Sustaining Success at the High End

A dealer must begin with a clear brand message and an understanding of these customers
By Mandy Arnold
August 30, 2013
FEATURE ARTICLE | Strategies & Practices, Sales & Marketing

The high-end segment has experienced a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past several years, with changes in customer profiles and behavior leaving many window and door companies revamping past marketing approaches.

Having managed and consulted for a wide range of window and door brands and retailers, I’m speaking from extensive experience when I say that the industry’s execution of high-end is muddied at best. Some “get” high-end; some think they get it; and others cause disruption by just wanting to sell in the segment for the margins alone.

This high-end hodgepodge often dilutes end users’ association of what is high-end and what is not in the window and door segment. Cost is a high-end characteristic, but it’s not just a price point; it represents the customer-appreciated value of the product.

Appreciated value validates the price point. The key is understanding what moves a brand or a dealer to the highest level of appreciation in order to sustain itself as a high-end brand, product or service.

So, what gets a dealer a sustainable advantage in the high-end segment? The information that follows can help set the stage for discussion on your own marketing approach.

What ’s the Message?

We live in a cluttered market, and in the world of marketing any brand, “repetition, repetition, repetition” is your only silver bullet. Before you can repeat, however, you need to know what it is you are saying—this is where foundational brand messaging comes in. For high-end segments, clarification of your message is an absolute. The more sophisticated your customer, the less tolerance they have for inconsistency.

This might sound simple enough, but time and again, companies experience internal confusion. A small group of people might get what the brand experience and story is, but there is often a failure to move a consistent understanding through the organization, causing a breakdown in end users’ experience. Confusion is disruptive, causes your customers discomfort and slows down your sales channel. Making sure every member of your team can wrap their arms around the same goals should be your starting point when determining your brand message.

Understand Thy High-End Customer

Customers in the high-end segment are not complicated; in actuality, they are quite the opposite. What sets some dealers apart is their understanding of the absolute important factors that drive their high-end customer to a favorable decision. In the majority of instances, there is a set of standards that are non-negotiable. These include reputation, relationship, third-party endorsements, product beauty, performance and innovation, standards for service and thorough follow-through.

Issues in high-end arise when the brand message and experience are treated and executed as a commodity. In other words, when the relationship becomes a transaction—typically this is when you start hearing, “a window is a window”— you’ve got issues. Selling, and marketing, to high-end customers requires that you manage customers’ entire set of standards with the end goal of getting a referral.

In marketing, the objective is always to get people talking positively. And in high-end, reputations are masterful. If you are dealing with an architect, a general contractor or a homeowner, achieving a level of desirable chatter is a must.

Reputation by Association

Whether you are a manufacturer or a dealer/retailer, your associates affect your reputation. Selecting ideal partners that are capable of adding appreciated value goes back to making sure you are on common ground when it comes to standards for service, product quality and accountability.

As you read this, you might be wondering why a “marketer” is speaking to service and product. The reason is, it’s all related, and when there is a breakdown in accountability to the customer, everything falls to pieces. A marketer can do a wonderful job managing the message, creating an image, providing effective touch points, etc., but if there’s a crack in the final stages of execution on the frontlines, it doesn’t matter what is done in marketing.

It’s important that sales and marketing work together to identify the right partners and set expectations for accountability, follow-through, tracking, tools and resources.

The “D” Word

Companies, large and small, often ask me about discounting. Discount promotions as a market strategy in high-end will fail you in the long term.

Pricing strategy is important, and in many instances, pricing strategies with first-time conversions, high volume efforts and preferred vendors make complete sense. However, special promotions direct to the consumer in the high-end segment can disrupt the message when the goal is to control the conversation and perceived value of your offering. There are alternative efforts to promotional discounting, such as campaigns emphasizing features, styles and options, offered as “included” incentives to the end user.

The Dilemma of Big Retail Showrooms

Our best high-end intuition, especially in good times, told us that “bigger is better” when designing retail showrooms. Over the past decade, many of us have watched window and door retailers invest in major destination retail locations. Some have worked, and others have failed miserably. This has caused confusion regarding the development of highend showrooms and has forced us all to more closely look at the ROI of square footage.

Unfortunately, this all happened as customers, especially high-end, started to shift how they shopped and evaluated purchase decisions. High-end customers didn’t want to be reminded that what they were buying cost more; they wanted the opposite. They wanted to feel that they were making a responsible fiscal decision, receiving exceptional value overall and not overpaying for a high-end window or door. They accepted the high-end cost, but being reminded of that by an indulgent, luxurious showroom had a counterintuitive effect.

The other issue lies in the fact that many consumers associate high-end with expertise and craftsmanship, so an overtly high-end retail experience is not necessarily going to be a good thing. It can sometimes become a barrier to building the relationship with the consumer. Keep in mind—you’re not selling designer handbags made in limited quantity by celebrity designers. You’re in the building industry where you work for the customer’s visions, not the other way around.

In high-end, there’s also a balance to being the go-to resource and the company with an overly commercialized sales environment. The customer does judge a book by its cover, and when a retail location is cumbersome or intimidating, it adds noise to the relationship, especially if it’s not adding value or specific purpose. The best retail experiences are designed around answering the customer’s questions and reinforcing the total brand experience in a clutter-free space that is not intimidating or distracting.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line in high-end is not the only thing that makes it high-end. Window and door companies should evaluate the customer’s total experience. The best marketing approach emphasizes what the customer values the most, while keeping an eye on any changes to your audience’s expectations, in order to facilitate trust and intent to purchase.

Arnold is the president of Gavin Advertising, York, Pa. She has more than 15 years of experience managing senior-level market strategy, brand development, public relations, integrated communications and guerilla marketing for regional and national brands. Previously she served as VP of marketing at Lightstyles Ltd., a distributor of luxury building products. There, she served as a member of the Regional Marketing Council and National Retail Council for Marvin Windows & Doors. More information is available at www.gavinadvertising.com or by calling 717/848-8155.