How to position yourself in a Positive light
Constructing Brands Podcast
What You Will Learn:
- Material Sustainability
In the latest episode of GWP’s Constructing Brands podcast, we speak with Kenn Busch, owner of Material Intelligence Website and sustainability thought leader. Kenn offers us insights in how to start the discussion and position your building material company in a world where your carbon footprint is becoming more and more important. Kenn’s goal is to drive awareness to the importance of climate positive. Learn ways to position your efforts to be climate positive.
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[00:00:00] Building materials manufacturers run a complex. But we are here to help you plan for the future. Whether you are launching a new product, rebuilding a brand, trying to get thoughtful communication strategies in place or everything in between here on constructing brands, we will be talking with leading experts in construction, architecture, engineering, marketing, and manufacturing to help make your building materials company.
And more profitable with 15 plus years of experience helping building materials, companies succeed and grow your host. Eric Lynnelle good morning. actually I think it’s good after noon. it’s gosh, it’s about two o’clock. I am so happy to have on today. A gentleman who I met, gosh, a week or two ago. who has a [00:01:00] passion for this industry and who is making a difference. And I loved the way he was discussing brand and how he understood brand, but also the environment.
So I’m so happy to have on today. Ken Bush can thank you for joining us today on constructing brands. Oh, thank you, Eric. Pleasure to be. So Ken, can you share with us just a quick little bit about your background? And I know Ken material intelligence is the name of your company, right? Share with us who you are and what material intelligence is and why it’s important for our folks to know about.
Sure. So I have been a journalist in the furniture and interior design industry since 1990 to removal. And I started out very focused on furniture, materials, and manufacturing, covering that, commercial and residential, furniture, from the manufacturing production side. Started to weave into more decorative surfaces and marketing and, use [00:02:00] of decorative surfaces and how it fits into the larger global, furniture design world started working with a bunch of companies out of, Europe, mostly Germany.
And that led to me creating educational content on materials for architects and interior designers. So coming out of knowledge of production and then a deeper base knowledge of material, materials, and design, and then trying to connect that to how architects and interior designers specify these materials, for the last 15 years or so, I’ve been creating educational.
CU is giving presentations, consulting with companies, but really trying to help, a segment of the materials industry that always thinks of itself as a commodity. Or a technical product and figuring out how they can tell a better story to people who specify on, on design, on performance and now on sustainability.
So that’s where material intelligence LLC, is based as part of the whole sustainability journey. I have been doing a lot of research into [00:03:00] specifically engineered wood composite. Materials and, the carbon sequestration and that has led to a whole new movement. We’re calling climate positive now.org, which is based on some global messaging from companies like Ikea and H and M. but, the composite wood world, anybody who designs and build with w builds with wood has a distinct advantage because of Wood’s inherent properties. what kind of sparked the passion to specific? is it about, have you always been just an environmentalist? Is it a, take a step back? why this well? as part of creating educational content for architects and designers, I could see a lot of sustainability messaging starting to form, this is going back a decade and more now. but a lot of it seemed highly suspect. And I’m working closely with the composite panel association and major producers like Aramco and Yuna board and to FISA of these products. they had, they had some research, they were sitting on that. I could not figure out why they were not, shouting from the rooftops. [00:04:00] And that basically is, because of wards, natural properties, trees absorb. Yeah, actually absorb CO2 as they go right through photosynthesis. They break the carbon off of that.
Carbon becomes part of the lignan the cellular structure of trees and they release the oxygen part. So that’s why absorbs carbon releases oxygen to the degree that I’m going to take a break right now. I’m going to take that in. Okay. I got it. Yeah. Sorry. Yeah, this is, I live this every day, so I forget that it’s breaking news.
This is the problem, but what we found, through some life assessment and a lot of other research is that say every sheet of particle board four by eight sheet, a particle board is actually sequestering 40 pounds, at least 40 pounds of. The freeze captured as they were growing. And that is more than enough carbon than is needed to offset all the carbon released in the production and [00:05:00] use of those packs.
So that is, the terminology would normally be carbon negative. You and I had, had a discussion about what a tough term that is for a lot of people wrap their heads around. So that’s why I Kia. And some of these other brands are using climate positive. Interesting to describe any product or process that, absorbs and sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere than is released and its use wonderful.
And I’ve never spoken to Superman before, but you’re clearly trying to save the planet. This is what I learned. so in addition to presenting architects and designers, I spent a lot of time in front of design classes and professors. So universities tech schools with interior design and architecture classes, and I had a professor telling me basically, if you want to connect with the millennials, and this is going back a few years now, the zoomers are part of this.
