Generational Change & Company Branding

Originally written for CFMA

Many construction companies go through change, in particular, change in leadership. As a majority of these companies are family owned, this change may be occurring for the first time in 20-40 years, and the challenges they face as they make the transition are significant and varied.

The new generation often tries to modernize the brand they are inheriting. They may feel the company’s marketing materials (especially its website) are dated and that what worked for their parents and grandparents may not work for them.

These concerns are usually symptoms of deeper, more integrated challenges. The problems actually lie more with the bottom line rather than just with outdated marketing materials. In defense of the previous generation, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture when you are so close to the company’s legacy branding. However, it’s possible that the incumbent leadership is scared to tell their predecessor (possibly family) that the brand image and messaging are off point. Missing the mark this way, especially when it has gone on for a while, costs the company lots of money in missed opportunities.

First, keep in mind that your brand is not your logo. Your brand is the collection of experiences people have with your company. This experience includes, but is not limited to: how your employees answer the phone, the craftsmanship of your proposals, the appearance of your jobsites, how your drivers behave on the road, your project estimating accuracy, and how you perform on a project. If your client’s experience includes missed deadlines, expensive work change orders, unanswered calls and e-mails, vacant job sites, and a repeated poor quality of work, then you’ve likely lost that client (and most of his peers) for life.

With a misaligned brand, you could be attracting and retaining the wrong clients and wrong employees. The wrong clients don’t value your work and force you to fight for low-bid work. The wrong employees are the always watching the clock and may even leave your company for a $0.25 raise somewhere else. The worst part about each is that they can potentially drive away the few good clients and good employees you do have in place.

Transitioning leadership is a great time to look closely at your company’s true branding, and let the new team plot out the best course of action. A new brand message can represent the company’s change and should reflect the new leader’s vision. This re-branding initiative should also signal to those who have written you off or never considered your company that things have changed, and it is time to take another look.

Sometimes companies feel that change may not be wanted or needed. Many times, the company’s outgoing leader is a strong individual with a larger-than-life personality whom everyone loves and adores. It can be detrimental to the company and a shock to longtime employees to lose this person; so, the goal for this transition, then, should be to make the changes appear as if they aren’t really changes at all. However, in the case of an untimely death or personal illness, seamless unnoticeable change may be impossible or difficult to manage. If that is your case, you may want to seek guidance from brand-transition professionals.

The million dollar questions are:

The new leadership will need to make decisions about management personnel, financial transition, focus of work and niche branding, legacy planning for the outgoing team, infrastructure and equipment improvements, and budgeting for all of this and more.

If nothing about the brand is going to change, then management will need to document the current brand’s characteristics, including message and audience, strategic differentiation, value proposition, and brand relevance. Then, build a team to complement the new executive and fill in the gaps when the predecessor officially steps down. A transition plan is ideal here so the predecessor can mentor the incoming executive; unfortunately, these transitions do not always go as planned.

If it’s determined that a change is necessary or warranted, then take time to determine the company’s future. Does that change your geographic markets, market sectors, services, products, and/or personnel? Document the future brand’s characteristics, new value proposition, and strategic advantages, and then fill in the gaps on how to get there.

Both of these processes are easier said than done, but are achievable if the right process if adopted.