Positioning the Home as a Product – and Changing an Industry’s Antiquated Practices

The home-building industry is long overdue for change. Traditional construction methods are antiquated. Bob Kersten talks with Kelly Hampton, Vice President of Marketing & Sustainability at Veev, about how the building technology company is reimagining the way homes are designed, built, and marketed.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to Expert Opinion, the BrandingBusiness Forum where leaders share their views, insights, and experiences from the world of B2B branding. And now, here’s your host.

Bob: Hello and welcome to Expert Opinion. I’m Bob Kersten from BrandingBusiness. And I’m thrilled to say that joining me today is Kelly Hampton. Kelly is the Vice President of Marketing at Veev, a building technology company that develops homes, reimagining the way the home is designed, built, and serviced.

Today we’re on the topic of brand building, not only in the startup space, but in the category that’s not historically known for innovation. But that’s exactly what Veev is doing, operating at this intersection of technology and housing, reshaping an industry and reimagining the home. Full disclosure, Kelly and I also worked together some years ago, so I’m a bit biased. Kelly, it is great to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining us.

Kelly Hampton: It’s great to be here, Bob, and it’s very fun to reconnect and cherish those moments back in the days.

Bob: So Kelly, can you start by sharing a little bit about your background, it’s very impressive, and your current role at Veev?

Kelly Hampton: Sure. So I’m not sure how far back I should go, but I’ll start maybe with our coexistence at Landor Associates, a global brand strategy consultant firm. And where I really, just prior to that actually, I discovered my passion for brand and the role that it played in driving business.

With that experience and working across multiple industries, categories, products, I also, as you may have experienced at some point, you get to a point where you’re building these wonderful strategies and identity systems and planning and executions. And yet you don’t ever get to see the brand through to fruition, to realize its potential. That led me to want to go client-side and work for many years at HP leading brand strategy, brand architecture, those things on that side, to leading the marketing, what we called the SMO, the Separation Management Office, within HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, leading that from a marketing perspective.

That experience was once in a lifetime. The separation and forming of two global fortune, well, I think HP ended up being in the 500, but they’re growing. And so, it was quite an experience. And once that was done, I was talking to a wonderful leader, Antonio Lucio, who is our CMO at the time. And I said, “I’m not sure what else to do here.” And he laughed he said, “I know. Once you’ve done what we’ve just accomplished, it’s probably interesting to explore new opportunities.”

And I had been recruited to go expand my role, not only from leading global brand at HP, but to more marketing responsibilities and taking on sustainability at Flex, which was always an adjacency for us at HP. We’re heavily involved in from a brand perspective.

Then I had this opportunity, and was approached for this opportunity with Veev, a startup. And I have never been in a startup environment before. It was interesting, intriguing, and a little bit nerve-racking all at the same time. I came from managing large teams, large global teams, and it was going to be just me for a while. So, I made the jump. And I made the jump because of the leadership and the mission of the company and the opportunity to do something super challenging.

Bob: Thanks for that background. And you kind of answered one of my next questions, and that was, what that transition was like going from these massive global, sophisticated marketing powerhouses to a startup. But, you were well equipped though.

Kelly Hampton: It was kind of nice. I mean now we’re still a small team of five, but it’s back to basics. It’s rolling up your sleeves and doing the work, which I didn’t realize how much I missed. It’s been fun and having our founders, our three co-founders, all very passionate about brand, which I find refreshing. They appreciate it. They know its value and its importance, so that makes it so much more satisfying.

Bob: Very nice. Well, let’s talk about Veev. It is such a unique and fascinating company. Would you, at a high level, walk our listeners through what the offering is? What is Veev? What does it do?

Kelly Hampton: So Veev is a technology home building company. And we have an emphasis, we see ourselves more in the technology space as we do in the built environment space. The methodologies and the technology and the way in which we build is very unique. A lot of people can’t get their heads around it until they see it and experience it, and want to lump us into categories such as modular or pre-fabrication. Which also is a challenge, a huge challenge from a brand and marketing perspective because there are preconceived notions of what that means.

Now, the market is evolving and it needs to evolve for a couple of reasons. The traditional construction, home building industry is so antiquated. There’s been no innovation in a hundred years other than the pneumatic nail gun and a crane, well before that. So, it’s one of the last industries to truly innovate. And we look at it… So starting from the digital twin, which is also a buzzword in our category, where we have to make our own software because the software even is not sophisticated enough to drive the precision in the build that we are looking for.

