Marketing in construction: an interview with Peter Caplehorn

For the second instalment in our series of video interviews with construction industry influencers, technical experts and agents of change, we spoke with Peter Caplehorn, CEO of the Construction Products Association (CPA).

Following Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building regulations and fire safety, a new Marketing Integrity Group was established by the CPA, primarily to address the criticisms made in the Hackitt review about the way construction products are marketed and how product information is presented to architects, specifiers and others in the supply chain.

In October 2019, the Marketing Integrity Group published its Construction Product Information Survey – a report based on responses from a cross section of industry professionals, including architects, designers, specifiers, consultants, manufacturers and others. More than 500 respondents contributed to the survey, all of whom use product and performance data as part of their jobs.

We spoke with Peter at the end of 2019 to better understand the key findings of the survey, and what construction product marketers, in particular, should be working on in 2020.

 

Here are the top five points for construction marketers (watch the full interview above to hear what else Peter had to say, including on new rules and principles being developed to guide the future marketing of construction products and systems):

Don’t bury your head in the sand about the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Peter believes there’s a certain amount of denial in the industry, with some people still saying the tragic events of 14 June 2017 don’t affect them.

“That’s wrong,” he says. “I think it will and should affect everybody in the industry. But I think we just have to re-think what we’re all doing – we’re building assets that should be safe for the people who use them and live in them, and I think [the industry] has let people down badly by producing lots of buildings which probably are not safe.”

Peter goes on to say that marketers and construction PR professionals need to ask themselves: ‘Could I stand up right now, hand on heart, and say that I am promoting something which delivers a safe outcome?’

‘Custom and practice’ needs an overhaul

“So much of the industry is driven by custom and practice,” says Peter. “In other words, we did it like that last year, so we’re going to do it the same way this year.” The time has come to think about things differently, he says, and not rely on the way things have always been done.

A big part of this, according to Peter, relates to the industry’s obsession with delivering output at the lowest cost and fastest time.

“Clearly we see that driving marketing quite often. I don’t think we can perpetuate the industry with those kind of principles still in place. We have to go for performance and value for money. The ethics of the thing has to be driven around those principles, not the cheapest price.”

We need a competency standard for construction product marketing

The Competence Steering Group has been working flat out developing competency standards for all parts of the construction supply chain. But is there now a need for a competency standard for marketing in construction? Peter thinks there is.

“Clearly what we’ve seen from Judith Hackitt’s analysis is that [the industry] is lacking in provable, reliable, robust competence that will deliver the outcomes that we have got to be seen to be delivering.

“The challenge always for marketing is to fulfil the brief, but to also see the other side of the coin. The crucial thing for me is that we have got to get on board with the new processes, but we’ve also got to understand the various elements across the industry and see it from other people’s points of view. So much about the construction industry is about the siloed perspective, and those days have got to be over.”

Marketing people must become highly technically aware

The days where marketing does its thing and technical does its thing have got to be over, too. Marketing people now need to fully understand and be competent in talking about the products they’re promoting. Peter agrees, and says that technology and process can help, with the concept of the Golden Thread being something marketers can use to their advantage.

“The idea is that when we start a project we have a digital set of information, and that information is continually updated and is reliable and is one version of the truth. And so we don’t get any of this debate about what everybody means; it’s all very, very clear.”

Peter agreed that construction marketing and communication professionals can be part of that, helping to make sure the information truly is accurate. And, indeed, marketers can draw upon the information themselves, as a rich resource to feed into their work.

He added: “We wouldn’t want to stop creativity. But to me the creativity should get people interested [in the product]. Then the description shows you the truth. It doesn’t start to take you off down a path that misleads people into thinking that the product does something it doesn’t do.”

The Marketing Integrity Group’s report is very clear in its recommendations also:

  •  Construction product providers have a responsibility to make sure their product information is concise, complete, accurate and up-to-date.
  •  Marketers can help by ensuring all product information is provided in a clear way, written in plain English, accessible and easy to understand and compare.

Rebuilding the trust of the public must be done in small steps

Consistency is key for building trust, as has been recently learnt by other industries which have been put under great scrutiny by the general public. Currently, the construction industry isn’t consistent: we build superlative, wonderful buildings one moment and then we have something like the Grenfell Tower tragedy the next.

Peter says: “The construction industry will only rebuild the trust of the general public in provable small steps. It’s about competence, it’s about performance and it’s about being open, transparent and robust. Previously, we’ve not had the will to see the right path and adopt it; we’ve gone for cheap and cheerful, and we’ve gone for the high market, and that’s why we’ve got that huge diversity.”

Wrapping up, Peter said 2020 must be the construction industry’s big year of change.

“Again, I think there’s probably another message that I’d like to get out there: this isn’t an option. A change is necessary, and if the industry is going to go forward and be successful, it needs to embrace the changes that we can see coming.”

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