The Role of Brand and Digital in the Recovery of the Construction Industry
Following Boris Johnson’s calls in 2020 for the UK to ‘build, build, build’, the present moment is a pivotal one for analogue construction businesses, big or small, to focus their strategies on their customer’s shifting needs, and to engage in building their digital practices to ensure their offering is tailored to the post-COVID-19 world.
Despite being the largest industry in the world, accounting for 13% of global GDP, construction is one of the slowest to embrace change. As the world embraces digital to adapt and improve efficiencies, it is crucial for the construction industry to also follow suit. Construction industry innovators are championing the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins, and are collaborating to develop an international standard for information management. This is set to transform the construction industry from fragmented practices to a connected industry which is based on a set of international standards – much like the internet.
There is also much talk about how the industry can deliver better lasting value, too, with the Construction Innovation Hub launching its Value Toolkit as part of the UKRI’s recent Future of Building Week. The focus for the toolkit is to help the industry move from seeing ‘value’ in price terms, and instead move towards true value-based decision making – looking at the whole life value of new projects, such as sustainability, longevity and mixed-use opportunities.
However, how can construction companies adapt to ensure they remain relevant and to protect their bottom line in the shorter term, particularly if developing digital twins still seems like a distant dream?
Remaining relevant and protecting the bottom line
A recent industry insight piece from McKinsey states a $265 billion annual profit pool awaits industry disrupters. Those who take the opportunity to analyse their offering, re-consider what their customer needs, and update their strategies and business practices to reflect the ‘new normal’ will be best placed to capitalise on this opportunity. If existing industry players don’t adapt, it’s looking more and more likely that innovative startups will spot these opportunities and swoop in – as Uber did with the digitalisation and overhaul of the traditional taxi and food delivery markets.
Beyond customer satisfaction, another huge benefit of digitalisation is the ability to improve efficiency and productivity. This should be a focus for all organisations, but when it comes to construction, this will resonate most with organisations who are battling to move away from a sales model based on the lowest bidder, to one which offers true value across the whole lifespan of a building or asset. As a stark example, according to Virgin StartUp more than a third of construction projects in the UK overrun on time (40%) or budget (35%) which can have a huge impact on whether a project delivers profit or loss.
Ways to future-proof and increase productivity
There are a number of manageable first steps that can be taken to future-proof and increase productivity in traditional construction firms:
- Take your business processes digital – there is an opportunity to unlock a wealth of data which can be used to track your business’ success metrics with little effort. This could be finance (e.g. Xero), project management (e.g. Smartsheet) or building information modelling (e.g. Revit).
- Introduce a data strategy – it could be as simple as ensuring your contacts database meets GDPR data laws or beginning to digitise your records, through to setting good information management practices which will help when you implement future digital tools such as building information modelling, or digital twins.
- Use design to save time and reduce costly errors – benefits can include improvement in communication with and between stakeholders, therefore saving time and improving productivity, as well as enhanced health & safety through clearer communication of hazards.
- Empower your team – through introduction of digital tools which help them to do their job more effectively, increasing productivity and job satisfaction whilst simultaneously building the datasets available for business performance analysis.
How can construction firms compete with non-traditional disrupters?:
- Know your audience – target your business and brand strategies to their emotional needs to truly resonate with them. Speaking to, and analysing, your audience to truly understand what they need can untap opportunities to tailor an offer that you may’ve otherwise never considered.
- Ensure your offer is easy to procure – productisation of services makes traditional services simple and easy to buy, as demonstrated by the phenomenal success of Uber. Construction News cites a product-based approach to traditional services as one of the nine shifts which will radically change how construction is undertaken.
- Ensure your brand is digital-ready – and that it has been designed with your audiences’ needs in mind. First impressions are 94% design related, so it’s crucial that your business has a brand which your audience connects with and which communicates your values to the world.
- Be vocal in your customers’ worlds – this could be through building a social media presence, or focusing on writing regular thought pieces in trade publications. Create a strategy for communications to reach your audiences and review your progress regularly to see where your customers are coming from and what sorts of content resonate with them most.
From a pre-Covid construction industry with notoriously low productivity and slow productivity growth, there are new opportunities available to adapt and introduce digital practices, to help improve resilience and speed up the journey to industry recovery. Construction leaders must start looking to and learning from disrupters who have shaken up other industries and productised other traditional services, to tailor to what audiences now need in this post-COVID-19 world.