Marketing Advice for Woodworking Firms: an Interview with Marketing Expert Brandee Johnson
In our most recent podcast, Randy Estabrook, Director of AWI-QCP, sits down with Brandee Johnson, founder and CEO of LimeLight Marketing, to discuss the ins and outs of marketing and what it means for woodworking firms.
Continue reading to learn how you as a woodworking firm can identify and reach target consumers, the kinds of content you should be producing, and how you can leverage your QCP license as a unique differentiator of your business. You can also listen to the podcast in full here.
From a Business Degree, to Working at LEGO, to Starting Her Own Business
Brandee Johnson first got involved with marketing in junior college, where the panic of choosing a major led her to study a Business undergraduate degree with a focus in Marketing. But she really got her feet wet in the marketing realm after college, when she worked for two large corporations:
“Before starting LimeLight, I worked for LEGO, where I led their marketing communication and education division in North America. During this time, I got deep into marketing: I was in my early thirties and knew where I wanted to spend my career.
“So, when I made the choice to start LimeLight Marketing in 2015, I already knew I loved marketing, and had the desire to take the entrepreneurial route by starting my own business.”
How Marketing and Sales Work Together
All of this experience has made Brandee an expert in her field, so we wanted to ask her a key question that many marketing novices have: are marketing and sales the same thing?
Brandee says that while they’re not the same, the distance between their roles has been closing over the last few years: “Twenty or thirty years ago, there was a widespread between sales and marketing,” Brandee explains. “The teams were very different, they rarely communicated, and had very different goals.
“But we’ve seen that spread start to shrink, and that’s happening primarily because of the internet and the way people are consuming information.”
Brandee goes on to say that if we rewound the clocks twenty or thirty years, in order to learn about a product, the consumer would have needed to talk to a salesperson. But now, with technology dominating so much of our world, and online shopping becoming the new norm, the roles of marketing and sales have completely changed.
Technology’s Role in Shrinking the Gap
Today, with a huge amount of information readily available online, consumers are no longer reliant on sales representatives in the same way they were before. We asked Brandee how she thinks this boom in technology has changed the relationship between marketing and sales.
Brandee says: “There are statistics that suggest that up to 80% of the buyer’s journey now happens online and before the customer even thinks about talking to a sales rep.” The buyer’s journey is the process a customer goes through when purchasing a product or service, from the moment they become aware of the product right through to placing an order.
Brandee tells us that in that first 80% of the journey, consumers are making really key decisions about the product, such as what value it offers, how it solves their problem, how it compares against competing products, and so on. Now that we’re in a digital age where everything can be found online, this information is gleaned and decisions are made without ever having to speak to a sales rep.
This is why marketing is so important today. Before, consumers sought out salespeople to help them make their decision. Now, they do the legwork themselves. This change in consumer behavior is particularly pertinent to the woodworking industry, which has historically employed traditional sales tactics over online marketing. But as more and more people flock to search engines, websites and social media, you’ll need a good marketing strategy in place if you want consumers to find your firm.
The Differences Between Marketing and Sales
One of the key differences between marketing and sales, Brandee tells us, is that marketing involves a one-to-many relationship, while sales hinges on one-to-one communication.
Brandee says: “Marketing is about talking and communicating with people in one-to-many formats. Marketing teams are typically responsible for sending and communicating messages to many people all at once. Sales, on the other hand, is more one-to-one.”
If we bring this back to the buyer’s journey we mentioned earlier, it highlights another key difference between the roles of marketing and sales. Brandee explains: “Marketing is responsible for covering the needs of the consumer as they explore the first 80% of their buyer’s journey.” These responsibilities include creating engaging content and getting relevant information out onto the platforms target consumers are using. This is so that when consumers are looking and searching for a specific product, they’re coming across your business and successfully finding the answers to their questions. “So on a minimalistic level,” Brandee says. “That’s what marketing is about.”
She continues: “Sales come in to fill a very important and high ROI spot, which sits in the remaining 20% of the buyer’s journey. This is when a customer is ready to talk to someone about their very specific needs or use case for the product and find answers to specific questions that aren’t available online.” So, while it’s the marketer who essentially guides the consumer through the buyer’s journey, it’s the salesperson who drives in the final nail – so to speak, anyway.
