Branding pioneer Walter Landor famously said, “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” Even more importantly, he identified the worth of a good brand: “A brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.”

It’s a matter of trust and confidence, and today, brands may be more important than ever before. There is so much competition for mind share that having a strong brand and a trusted name can help people make decisions and feel good about them.

People select brands because they have some familiarity or relationship with that brand (name, product, company) and know that it will meet their expectations. History and positive experiences with a brand over time creates an allegiance.

A meaningful brand says, “Here is a product in which you can have confidence.” We believe in the power of our brand, and the halo effect, which extends to products and services. Our brand, for example, matters because it translates to trust and confidence. With over 150 years of building relationships, delivering quality products and delivering on our founder’s mandate “Let the buyer have faith,” Armstrong lives that promise.

Powerful consumer brands are tremendous assets to retailers—they help bring people into the store. Literally, brand recognition is about people registering, in their own mind, some degree of familiarity with a brand.

At minimum, that sounds something like this: “Oh, Armstrong. I’ve heard of them.” Such recognition is a great thing, but not the greatest thing. Better is when people are able to take that next step, in which they identify an important attribute about the brand. For example, “Armstrong—we had their flooring in my home when I was a child. They’ve been providing flooring for a long time.” The highest value of all for a brand is having an important attribute that translates into preference, as in “Armstrong is a solid, reliable company, and therefore I trust what they tell me, and trust that I have a good chance of being happy when I select their products.”

To get your brand into that highly sought after position requires a surprisingly few, seemingly simple bits of foundation work: Clarity about your target audiences and what matters to them; clarity about some truth in your brand’s value that is relevant to your audience, and, meticulous rigor about the consistency of the presentation of your brand to your audiences.

The fundamental principles of brand management have not changed. The relevant changes are in the opportunities to be in front of your audiences. The proliferation of television channels, and the specialization of programming—home improvement programs, for example—have made it easier to identify people who probably have a higher likelihood of making home improvement purchases than the mass audience tuning in to a sitcom.

The evolving role of online communications cannot be overstated, in terms of opportunities to engage your customers. Brands and websites can be a powerful combination. We are very successful at helping consumers learn about flooring and visualize how certain flooring materials and designs will look installed, and finding their way to our aligned retailers.


Retailers and Brands

The dealer plays a pivotal role in education and advice as well as the installation support and logistics in getting the flooring from warehouse to living room.

At the heart of the matter, the fundamentals of that engagement have not changed. All of those wise old sayings: “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time” or, as Shakespeare put it, “Truth will out.” These apply with great force to brand communications.

Time, focus and money are required to stay top-of-mind with consumers. Maybe top-of-mind is not the most meaningful goal for a flooring company, however.

Top-of-mind for a brand of coffee? Absolutely. Top-of-mind for a brand of personal electronics or athletic shoes? Yes. But I would not want to be a flooring person having to compete with those categories for everyday share-of-mind.

A consumer doesn’t purchase flooring frequently enough to make top-of-mind pay off as the primary goal. So, while top-of-mind might be nice to have, we can succeed in great fashion based on the aspects of brand performance: Recognition, relevance and preference.

Brands work in flooring when they help people make decisions. If you are a flooring manufacturer, and there are true relevant beneficial things about your business practices and products, then you have the potential to make your brand work at several points in the flooring purchase process. Begin with the retail owner: What does he want? To make money selling flooring and establishing a good reputation with his customers. How does he do that? By getting prospective buyers into his store, and converting them into purchasers.

For us, the question is: What is the Armstrong brand to the retailer? The answer is that we are a company that embraces and maximizes opportunities to help the dealer make money, and to stand by him and our products. We do this by our intense focus on creating store traffic for him (the prime directive of our award-winning website), by providing him with products that his customers will want to buy, and by enhancing the trust with which those customers will view his services, through association with the trust they have for the Armstrong brand.

There is a similar story to tell for retail sales professionals. What do they want? How are we relevant? And of course, to consumers: By giving them confidence that they are dealing with retailers and products worthy of their consideration.

Year after year of independent research shows that Armstrong is, by far, the best known name in flooring, and that it is associated with the attributes that people hope to find in flooring: Quality, performance, trustworthiness and good value for their money. So using the Armstrong brand, for example, is like the express lane to consumers when navigating the showroom for products worthy of their consideration.

We have other brand names that are meaningful in their own right: Bruce, for example. Bruce has the same desirable associations as Armstrong, but in a narrower band of flooring material—hardwood and laminate—while Armstrong carries the recognition and meaning across all flooring types.

Branding is a business tool. It can perform remarkable work when skillfully deployed. Conversely, as with a knife, a hammer, a saw, branding can be neglected or misused, too. But as long as people are making assessments and decisions, brand dynamics will be in the mix.


Mara Villanueva-Heras is vice president of residential marketing for Armstrong Floor Products. She is responsible for setting strategic direction and managing marketing and branding efforts. Villanueva-Heras came to Armstrong from Masco Retail Cabinet Group where she led marketing for the KraftMaid brand. Prior to Masco, She was with Whirlpool and held several progressive marketing roles for the KitchenAid and Whirlpool Brands. For more information, call
(800) 233-3823, or email