Maggie Young, Ideas marketing agency
It might be a cliché, but it really is an exciting time to be in the UK timber industry. Timber is flavour of the month and more and more architects are extolling its unique combination of green credentials, adaptability and aesthetics. It’s also in fashion with government, which is driving to reduce the carbon impact of construction through the Code for Sustainable Homes and increasingly stringent Building Regulations. Sustainability is the watchword and no other material can deliver sustainability like wood.

The wood industry is responding to its new opportunities with increased capacity, new technologies and a fresh emphasis on training. But what about its promotional record?

Looking at our own clients, there’s been a lot going on. wood for good, AHEC, the Wood Window Alliance, and the British Woodworking Federation, have all run advertising and public relations campaigns aimed at specifiers and contractors, all focusing on wood’s adaptability and sustainability. And, of course, the Wood Awards is a great showcase.

The word has also been spread in a series of conferences organised by, amongst others, TRADA, TTJ, the IWSc, the Forestry Commission, Coillte and The Timber Trade Federation. And the industry is really beginning to get its house in order on education, with wood for good launching its Online Learning, for instance, and, in conjunction with TRADA, running a CPD seminar programme attended by more than 2,000 architects and engineers over the year.

So far, so good. But the industry must keep up the momentum and speak in a unified voice, such as the Wood for Gold campaign, to compete with those well-funded rival construction material campaigns which will now be stepping up their efforts in the face of wood’s growing profile. This is where wood for good is so important. If we are on the brink of a new ‘Wood Age’, as many predict, let’s make sure that our messages are consistent, our campaigns are strategic and our voices heard across the clamour of our competitors.

Paul Richardson, Vivid Ink
For the last few years we’ve been working in the timber industry, delivering PR support to clients, and one thought repeatedly comes to mind: Why is the single most sustainable construction material so modestly celebrated?

A few spectacular successes in timber building have received good media coverage, but mainly for their curiosity value rather than for using a sustainable method of construction.

For all but multi-floor buildings over six storeys, timber should win every time. So why aren’t we all living in sustainable, highly energy efficient timber houses and why is the popular media more inclined to focus on the negatives of building with wood, such as the much-publicised fires at developments in Colindale and Hatfield, or to portray timber as quirky and unusual ?

It is all about perception, and perception management is a long hard game. The concrete, brick and steel suppliers have been awash with highly developed brands, each supported by a wealth of sophisticated communications strategies and tactics. The budgets available have been vast and they have marketing and PR machines to champion their own green credentials.

Timber should be the instinctive choice for reasons with which we are all familiar, maybe now is the time for the industry to raise its communication game still higher. With the Olympics and a massive house building programme upon us, perhaps an even more voluble challenge to the status-quo is required.

A final thought: there’s a spectacular, new timber building in the Peak National Park close to our offices that revels in its timber construction. It has wood visible inside and out and is loaded with sustainable features like a geothermal heat pump and rainwater collection. It was also intended to have solar heating panels on the roof, but the local authority was unconvinced and insisted on slate as it was more “in keeping”. More evidence that, however green your product, it still needs effective marketing!

Alison Relf, Taylor Alden PR
Out of the workplace, we’re all traditional consumers. What made you buy that TV, iPod, phone or bottle of wine? The thinking behind marketing for this type of consumer product is no different to the thinking behind any marketing programme. It’s about getting a name and reputation in front of the right customer and finding out what presses their buttons.

The traditional view is that the timber industry has been slow to get excited about marketing – our clients’ words after some research. This may be a question of confidence and the “who will be interested in our activities” syndrome. But the timber industry is full of talented people and the products/services are among the most hi-tech in UK industry. And its key market, construction, is our very bedrock; look at government house building targets and our population/housing situation.

It is the verbal, visual, confident companies who can reap the rewards of the opportunities. I can remember a TTJ article on a company supplying their roof trusses pink so they were visually stunning on a truck or a site. It was an answer to the question, ‘how do we stand out against the plethora of others and why are we better?’. Yes, it may be a more expensive option, but it causes a stir.

The timber industry has made progress in marketing in recent years. Innovations, such as specialist exhibitions, award schemes and comprehensive industry research have made a difference and generic promotion is helping transform specifier and consumer attitudes.

There is, no doubt, also more to be done, and many more tools to look at for addressing existing and potential customers. But the fundamental rule still applies. First ask what you want to say and to whom. Then start looking at the actual campaign.