The Curse Of A Strong Brand

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I won’t repeat here all the reasons that Tiger Woods, EllisDon, and everyone else strives endlessly to build up a strong brand for themselves. It’s too boring; you know all this already.

But both Tiger and EllisDon face significant challenges with their brand. Very different challenges, luckily, but both have some significant work to do. Tiger you know about: He wrecked his, and probably cost himself a hundred million or so in the process. With EllisDon, the challenge is this: We have a very strong, positive and reliable brand, but it's too old fashioned. We are perceived as a traditional 'General Contractor'; a very very good one, but a G.C. just the same. And that perception is very difficult to change, both internally and externally. Once people have their world organized and understood, it seems to take a freight train to change their mental structure. Their perception is their reality. Clients, lenders, even lots of our own employees - people just don't like change. And it is made worse by the old conventional wisdom that companies are not supposed to change: stick to your knitting, focus on your core competencies (blah, blah). And those competencies are what the perception of your brand says they are. It can be a vicious cycle.

But of course, there is a freight train coming. Our business model is about to get upended by the globalization of the construction industry, by technology, and by the potential extinction of labour unions (if they don't wake up and smell the coffee soon). And EllisDon has changed very dramatically in anticipation of all of this.

At EllisDon, we have striven to move far beyond being simply builders. We also are construction financing experts, with a profitable Financial Services Division. We create software systems from scratch and sell them to other construction companies. We do Facilities Management with twenty year contracts. With our Services/Consulting Division, we don’t sell ‘price and schedule’, we sell analytical ability, expertise, industry leading systems. We can sell pieces - to anyone, or we can now Project Manage the whole effort from cradle to grave and beyond.

That’s the challenge for us. Everything is changing, EllisDon is changing, and our 'brand' has got to keep up. Throw your perceptions in the garbage, not just with EllisDon, but with everyone. Perception isn’t reality; it never will be. Reality is reality. This ‘brand’ thing, it’s a killer.

As for Tiger, he's on his own.