Paul Hagar is a marketing and communications professional with over 15 years’ experience in the building and architectural products industry. As former Director of Marketing at Hunter Douglas, Paul led a team that successfully launched the brand’s architectural product line. I sat down with him to ask about the lessons he learned throughout his career, and what other marketers of commercial building products should be thinking about as they develop a digital marketing strategy.
Q: I know that you were formerly the Director of Marketing at Hunter Douglas. Can you tell me a little bit about your time there, your background, and what you do now?
A: Sure – in that role I led a marketing and communications team which supported Hunter Douglas’ architectural businesses. Those units worked on thousands of projects for education, corporate, hospitality and other environments across North America, designing and manufacturing shades, blinds, metal ceilings, external shading devices, and rainscreen façade systems. Currently, I am senior vice president at Kellen, a full-service association management firm, where I oversee teams serving association and corporate clients, including many in the building and construction industry.
Q: What interests or excites you most about marketing as a discipline?
A: The opportunities for collaboration – working with sales, product teams and engineers, vendors and clients. It’s exciting to be involved in the whole arc of the business: attracting customers, educating them, supporting their work, and then celebrating the successes – not to mention learning from the challenges of course.
Q: Large building product manufacturers like Hunter Douglas often have two audiences they’re marketing to, commercial and residential. Why was targeting the commercial market important to you?
A: That’s a great question – the first thing that comes to mind is that it was about building. In one sense of course the construction of new structures and spaces. But in the case of this business, it was also building a new brand and all the sales and marketing tools and processes that go with that. Our boss, David Sonnenberg, has a strong interest in architecture and design, and he gave me and our whole team a great vision of how to reach architects at the early stages of projects, and how best to support engineers and builders through the construction process.
Q: You led a team that essentially quadrupled commercial revenue for Hunter Douglas. What worked, and what didn’t?
A: Another good – and pretty big – question! Our marketing team did best when we built strong relationships with the people connected to customers: sales reps, customer service teams, and their managers. That partnership helped us find the right audience, understand them, and evaluate our work in progress. It also worked more effectively when any new tools and programs we put out were linked to existing resources. That gave people a better sense of what to expect. For example, using BIM to enhance the design and engineering resources that previously focused on CAD drawings. What didn’t work? One thing we struggled with was predesigning solutions – coming to a situation with an idea in mind already. We found it was better to take a test-and-learn approach, discovering a solution and refining it based on what we saw worked or didn’t.
Q: How is marketing to commercial buyers like architects and designers different from marketing approach to residential buyers like homeowners?
A: The commercial approach needs to account for longer sales cycles and more complex buying processes with more decision makers. We usually need to help our focused team make the sale more than once, often over the course of months. That requires more structure and process, with better organization of our internal information.
Q: In today’s world, marketing is all about utilizing software and data to stay competitive. I’ve heard a lot of people in our industry complain that building product manufacturers are lagging behind on digital transformation. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
A: Not true, at least for HD and other leading manufacturers of architectural and building products. For example, Ron Rice transformed the Hunter Douglas ceilings business at many levels, from using big data to research leads to supporting our marketing and sales programs with social media, website resources, and digital collateral to bringing new equipment to the manufacturing floor.
Q: How did customer experience play into your commercial marketing strategy? Was your website, or the digital experience for your customers, a part of that strategy?
A: The website was a cornerstone of the business – as evidenced by the constant suggestions (and occasional complaints) we got from sales, marketing, and customers. That told us it was being used, and that people relied on the assets it made available.
Q: Looking back at your success at Hunter Douglas, what advice do you have for marketers of commercial building products today? How should they be thinking about attracting and retaining more commercial customers?
A: I’d encourage marketers to study the specific problems of the variety of customers who you interact with… Learning what they want will inform what products and services you create, and how you describe them. Balance industry research with talking to them directly and asking questions. Also partner with media contacts. They know everyone, and the best ones are open to being creative. Two examples are Architectural Record and Metropolis – both have been amazing in their willingness to hear new ideas and experiment.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about the company you work for now, and the services you provide?
A: Thanks for the opportunity! Kellen is a leading global provider of management and communications services to trade associations, professional societies and industry groups. We also provide marketing communications services for companies in several industries such as building and construction, food and nutrition, transportation and logistics, and medical/healthcare.