He said your industry, your company, your brand needs to lead the conversation with how are you saving the world? Yeah. I took that to heart and I’m seeing it [00:06:00] reflected more and more in reality in research and in conversations with guys like you. Yeah. It’s interesting because, It, it, I find that I’m I’ve, I’m gravitating toward clients and it’s like growing up the people who you be, who your friends are when you’re in grade school are probably your neighbors, They’re forced upon you. That’s where you live. And as you get older and you’re exposed to more people and you have more options, you kind of gravitate to people who have similar thinking or simple, similar, understand each other in different ways. for whatever reason now, I, it’s interesting because now more than ever, I love the building material manufacturing space, because it just makes sense. it’s like between margin and then budget. I’ve never met a building material manufacturer who says, I’ve got a ton of budget for marketing and we’re going to go nuts. I’ve never every, but I get that because that makes sense. we should be, fiscally responsible and try to figure out how to drive a budget and figuring out how to [00:07:00] grow things.
And I like that fight. Maybe that’s why I focus on this industry the way I do, because it’s a great challenge, but you could get super sexy too. And there aren’t many people doing that either. so it’s not hard to be the pretty girl at the dance, but also it’s, there’s another element to it.
And it, on a serious note, it is, building materials are changing the world we live in and possibly. For the good or for the bad and how they’re manufactured and how they’re made and would in this case, as you’re saying, gosh, looking at that and understanding that it’s got to permeate, even though a lot of the, a lot of companies who are manufacturers have so many different silos or different places, it goes before it goes to an end user.
Yeah, that story is so raw. It’s so important that an end user understands it. And a manufacturer’s responsibility in my mind is to create enough content to [00:08:00] drive that information through their channels of distribution, help them sell right. Differentiate and share who you are. And if that means also thinking about end, target.
And even though you don’t do that and you don’t think it’s your responsibility to actually, sell the board, if you will. Gosh, if you’re creating the brand, that explains why. Your board is harvested or how you’re doing it and how it helps. first of all, from an industry, category captain, which is, my favorite company to work with, they have to set that lead and that’s any really smart company, but gosh, I find myself more selfish.
I find myself more and more attracted to this type of thinking. And then what, how are you showcasing and sharing? How is it part of your brand, part of your conversation as we talked about? And so share with us, what are some of the things that you’re helping and providing these companies with that are tools and useful [00:09:00] for agencies like me, clients like them to express who they are and support some claims or some.
Tell me how you guys are doing. Sure. So just the backup half a step when you’re talking about, this industry not having, hugely bloated marketing budgets and, not renting a, helicopters or buying Superbowl ads, This is a very practical segment, The building industry as a whole. and for me, They’ve got an undiscovered story that’s supported by research and common sense. And even when we all learned about photosynthesis in sixth grade or whenever that was right, all of this adds up to a very simple. Climate positive, sustainability story that no other category can tell.
And it starts way back when the, at the forties or the fifties, when the big lumber companies, when they were harvesting trees for lumber, siding and flooring, half of that wood fiber was still left on the forest. And they decided, God, what can we turn this into? And, plywood, particle board, MDF, other composite wood materials, and [00:10:00] suddenly we’re using over 99% of the tree.
And what I love about this industry is, they did not do this in 1950 so that they would have the category’s best sustainability story in 2022. They did it because they’re practical, right? They’re cheap. These are managed resources, right? This is their, their, the raw material. They got to keep that healthy.
They got to use as much as they can. They got to keep their plants running. So it’s all very, I want to say, sort of industrial practice. but along the way, suddenly they are, they own the only building material that has such a climate positive story. There is no other concrete glass steel, et cetera.
Nobody else saw requests actually sequesters, carbon. if you think about it, half the chemical makeup of a tree is captured carbon. So you can go up to a homeowner or to a building developer and say, Hey, why don’t you build your next kitchen out of 50% captured? oh, by the way, you’re already doing it.
So helping them tell that story though, even if, it’s not [00:11:00] nobody’s using particle board or MDF and we’re going to try and take over in the market. It’s already being used. They just need to tell a better story, to get some value out of those materials. do a better job of telling the value story of, when they add an engineered decorative surface, like a laminate.
Now you don’t have to chop down Walnut trees, right? I always say let’s leave the trees for things that we’re going to love and treasure like musical instruments.
I’m going to ask you about that. You’re a designer you can afford as a frustrated musician. but anyway, so yeah, w what I think this industry has an opportunity to, engineered wood industry as an opportunity to. Incrementally increase its market share against things. some other building materials that might not be quite so climate or environmentally friendly. but most of all, they just have to own this story and, Sheriff far and wide. This is the only material that actually sequesters more carbon than has released in its production and use. Have you seen anybody who’s leveraged this story that you’re talking about to grow, [00:12:00] share quantifiably, leverage this.
It’s just starting to happen. So this is a fairly new messaging, concept. It’s only been out there for about four months. some of the major board producers are adding it to their own marketing, but where we’re getting real movement is a, I probably shouldn’t mention any specific brands, but let’s say there’s one cabinet kitchen cabinet manufacturer in north America that makes 65,000 cabinets every day.
