“Lots of contractors coming into the industry work out of their trucks. Branding speaks to being established,” says Chris Elliott, director of marketing for 22-year-old M/A Peterson Design/Build, in Edina, MN.
What You Need Before You Brand
According to Miles, branding requires four critical elements to be effective. These include:
- Internal audit. With your staff, identify your company’s vision. Come up with a message to express what you are all about. One side benefit of an internal audit is that it gets everyone on the same page.
- Good product. “Smaller builders have a tendency to build what they want, so their brand tends to reflect them rather than what their customers want,” says Michael Sivage, president of Sivage Thomas Homes in Albuquerque.
To keep that from happening, learn from your customers. A month or so after their house is finished, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like about their home, your sales process, customer service, etc. Then adjust your systems and product accordingly.
- Customer profiling. Who are the people you build or remodel for? Consider income levels, age, marital status, family composition, cultural heritage, etc. Once you know who they are, figure out what communication methods would best reach them and what verbiage and messages they will identify with.
- Competitor analysis. You need to beat your competitors at their game without copying them. What makes you better than anyone else in your market?
Maintaining market share is a strong motivator for branding. Phoenix area-based Maracay Homes developed its “Flex Design” brand to compete with bigger builders entering its market. Likewise, M/A Peterson added landscape design to its list of services to reinforce the company’s holistic approach to home improvement — and to keep customers from going elsewhere for new lawns, shrubbery and other landscaping needs.
Keep Your Branding Consistent
Communicating a brand consistently and intentionally to your customers imprints your company in their consciousness. Every point of contact with your company must give them the same feeling about you.
For example, use visuals as brand enhancers. Keep them consistent by using a signature logo, color and font on everything — letterhead, business cards, brochures, site and truck signage, Web site, ads, uniforms, customer giveaways, etc.
Train your employees so they’ll present the right message when answering phones, following up on e-mails, selling jobs and interacting with others on your job sites. And don’t forget your trade contractors. Educate them about your brand, too, because they’re an extension of it.
Branding does not end when the job does. “Make sure you have someone who can respond to service calls,” says Carl Hyman, owner of Alure Home Improvement in East Meadow, NY, who has three employees dedicated to that task, and get to their work right away. “I can tell my staff ‘I want service,’ but if I don’t have the mechanisms in place to deliver it, our reputation will suffer,” Hyman points out.
Keep Your Branding Fresh
Adapt branding strategies to your market. What works in one place may not work in another. In Albuquerque, Sivage markets his three home brands almost as separate companies. Yet in Phoenix, he presents them as different product lines within the same brand.
“We were competing with some of the largest builders in the country,” says the builder, who entered Phoenix four years ago. “Bringing three separate brands there would have diluted our ability to establish an identity.”
If you are unsure if your branding efforts are working, hire a market research firm to ask past and present customers what they think of when they hear your company’s name or brand. “We all have opinions of who we think we are, but that isn’t always the way people perceive us,” says Sivage.
Branding takes some effort, but you cannot afford not to do it. “Contractors have a brand whether they know it or not. Most allow the public to shape their brand instead of managing it themselves,” says Miles.
Wouldn’t you rather be known as the area’s favorite builder or remodeler instead of as the folks who drive those beat-up trucks and don’t return phone calls? We thought so.
For more information about branding, "101 Power Strategies: Tools to Promote Yourself as the Contractor of Choice," available from BuilderBooks.com. Order it online by clicking here, or call 800-223-2665.
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