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How Building Materials Manufacturers Can Innovate Based on Customer Pain Points

Zach likes to say, “Where there’s pain, there’s margin.” This week’s guest agrees. He talks to Zach about the importance of innovating based on your audience's pain points and why you need to keep a feedback loop open.

April 3rd, 2023



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More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Tom Ragen is the CEO of Color Communications. He talks with Zach about how to market to architects and how his company leverages color in a very fragmented market.

Meet Tom and Color Communications

Color Communications (CC) has been around for over 50 years, and Tom has been with the company for the last five of those years.

Color Communications makes color cards and color marketing materials for the automotive and building materials space. Those sample paint cards with the chips on them that show the color? CC makes both the chips and the cards. They’ve also been growing into the peel-and-stick sample space.

Samples are typically a good leading indicator of purchase intent or desire. However, when it comes to paint, knowing the customer journey is critical and samples aren’t an important element on that journey, according to Tom.

“Whether it's your house or a second home or exterior paint, knowing that the color is going to match the way you want it to across the spectrum of the day is critical. And so we really have tried to help our clients with their customer journey and accelerate that process,” Tom explains.

This is where the peel-and-stick samples are coming in. Customers are tired of having a painter come in and paint 20 swatches on a wall or going out themselves to get sample paint and ruining the wall with three or four test spots — and then staring at the spots for days or weeks while they try to make up their minds. With peel and stick, you can take the samples down off the wall whenever you want and then put them back up later.

“We feel like helping our clients accelerate that process is good for their business. And then that obviously is good for us as well,” says Tom.

While Color Communications doesn’t sell directly to architects, their clients sell a lot of architect kits. So CC does focus groups with architects to have a better understanding of what they need and how CC can help solve their problems for them. For instance, one architect mentioned that he worked on metal roofs and wished he could get samples coated on a magnet so he could leave them on the roof. CC immediately delivered.

Architect Focus Groups

Since Tom’s five years running the architect focus groups, the most common refrain that has come out of them is “they want a guarantee that whatever you're gonna do is gonna work. They don't want any testing.”

They want to know that the product is going to work in the field before they’ll even consider it. Years ago, architects used to be a little more experimental, but today, they’re not.

Tom thinks the reason behind the change is safety. “They don't want to take a risk on a product, and [then] they have their name associated with something that ‘didn't work.’”

Part of that reason is how many variables architects have to think about. “In their space, there are so many variables that they have to consider these days that maybe they didn't have to be considered: regulatory, legal, environmental —10, 15, 20 years ago, they didn't have to have their arms around all that. Now that they do, they're looking for things that are just going to check the box and make sure they don't have to worry about it.”

They don’t want to get a complaint, callback or their reputation hurt.

Addressing Customer Pain Points

How can manufacturers decide if they should innovate and create new products based on pain points that they hear from their customers? For Tom, it’s a multi-pronged approach.

First, the company hosts an innovation team that includes people from all across the company, including at least one salesperson to ensure there’s an outside perspective.

Then, they use a grading system. They look at possible market size and use that to decide how they can allocate resources. CC generally takes an aggressive approach. If a client says something might be an issue, they’ll take the time to try and fix it and test options.

For example, they recently applied for a patent for a new product. Several months ago, a client with a big line of semi-transparent stains mentioned they were struggling with getting samples in the marketplace due to a chemical shortage on their end. They wanted to divert as much of the chemical they had to production instead of sampling. To do that, they wanted Color Communications to come up with a way to do semi-transparent stains the same way they did their peel-and-stick labels.

This pain point wasn’t on CC’s radar at all, but they went after it with gusto and managed to create exactly what the client needed. (Check out the YouTube video of this episode to see the finished product!)

Feedback Loops

When deciding whether to create a new product, it’s important to remember that you need to make money. There has to be a point where you say, “enough is enough.” Make sure you’re running the business while also trying to innovate.

It’s also important to keep the person who had the idea up to date. If you don’t communicate progress with the client who had the request, you’ll quickly have an angry customer. Remember to keep an open feedback loop with the person — tell them how you're progressing, if you can’t do it or if you can but there will be a cost to them.

Want Even More Insight?

Tom’s advice to manufacturers to be successful over the next year is to remember that budget scrutiny is higher than ever. To convince architects or other clients to purchase from you, you need to be as granular as you can about why buying from you makes sense, as well as granular about what the end user’s experience is going to be with the product. Then, try to connect the online and offline experience so they can get the story and the product (or sample) easily.

To learn more about innovating based on pain points, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Tom via email at [email protected].

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