They want to add this to their marketing. There was a big, RTA furniture producer, flat pack furniture producer that wants to add it. There’s a major office furniture manufacturer that wants to add it. And the re, and this is crazy Eric, but it’s not just for consumers. This messaging, of course, it’s very powerful.
And some of these companies have competition that are doing a little bit better job on marketing sustainability. But what I’m hearing directly from these guys is we need this message for our boardroom, for our shareholders. Yeah. All right. We want this message so that we can, a unique and powerful sustainability message.
So we can attract young [00:13:00] people to this industry and keep them once they’re here. So there are myriad reasons that I wasn’t really anticipating when I launched this idea. money talks and being able to get people in your factory and your showrooms as employees. Is a big deal. So those are the things that are getting the best traction in the early phases of this movement. I will say, I, so I do the constructing Barron’s podcast and since, January, we probably had about six, eight. Podcasts we’ve done, various architects designer. One just keeps coming to mind a group called Iconica design. I spoke with them and their whole kind of premises. You don’t know the furniture in your house.
You don’t know that like it’s all about the environment and between offgassing and what, and now, as people who are working from home, What your home office looks like, what your, what all these things look like are really interesting and fairly critical in [00:14:00] how options or choices are made.
And then taking that to the next step, which is, what is the, what are the materials being used and how are they affecting the environment in which we live? And so your story actually, Is probably speaking to so many different, groups who are in a decision process, From people who were specking a product. And so would you say you’re in the education phase of this? Like where are you at and how are you push, pushing it forward and how can people help you? Because I don’t know anybody who wants the planet to discuss. Yeah, hopefully not, I don’t know a, there’s some crazy things going on in Russia right now, but, the idea that, and this from working with construction brands, education is the best marketing because there’s always something new to learn.
There’s always a smarter way to do, specifying for buildings or, engineering or construction, methods and whatnot. Creating the continuing education unit content CPU’s [00:15:00] everybody probably has some experience with that stuff. Yeah. That is where a lot of the big suppliers are leaning into. and because there’s a demand for it. I was just talking to a major distributor of a, of wood products in the Southeast yesterday. they are dying for more reasons to get in front of architects and designers. CEOs are a way to do that. but beyond that and marketing guy to marketing guy CEOs, once you spend the effort on creating this 6,000 word presentation that goes through several layers of approvals and finally hopefully gets.
I got a a a hundred percent success rate on that front, so far Bible, by the way. But that amount of content, I have an applause button here. Let me content that rocks. That’s my slogan. Once you’ve got that in hand, that is a goldmine for social media content for sales training for further marketing efforts, because first of all, it’s approved CU, right?
So everything in there is the gospel. Now, second of all, when you create a CU, you have to get approved, it has to be not a sales piece. You can’t have heavy [00:16:00] brand recognition in there. You can’t be saying our stuff is better than anybody else’s stuff. But when you pull back from. Then you can turn it into more direct, beneficial marketing messaging.
So to me, that is the mothership where we get all this other content. the struggle is finding, on social media, how to Dole that out in a way that feels cohesive still, builds on a whole and hopefully leads people to that company. And maybe even, leads to, requesting the CEU presentation for your, from. so is there, so CU is really the way in which your looking at leveraging the messaging, it helps drive the communication strategy that could filter through opt down and sideways. I know that’s what you’re saying is that’s your part of the picture? so yeah, CEU is very important, little dry, right?
Cause they have to be by nature. Case studies. if we’re talking about communications here and that is something my segment of the industry is really behind on, I’ve got a [00:17:00] call with an architect and half an hour here, to talk about possible case studies. That is what really drives home, the proof of performance.
Can I make with materials. That is what really activates people’s imaginations. Hey, this they’re doing projects very much like what I’m doing and this worked for them. and whenever I can, I D I weave case studies into a CU, but Eric, that is like, The hardest thing to get these companies to even help you figure out who’s using their materials in what application, several case studies I’ve done the most successful ones I’ve found by accident.
I’m like, Hey, this looks like your material. I just saw on this hotel, let’s write it up. And they’re like, oh my God, they got this. So again, practical people, not marketing geniuses for the most part. That’s why they hire people like. one thing I really like about you is, when we’re speaking your approach to looking at, specifically what you’re talking about, climate positive, composite wood, telling the [00:18:00] story, understanding the bigger story or the way to position it because you’re right. I do really think about positioning. I think. What’s the story we’re telling them, I was always telling stories as a kid. I still do it as an adult. and I love doing that and I’m a storyteller. And I surround myself with people who create assets and have expert in different parts of how to get that story out. that’s what we do. So with that said, I recognize you as being an expert in that process. Helping develop a story, a position that could be weaved in with some other pieces. And the, the interesting thing is you’ve got a, if I’m getting a rain, please stop me if I’m wrong, but you’ve got a position of how it’s almost they say, tide rises all ships, there’s that you’re helping a segment of an industry that can really grow.
