Words: Jim Toscas, President and CEO of the Portland Cement Association

The 2016 election of Donald J. Trump as President was a true paradigm shift for politics in America, leaving pundits and pollsters to unravel lessons learned and derive meaning from the vote. Regardless of which side of the aisle you were on, one undeniable takeaway from the election is that it is important and often challenging to fully know your audience and what it takes to motivate them.

For decades, concrete industry associations – including those representing cement, ready-mix, concrete and masonry products, and reinforcing steel – have expended considerable energy and resources through marketing, regional outreach, and/or direct promotional efforts to motivate people to build with concrete and masonry. Recent estimates show that total annual concrete industry spending for marketing and promotion is in excess of $40 million, roughly half of which is associated with promotional staff.

While that is certainly a large allocation of resources, its application has been highly dispersed, with each group individually encouraging its audiences to choose concrete for the specific applications it represents. There have been several sector-specific branded campaigns over the years, some more successful than others and some at the expense of others. The result has generally not been satisfying.

Without a unified voice, it has been virtually impossible to effectively address competitive threats, particularly the encroachment of wood and timber products into the buildings segment. By pursuing multiple campaigns promoting multiple (in some cases competing) systems to multiple audiences, we have unfortunately been diluting our impact on decisions to build with concrete.

We may finally be on a path to resolving this problem. Over the past year, the major associations of the concrete industry have pulled together to conduct fundamental market research that will form the basis of a comprehensive platform for effectively promoting all forms of concrete structures, from bridges and pavement to buildings and homes.  Through the Concrete and Masonry Related Associations group (CAMRA), the industry for the first time ever is collectively and comprehensively examining the processes, influences, and drivers of decisions about building with concrete and masonry versus other materials.

This important research will seek to identify core attributes of concrete that have universal appeal to deciders and influencers, regardless of whether they are engineers, architects, owners, developers, or code officials. We seek to gain an unprecedented understanding of how and why professionals make the decisions they do, and what our most effective arguments are for motivating them to choose concrete.

As you know, last year the National Ready-Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA) launched the “Build With Strength” campaign, targeting the market for low- to mid-rise buildings in response to aggressive competition from wood and timber. The CAMRA research has been closely coordinated with, and is designed to be complimentary to, the NRMCA effort.

Also, the baseline research includes consumers, which have not been a traditional target audience for concrete. However, including consumers in the research allows us to identify consumer preferences that can be used in turn to motivate professional deciders and influencers.

CAMRA has been an ideal forum for coordinating this program, and we expect to see the impact of our “strength in numbers” as we move from research to program design and implementation. The result will not be a single industry promotional program or campaign. In fact, there will not be a common brand, tagline, or standard ad copy. Instead, this program will produce a research-based platform of tested concepts and messaging upon which each concrete industry association can build its own promotional program.

Three task groups have been formed within CAMRA to oversee this program. Bob Thomas, President and CEO of the National Concrete Masonry Association, is chairman of the “Market Data” task group that is managing the market research project and developing market measurements and analytics.

An “Umbrella Positioning” task group will work on developing strategies and messaging to favorably position the industry in the marketplace, based on the results of the baseline research. A “Training and Education” task group will work on creating common programs and materials that can be used by individual associations to educate and inform the deciders and influencers that impact their respective markets.

The initial market research has now been completed. A draft report has been circulated to CAMRA members, and the baseline results will be finalized in the first quarter of 2017. This is an exciting and unique effort, and I look forward to updating you on our progress in the year ahead. Stay tuned!