We also use very different materials than a traditional home builder for a number of reasons. One, we can control the SKUs. It’s a sophisticated system and an integrated, vertically integrated. So from design through to production, we produce wall panels that are already systematized, so meaning they come closed with all the MEP, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire. They are inspected and fire rated in our factory, which is more like an automotive manufacturing facility than anything else. And then those walls are delivered to the site. And then we have a lot of sophisticated IP around what we’ll affectionately call plug and play system, where the walls are assembled on site.

Bob: And everything you build, there’s not lumber, it’s all steel. Correct?

Kelly Hampton: It is. It’s all steel. We use steel framing for a couple of reasons, well, more than a couple. One is, seismic durability, in Northern California in particular, or California. The other is, our steel is a sustainable one, an environmental one. We use steel that is 70% recycled content. And what’s interesting about steel that people may or may not know is that it is infinitely recyclable and will never lose its structural property.

Bob: Right, right. Interesting. Kelly, Veev evolved from being a traditional real estate developer and asset manager to what you are now, this vertically integrated developer and building innovation company. What brought about that evolution?

Kelly Hampton: Frustration. Our founders both come from the technology space in various ways. And when they started in the traditional asset management, they could not get away from how inefficient and how antiquated the industry was. Nobody is looking at it from start to finish. So what happens is, the electrician is here to do a job, the plumber is here to do a job, and they have competing interests. All the trades have competing interests because they want their slice and their job to get done. Nobody is going through thinking about delivering a home. They’re delivering on their job. And it’s a really different mindset, if you’re thinking about the home as a product and in totality than these individual pieces coming in to get done because they don’t add up to a whole.

Bob: Fascinating. So I mean, really, they saw an opportunity to really disrupt a category that was ripe for disruption.

Kelly Hampton: They saw how broken it was. And I don’t think they had the intention of starting a new business, but here we are and off and running and solving multiple problems. The housing crisis, the frustration of actually having a home built with quality, the sustainability and environmental impact of the industry. So, it really is helping them see what we can do in the future. I mean, our vision is exceptional living for all. And by, all, we mean people, pets, and planet, so we’re a dog friendly office.

Bob: Kelly, can you talk a little bit about what you touched on at the very beginning in that operating category that’s historically pretty traditional? And I imagine, and maybe I’m wrong, maybe resistant to change. What is it like, what was it like building a brand, a very progressive offering in an industry that tends to be a little bit of a laggard?

Kelly Hampton: It’s been really interesting in that the companies, the traditional home builders that are large… And you have to remember, it’s such a fragmented industry, just even in the U.S. You look at somebody like a Lennar who is one of the largest home builders in the country, and they only have 3% market share. So you think there’s all these middle tier, and I’m not being negative, it’s just midsize, small individual contractors building homes all over the country. And there’s not enough scale to deliver against what it is we need with the housing shortage.

They’ve been very receptive. Several of them have invested in us. So, they see the opportunity to learn and to expand their innovation footprint through working with other companies such as Veev.

Bob: Kelly, one of the things that we were talking about before we started recording was how much the brand appeals to consumers, to end-consumers and not just partners and developers. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re successfully managing a brand that has a foot on both sides, so to speak?

Kelly Hampton: Sure. We talk about it every day. This brand and the company takes a very distinct approach to how we present and think about ourselves, and that is our home as a product philosophy.

Most builders don’t look at the home as a product. They look at it as, its bricks and mortars, sticks and drywall and a roof, and a community in a particular location. And they name those communities. We’re looking at it from a user-experience standpoint, much like the iPhone, much like Tesla looked at how automotive is delivered. And what does that look like? How can we reduce the number of SKUs in the bill of material, because that just adds to the cacophony of mess that becomes more traditional? We look at everything as, what is the end-user experience like, and what do we want it to be? And how is it different and unique and bespoke to what Veev is trying to move forward?

Bob: That’s really interesting. I don’t suspect there’s a lot of people viewing the home through that lens. Along those lines, are you seeing new competitors emerging? Is it getting more competitive? And if so, how do you all maintain distinction? How do you maintain that leadership that you have?

Kelly Hampton: The housing shortage and the environmental problems that we have in this industry are so significant. Construction contributes 38% to the global embodied carbon footprint.

Bob: Really?

Kelly Hampton: Yes, and it’s enormous. There’s room for so many competitors. I mean, we’re trying to all do something to help address those issues, but there’s market for everybody. And everybody’s doing it sort of differently and uniquely and in different locations. And it’s fascinating. We’re watching and talking. We don’t see it as any kind of threat to what we’re doing. We’re on our path and we’re true to who we are. And I think that is just going to drive greater success.