And that everyone in that business will grow. If they think about how they could adopt [00:19:00] and now they could take what their unique selling proposition, their USP, what they do really well and incorporate what you’re part of that messaging. How do you incorporate that into their overall story?
And, and I dig that you actually are thinking about. The soundbites and the, that are honest and true, and that are vetted. And that, that guys, like I could get fed and say, oh yeah. So that is interesting. And I see how, what we’re doing here and the way in which that sounds works with all the other things that make this client, because it’s always, everybody has.
Everyone has a really good story. If you’re honest, truthful, and recognize that you can’t tell every story, you just need to understand that story. Then you find people who want that story or that thing, and you found your target. What you’re doing is helping, a category recognize that they need to integrate a [00:20:00] piece of what you’re doing into their story.
Because they have it there and they’re just not using it. Yeah. It’s just summarize that confusing enough or, yeah. and yeah, I’m glad you brought that up because it just reminded me, I worked, for a year, at the beginning of the pandemic with a company that had been hired by Marianne. hotels to develop a sustainable specification framework, which basically boiling it all the way down, became a database of pre-approved materials for all and products we’re talking even, televisions and led lighting and things like that. a database that Marriott design teams then can pick from, because it was very important for Marriott to be able to market the sustainability of their properties because they did.
5 6, 7 years ago on a Marriott courtyard. they had a QR code on a table tent in every room that said, find out what’s green about this property. You scan the code, you read the story, the guests who interacted with that information had 150% higher loyalty and satisfaction. [00:21:00] With Marriott with courtyard versus people who stayed in the same hotel at the same time, but did not get that story.
So this framework was very interesting because it did assess, audit, analyze, and report on all of their individual green certifications, eco labels, whatever documentation they had. EPDs HPDs LCAs alphabet soup. Oh. But what was really important to Maryanne? Was it, so the framework boiled all that information down to a score from zero to 200 for the design teams to look at.
So choose on score and a couple of paragraphs that told the story about how that material, that product got that score. And what I quickly found out was is that dossier became part of Marriott’s marketing. So what that means is every stage in the value chain then is writing a chapter. Of the sustainability story that Marriott can tell to its guests and to its finances.
This is where I first heard, Hey, when a developer goes for money, Morgan [00:22:00] Stanley says what’s sustainable about this project first, right? Because prac projects over 10, 20 years, Projects with better sustainability stories have much higher ROI over the longterm. So money talks finally, there’s going to be some progress. okay. So unpacking what we talked about. I think there’s a lot there. So if you’re a building material manufacturer and you’re involved in any way with composite wood right now, You need to really get on the horn with Ken and he could share with you and talk to you about how maybe to tell it how the story, that it, that you’re, presenting climate positive, how it could be woven into their story as well. is that a fair. Yep. There’s under material intelligence. There, there are really two channels. The climate positive is a sustainability story of engineered wood. composite wood because of the density of the fibers sequesters about twice [00:23:00] as much carbon as solid wood. That’s not saying solid wood is bad. and we’re seeing more mass timber and building construction, right? So there’s always a great story to be able to attach to would no matter how. and the material intelligence side is actually the core of that website. Our material does that compare these different decorative surfacing materials in a formatted way so that if you are new to the industry or you’re trying to find something fresh for a project, you can do an apples to apples, comparison of TFL, 3d, other types of materials like that for interior rooms and furniture.
So it’s material intelligence.com and climate positive now.org, I guess that’s where he, that’s where people can reach Ken. And I recommend you reach out to him because not only is he bright, but he’s looking at it from so many different, really what I appreciate so much is you’re not just telling a story for an industry to understand, and to be able to use.
And educating people, but you’re also helping a guy like me. Who’s a marketer who focuses on trying to help [00:24:00] building material manufacturers, with soundbites and with, with information that quite frankly, is going to help different if they fit within where you’re going, help differentiate and just another really strong, tenant to.
The story that you tell about your brand to connect with your target, right? Whether it’s an architect, a designer and engineer, or even the end user who is enjoying that product and didn’t even realize all that stuff. And now maybe. Hey, that’s great that you use that product. I feel good about myself and I feel good about the environment right now, right?
So yeah, sustainability could be our best marketing story. It should be our best marketing story. And knowing how to tell this story proactively lets you control the conversation in a positive way and make sure people take. the ultimate benefits that we have to offer them there. You have it? I don’t think I could end on a note that stronger to the point, Ken, thank you so much for being a part of constructing brands.
I appreciate [00:25:00] you. I’m honored Eric. Thank you very much.
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