*This article was originally published in Lowe’s for Pros
A brand is a major differentiator among small business owners in the same industry—it’s a way consumers and even competitors identify a business. But creating a solid brand strategy is no easy feat. In part one of a three part series, learn how you can brand your business for success.
For many small business owners in the building industry, pondering the launch of a brand can seem like an abstract concept—like examining a piece of modern art for the first time and having no clue as to what it’s supposed to be.
Maybe it’s puzzling because it’s supposed to look simple, but still convey the essence of your company. An effective brand represents a tidy mini-portrait of what you want your business to be. It should instantly convey a clear image that resonates with customers. It should even project an engaging personality that draws repeat business because of positive, associated experiences with you and your crews. In the end, your brand-launching strategy will impact everything from the way you train your employees to your marketing/advertising methods and the visual images that are stamped on your trucks.
Here are five simple steps small business owners in the construction industry should take when launching a brand:
1. Define who you are—and what you want your business to be. It’s not enough to identify yourself as a residential or commercial builder or re modeler, plumber, electrician, property manager or landscaper. Nor is it enough to say that you “specialize in remodeling upscale homes” in a particular region. Potential customers need to know what you can do for them—right now.
“You need to target a very specific type of customer—not just a market, but a market niche,” says Yoon Cannon, a Philadelphia-based business consultant. “You need to find the subsets within the subsets.”
So if you use your marketing materials to focus on that upscale, local market, push a message that highlights a winning niche. Maybe you’ll provide homeowners with gorgeous lawns and gardens—and chemical free. Or you provide counter tops that represent the latest and most elegant designs of any local kitchen-remodeling business. Or you’re the plumber who can install fixtures that will turn a drab bathroom into a luxury spa worthy of a five-star hotel. Whatever your niche is, run with it.
2. Learn everything you can about your competitors—then brand yourself as something else. You can’t launch a brand without researching first what your competitors are selling. Are they fixated on price? If so, you need to latch upon something other than price, like value or service. One way to get a sense of this is to go online and seek public forums where the levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with completed projects are discussed.
“Learn everything you can about other builders and associated industry support companies that serve your area,” Cannon says. “Know their philosophies, approach, strengths, weaknesses, brand positioning and marketing plans.” (Look for more about distinguishing your brand from competitors in next month’s Branding for Success Part 2: Differentiating Yourself.)
3. Create marketing/promotional materials to constantly reinforce your niche. Once you determine who you are, then you need to align this focused message in all of your marketing efforts, whether online, print, radio or television. Keep the message clean and streamlined. Also, come up with a logo that’s simple and memorable. If you need to hire a brand or marketing consultant to advise you on your logo or messaging, do it. Since this brand is intended to last forever, it should be a one-time fee.
“Ultimately, you need to nail down a message that explains in a few words why your business is the smartest solution,” says Cannon, whose business, Paramount Business Coach, provides service companies with branding, business management and sales training. Then make sure all company materials—from printed materials to the shirts your crews wear—convey these words and images. This extends to everything that’s associated with your business, even your email address. So rather than use generic free accounts provided by Internet companies, provide your employees with email addresses that use your company name as the domain.
4. Come up with a story. A business isn’t simply a collection of tools, trucks and buildings—there are people behind it. Perhaps there’s a compelling story about how your company came together. The easiest way to engage customers is to share that story, whether in your promotional materials or your Web site’s blog.
“Every business has a different story, a history and background,” says Caitlin Sharp, a consultant at Design Management Company, a business management firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York City and London that works with residential/commercial development companies, among other clients. “Use that to make your company stand apart from all the others. Bring that story into your message.”
5. Get employees’ buy-in. Your staff needs to get on board too, so train them on the proper way to convey your brand identity. After all, the way they approach customers, perform jobs and follow up all speak to your brand.
“Your brand identity needs to stay the same and be conveyed effectively, no matter what form you’re talking about,” Cannon says.