Do Small, Medium and Large Companies Have Different Marketing Needs?
With her years in the industry, Brandee has a unique set of experiences when it comes to working with small, medium, and large companies. With many woodworking firms being SME businesses, we wanted to hear her perspective on the unique marketing needs that different sized businesses have.
Brandee says: “Ironically, those companies have more in common than you might think. They face a lot of the same challenges: deeply understanding their target audience, finding the best channels to communicate with them on, creating good content, and differentiating content.”
The main difference in marketing for SMEs and large businesses comes down to resources and focus. Brandee explains: “Often, smaller businesses don’t have a dedicated in-house team of marketing specialists who are focused all day on marketing the company.
“Larger organizations do, and with that resource also comes a set-aside budget. For example, larger companies tend to have annual operating plans, or specific dollars set aside for marketing, which can range from 7-10% revenue.”
While larger businesses tend to have both the time, attention, and specialization of human resources as well as the budget that’s needed to run a fully-fledged marketing campaign, this isn’t as common for smaller businesses.
Brandee tells us: “Smaller businesses may not have anyone who’s fully dedicated to marketing.” In fact, it’s common for only one person to be managing marketing in a small business, and often it’s not even their specialty. “We all know what happens when there’s something in our list of to-dos that we’re not great at it gets pushed to the bottom! So small businesses are challenged with not having dedicated resources from a human capital perspective, and sometimes also lack the set-aside budget needed to run a well-oiled marketing machine.”
The Visionary vs. The Integrator
From our experience, most people in the woodworking industry fall into two camps: big picture people or small details people. We were curious about how these two different personalities approach starting a marketing campaign, and how their needs differ.
This question reminded Brandee of the book ‘Traction’ by Gino Wickman, which refers to two very similar roles: the visionary, i.e. the big picture person, and the integrator, i.e. the small details person. Having worked with both types of personalities, Brandee goes on to tell us about how their priorities differ when it comes to marketing.
She says: “It’s more common for the visionary to come to us with questions about an overall marketing strategy that will help the company achieve their long term goals. Meanwhile, integrators often ask what they should be specifically doing. They tend to focus on the goals the company needs to achieve today, tomorrow, or next month in order to stay on course.”
So which mindset or approach is better to have when marketing a business? The reality is that both are important, Brandee tells us. While visionaries are great for looking into the future and planning out a road to success, they can sometimes get too wrapped up in the big picture to execute anything at all. Similarly, integrators can often get so mired down in all the little details that they don’t know if what they’re doing is aimed in the right direction. But, both personalities working together is a recipe for success.
How Can Woodworking Companies Leverage Their QCP License in a Marketing Campaign?
If your woodworking firm holds a QCP license, then you’re already standing out from competitors by showing that you follow the best industry practices. However, as Randy Estabrook says in the podcast, you can build the best cabinet on the planet, but how do you tell the half a million people who’d like to buy it that it exists?
We spoke to Brandee about how woodworking companies can leverage their QCP license in a marketing campaign, and it all comes down to knowing what your unique differentiators are.
Think About Your Unique Differentiators
Put simply, unique differentiators are the aspects of your business that set it apart from others. Determining what these are, especially for woodworking firms, can be the difference between outshining competitors or being outshined by them.
Brandee says: “One challenge I see many businesses face, across all industries and sizes, is how to differentiate who they are from competitors. In the woodworking industry, it can be really tough when you go to build a marketing campaign, or even just make outbound calls, to not sound like a commodity product or firm, where it’s just based on price alone. It’s really important to think through what it is about your business that differentiates you.”
According to Brandee, unique differentiators should be a combination of around three things, the reason being that identifying one unique thing about you may not be enough to really make you stand out. For example, while having a QCP license shows that you are committed to a certain quality standard, Brandee begs the question: is that only a unique differentiator to you? The answer is simply no – there are many other woodworking firms who hold a QCP license. Instead of relying on that fact alone, Brandee advises that it’s better to layer around three unique aspects of your business, because the combined uniqueness of those will be more effective at differentiating you.
