An example of a Good Brand Promise During a Bad Time

How Merit Construction found an opportunity to boost its community during a pandemic.

Coca-Cola wasn’t always the juggernaut it is today. There were originally several competitors vying for top spot in the soft drink market. But when the Great Depression hit in the 30’s and other companies froze their marketing budgets, Coke instead saw an opportunity to create an uplifting, feel-good campaign, “The Pause that Refreshes”. Their investment paid off because it turns out it was the message of hope and comfort Americans were yearning for, and since then Coca-Cola has become one of the most iconic brands in the world.

Unlike other sectors, the building industry wasn’t immediately decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. But with so many moving parts any disruption is a major challenge, and the complete shutdown mandate from the state suddenly turned the world upside down for CEOs in every construction, engineering, and industrial services company overnight.

Tammy Birklid, head of Merit Construction in Lakewood, Washington, didn’t panic for too long when the hammer fell. She and her leadership team quickly found an opportunity to promote Merit’s brand while making the best out of a bad situation. While others hunkered down, they agreed to immediately tackle the most important issue of doing good for the community by helping those really in need.

After getting buy in from her employees, Tammy reached out to Tenino Food Bank, a non profit organization they have partnered with often, to offer their services to secure the location after a series of thefts. Her team not only upgraded a damaged front door to reduce break ins, they also installed a metal fence, gave the place a new coat of paint, and collected over 900 pounds of donated food as an extra bonus.

Merit Construction also partnered with Anthem Coffee in Puyallup by pledging to donate a five pound bag to local first responders for every five pound bag sold as a thank you for their service in the face of danger. Bryan Reynolds of Anthem is proud to report the campaign has successfully delivered over 180 pounds of coffee thus far as a result of their common mission to accelerate good in the community.

Both efforts were celebrated by news channels like KIRO and community boosters like, no doubt within earshot of potential industrial prospects.

Tammy notes this wasn’t part of the company’s marketing strategy, but an important long-term investment in its brand. When she took over the helm at the beginning of this year she and her team galvanized their brand promise, Built on Character, to be the manifesto guiding everything they did. This included only working with organizations who shared similar values, devoting a large section of their client list to non-profits, and taking care of their employees no matter what economic curve balls were thrown at them.

“97% of our business is negotiated work,” Tammy says. “To win their business, our clients need to know they are working with the right contractor before they even engage with us.”

As brand expert Marty Neumeir states, “A brand is a person's gut feeling about a company. It’s a gut feeling based on authenticity and charisma; a compelling sense of integrity and allure that inspires devotion and trust. When enough people arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand.”

The buying process is sometimes referred to as a funnel. At the top of the funnel, prospects are just beginning to find out what their options are. The funnel gets thinner as they cut out all but a few contenders and begin making a decision between a few finalists. This is the area most companies focus their marketing efforts by promoting features, benefits, and creative pricing to get an edge on competition.

However, too many industrial services companies take the top half of the funnel for granted. They craft their mission/vision/values and check it off their to-do list instead of building a solid brand promise as an ongoing operational guide. Over 80% of the vetting process is done before the prospect even makes contact. If done right, a well-crafted brand promise is a far more powerful tool to capture hearts and minds than any bottom-of-the-funnel attention grabs.

Coke understood that cutting off communications during bleak times was like quitting watering a garden during dry weather to save on the water bill. I admire how Tammy and her team seized the opportunity to act on their brand promise by doing good in the community, sowing the seeds of great things to come.

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