Bob: So is it a bit of, a rising tide will lift all ships as the market and as consumers embrace this different way of viewing their home?

Kelly Hampton: Yes, I think so. Yes, that’s one way to look at it. I think the other way to look at and another factor is, we’re not going to have a choice but to think about it differently, depending on the…There’s any number of statistics, we’re 5.5 million units short in housing in this country. Three million of those are in California. There’s plenty of room to go, but there’s a lot of resistance you see to multi-families in what are traditionally single family home communities.

The other challenge we have here where we are, locally in Northern California is, we’re land bound. There’s only so much space to add units. And so, what does that look like? Well, that looks like density that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. But density can come in different forms. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re having apartment skyscrapers like you do in Hong Kong in the peninsula or these communities that are traditionally single family homes.

Bob: Okay. Understood. Kelly, if I can ask you, get into the details a little bit, we have quite a few marketers as you can imagine that listen to the podcasts. What are your preferred marketing channels? What’s working well for you these days?

Kelly Hampton: Well, the opportunities that we’ve seen the biggest success with are events and getting our founders speaking in front of the right audiences. That’s been incredibly successful. We’ve had lead generation success coming out of those.

The other, quite frankly, has been PR. We have a great relationship with our agency and the article placement both in industry publications as well as national is help balancing out the B2B or the B2C, as you asked about. I think it’s just B2P. We’re all people. We all are looking at things with that human lens. But those two things have been very successful for us.

The biggest challenge I have and that we’re trying to sort through is, we have a product that people want to see, touch, and feel. We use materials that people aren’t familiar with and don’t understand until they see, touch, and feel. And how does it come together in a home? So photographs and videos and certainly all the visualizations that we can do, help. But it lacks that human connection and that touch. And me telling you that our windows are… We make our own windows too. So that some of the best windows you can buy in the world without me showing you and figuring out an elegant way that there’s a train going by two blocks from here and I can see the train, but I hear nothing. So, there’s lots of features that add up to an incredible home experience that are really difficult to telegraph.

Bob: Kelly, can you talk a little bit about the sustainability side of your job? I don’t know if many marketers have the opportunity, have the luxury, have the challenge of having sustainability as well as marketing under their purview. So what are some of Veev’s programs, goals, position when it comes to sustainability?

Kelly Hampton: Sure. And it’s true, it’s not a traditional marriage of functions. But when you’re a startup and you’re lean and nimble, we all wear different hats at different times. And it’s really a partnership with the head of product. We work very closely together.

And sustainability at Veev is really about driving and lowering the impact of our product. We look at it at the product level as well as the company level. The use of our product, so there’s the build and the materials and the traditional measurements, but there’s also the operational embodied carbon that we need to look at. So right now, on a current build project, we did a unit stimulation so that what we’re building, if that were to be built, but with traditional methods and needs and materials, what would that look like? And we’re roughly 40% lower today than a traditional build of the same unit.

We’re looking at also tracking advancements. So, we have stage gates, environmental targets within the product development and supply chain that we are working to find. It’s constant. So well, what if we used this material, what does that do? Well, it provides X, Y, and Z benefits for the product and A, B, and C benefits for our CO2 and GHG measuring. So, it’s very important to the company, it’s really important to the founders.

Ultimately, they would like to have a, I hate that term, off-the-grid, but they would like to have homes that are totally self-sufficient with solar. Our homes are delivered solar ready. Depends on the developer, whether the panels are installed. And EV charging. And we’re looking at water solutions after what we heard about in Jackson, Mississippi, over the last couple of weeks, which in my mind, is unacceptable in our country. What does that look like? So, how do we advance the home to be where we… It’s the place we spend the most time and the most money, whether we own it or rent it. And yet we don’t think about it, other than my home has hardwood floors or my home is a craftsman style.

Bob: Well, that’s fascinating. The sustainability aspect is such a powerful story, but there’s so many other dimensions to what makes Veev unique, whether it’s the luxury components or the steel manufacturing, or being a part of the new way of building a home. You’ve got no shortage of brand equity to pull from, brand assets, as you and I like to refer to.

Well, Kelly, I could keep going on for another hour, but I know you’re really busy. Want to thank you for your time. Really interesting to hear about obviously the sustainability component, but as you said, viewing the home as a product similar to Apple or similar to Tesla, that resonates so much. And your point about really viewing this as not necessarily B2B or B2C, but I think you said B2P, business to person. So, couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thank you very much for your time. Again, Kelly Hampton, Vice President of Marketing at Veev. Thank you for taking the time to join us.

Kelly Hampton: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me. It was fun.

Bob: Thanks again, Kelly.