Brandee continues: “As I think of AWI-QCP, what its certification offers to firms, and therefore the value it passes on to architects and contractors, I think that woodworking firms have a great opportunity to leverage their QCP license as one of their unique differentiators when talking to contractors and architects.”
So there you have it – QCP licensing won’t just help you grow your network of quality clients, it will also help in your marketing efforts! By tapping into the great deal of value that QCP licensing brings to the table, your woodworking business can highlight it as a part of your differentiation tactic.
Brandee’s Advice for Marketing Your Woodworking Firm
As our talk with Brandee draws to an end, we wanted to know if she had any closing advice for woodworkers looking to market their own firm.
Knowing the best tips of the trade will help you devise a strategy that focuses on the needs of your audience and draws them in with high-quality content, not just high-quality products. For Brandee, three of these best tips are understanding your customer personas, knowing how to reach your audience and quality over quantity of content.
Understand Your Customer Persona
As you put together a marketing plan, Brandee tells us that it’s really important to know and understand who your target customers are, what matters to them, and what their needs are.
This is what’s called a customer, or buyer persona: a fictional character you create to represent one of your target consumers. You can also create a number of different customer personas so that you can segment and understand your target audience better. For example, as a woodworking firm, a few customer personas you might focus on are Lead Architects, General Contractors, and Business Owners.
Brandee says: “Beyond just knowing what their job title is, you need to ask: what does their day look like? Thinking this through, and even documenting it out, will help when you come to making campaigns because all the content and messages you craft will be coming from an authentic angle of: what does my target audience care about? What are the problems they face? How can I help solve them?”
Know How to Reach Your Target Audience
An equally important marketing tip is knowing how to reach your target audience. Even if you have a good plan in place and a good knowledge of your audience, without knowing how to find them, these efforts can be wasted.
For the woodworking industry, Brandee has seen a larger shift towards firms using digital platforms when reaching out to clients. But the first most important thing is to ensure you have an up-and-running website. “If a woodworking firm doesn’t have a website, they should consider getting one; and if they have one, invest in it. Make sure it reflects the value you offer to your audience and how you can help them solve their problems. It’s also a good opportunity to showcase your QCP license as one of your unique differentiators: educate your audience on what that means and why they should care.”
Another digital space that’s increasingly utilized by the woodworking industry is social media. Brandee comments that she’s seen a huge surge in woodworkers using social media last year to reach out to consumers. When doing this, it’s important to do a bit of research beforehand so that you know which of your target consumers are using platforms. For example, general contractors tend not to use social media very much, but if they do, it’s often Linkedin. Architects, on the other hand, spend more time on social media platforms in general, including places like Instagram.
Quality Content Over Quantity of Content
The last tip Brandee has for us is all about content. “After you understand your audience and channels,” she says. “I think the biggest challenge that all companies face, especially small ones, is: What do we say? What do we post?”
Knowing what content to include in your marketing campaign can be daunting, especially when you have a lot to say. Brandee’s advice is to start small, be focused, and prioritize quality over quantity.
Brandee tells us that it’s better to get really good content on your website’s homepage and be mindful of conveying your value proposition in a compelling way, rather than to dump as much information there as possible. The same rule applies to social media posts: it’s more beneficial to make one solid, educational post per week rather than trying to make four posts in a week that are of lower quality.
When thinking about the types of content you can post, Brandee has some tried and tested ideas: “We’ve seen some real success in video content. These don’t have to be high production or high cost – even just raw, authentic iPhone footage showing some projects going on in your woodworking shop can be effective.”
Brandee continues by saying that blog posts are also a successful way of educating your target audience. When we think about the buyer’s journey online, blog posts can help answer all the questions that pop up in that first 80% of the journey, when customers are doing their research and making decisions for themselves. Similarly, how-to guides and case studies have also been effective, in Brandee’s experience, at providing educational and valuable content about your business.
We hope that these thought-provoking ideas from Brandee Johnson have been useful to those of you reading or listening. If you’re considering placing a stronger focus on marketing, think about how you can leverage these ideas to make your woodworking firm really stand out.