memory. Brands are more memorable because the brain treats them differently than company names. According to a book entitled The Mental World of Brands by Professor Giep Franzen and Margot Bouman (1999), “the brand exists as a neural network of memories” that are activated by a brand name. This network is sometimes referred to as a Gestalt, a term derived from the field of Psychology that refers to the concept that a configuration or pattern of elements (in this case different memories) are so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.
Our brain involuntarily remembers everything our senses experience. These ‘memories’ are then chemically stored in a complex series of neurons. Your brain is made up of 10,000,000,000 neurons. That’s a lot. Any given memory, when triggered, activates a certain number of these neurons that are associated with that memory. That group of neurons is referred to as a Gestalt. A brand is a Gestalt of sorts.
For example, when I say the words ‘environmentally-friendly builder,’ if you are an environmentalist and advocate environmentally responsible building, you immediately have a series of memories and thoughts that are involuntarily triggered by those words. The words trigger more memory because they also elicit an emotion. If there were a builder who owned the brand ‘environmental builder,’ that builder would likely enter your mind immediately.
Like when I say safe vehicles, you most likely think of Volvo, but are they really the safest or do they simply say they are the most. The more you think about ‘environmentally-friendly builder,’ the more memories you recall. That group of memories would be your gestalt of memories related to environmentally responsible building. Now if I say the words concrete homebuilder, fewer memories come to mind since the term is more neutral and doesn’t generate as much emotion. Note your thoughts when I say the word thug. You immediately and involuntarily begin picturing and compiling your image of a thug. What about animal cruelty? Does Michael Vick come to mind immediately? Therein lies the power of brand ownership.
The most powerful use of true branding is to create and own a new market category. I know of no builders that actually own a category – and therefore, own a brand. Coke owns the cola brand. FedEx owns the overnight shipping brand. Godiva owns the gift chocolate brand. Does any builder have the right to claim the green brand or any other brand for that matter?
BRIAN L. FLOOK, MIRM
Brian Flook is the President of the Brian Flook Group and Power Marketing & Advertising, Inc. and half-owner of Coldwell Banker Innovations LLC. Brian consults, speaks and trains builders, developers and their teams nationally and has been a featured trainer at the International Builder’s Show every year since 1996, as well as many other NAHB events. Brian is a published author and participates with the Building Systems Council, IRM, and the National Sales Marketing Council. Brian has a Bachelors degree in Leadership Development from Wheeling University and a degree in Business Administration. Brian earned his MIRM from the NAHB in 1991.
Brian is a Trustee for NAHB’s Institute of Residential Marketing, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the local Chamber of Commerce, Member MD State Chamber of Commerce, Member Institute of Residential Marketing (MIRM), Member of NAHB’s Nationals Sponsorship Committee, Past President of the Greater Western Maryland Sales & Marketing Council, MD Broker Coldwell Banker Innovations LLC, Member of The Greater Hagerstown Committee, Past Director on the Frederick County Builders Association, Member of the NAHB Systems Built Council, Member of the Frederick County Builders Association., Member of the National Association of Home Builders, Member of the National Sales & Marketing Council, Sales & Marketing Trainer and Speaker, President and owner of Power Marketing & Advertising, Inc. and President of Real Estate Innovations Group, Inc.