Competition is tough: Brand specialist offers advice at Victoria construction conference

Terry O’Reilly says the biggest trick is to zig when others zag

Everywhere you look in Victoria there are cranes, pylons and the neon vests of construction workers.

The development industry is booming and over-saturation is a constant threat for businesses trying to distinguish themselves from the crowd. But at the Vancouver Island Construction Conference on Friday, hosted by the Vancouver Island Construction Association, branding specialist and CBC radio host Terry O’Reilly said there is a key strategy for keeping your business afloat: stand out.

“When there’s that much competition it really pays to have the smartest, most unique brand out there because it’s the one way to stand out,” he told the News. “Attention is the oxygen of marketing.”

This idea translates from globally-recognized businesses like Apple, to mom and pop shops down the street, which O’Reilly said succeed by looking at what their competitors are doing and deciding to do something different.

“There’s a reason why all car ads look the same, all beer ads look the same; it’s because they’re all looking around and trying to sort of resemble each other, which is terrible marketing,” he said. “You know Coke would never try to resemble Pepsi, Apple would never try to look like Microsoft, and West Jet never tries to look like Air Canada.”

O’Reilly said it’s essential that businesses continue to focus on their branding and their image, even when the economy is strong.

“When the economy goes soft, when it cycles – which it always does – if you didn’t build up your brand in the busy times, you’re in trouble because now you don’t have a brand,” he said. When the economy weakens, people tend to look to recognizable brands because they are safer options, he added.

Some industries are better at branding than others, O’Reilly noted, with the biggest differences seen between product-based businesses and service-based businesses like construction. The latter are a lot harder to sell, he said, because they are based on people, not things.

“There’s a product at the end, a house or building, but it’s your service you’re selling; your ability to build or your ability to design, to engineer, but it’s still an invisible skill set.”

Still, that means service-based industries have more leeway in how they branch out.

“The ironic statement about services is that they do less branding, yet they have more creative opportunity than selling products,” O’Reilly said. “My message is to zig [when the others zag]. Amateurs think marketing is all about selling stuff, but the pros know it’s all about differentiating your company.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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CBC radio show host and branding expert Terry O’Reilly speaks on the subject at the Vancouver Island Construction Conference. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

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