When people hear about “branding” they often think of logos, company colors and stationary items such as letterhead and business cards. When people think of logos, colors and business cards, the phrase “necessary but not important” is probably something going through their mind. Branding is usually thought of as the “artsy” stuff that every business has to develop for presentation purposes, but we don’t want to put too much time, energy and money into it, since the important thing is to get out there and sell.
While selling is key, branding is often the forgotten element in growing sales. To begin, it’s important to get a clear definition of what branding is. Logos, colors, and stationary are not what make a brand, and in fact, those items are not even the components of a brand. The word “brand” originated from branding cattle. A brand originally served as an identifying mark, so it is easy to see how brand and logo became synonymous, and for a time, that was an accurate way to understand a brand. However, major companies began to realize that when people saw their logo they weren’t just seeing an identifying mark for a given product, they were seeing an idea. The logo inspired thoughts and emotions that the prospect associated with the company.
Companies began to realize that their “brand” was going far beyond their logo, and even their product. The brand was something that was becoming more and more associated with qualitative terms like prestige or luxury, authentic and original, modern and progressive. This realization was revolutionary for branding, as branding became more about the idea behind a company than about logos and colors and even products. Branding became about what people thought of a company, what people understood to be a company’s defining characteristics, while the logos, colors, stationary and products were just supporting materials; visual and tangible items meant to be consistent with the brand message.
So what does the value and important of branding mean for businesses in the construction industry? It means that whether you believe it matters or not, you are doing branding all of the time. Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your business is a communication of your brand to your prospects. Branding cannot be avoided. It is simply a matter of crafting and controlling the message, or not.
Are you a contractor with a specialty in metal building construction, a supplier who provides general building supplies, or a manufacturer of specialty building products? Make sure to clearly define how you fit into the construction industry and where you want to fit. While narrowing the focus too much can be an issue, the most common mistake is not having any focus at all, offering too broad a spectrum of products or services. This results in an unclear brand message, since there is not a clear picture of what your business is actually good at. It’s better for branding to not come across as knowing a little about a lot, but knowing a lot about a little. Then you will build a perception of expertise and specialization.
Key to branding is storytelling. How did your business get here? What’s the character, setting and plot of the tale that is your business? Where did your business come from and where is it going? This is key to differentiating your audience. People want to know where you’ve been as a sign of your expertise and trustworthiness, and they want to know where you’re going as an indicator of whether or not they want to be a part of the future of your products and services.
A critical part of telling the story of your business is the “Why” of your business. Why are you doing this? Do you care about this? This is where the brand really goes beyond specific products and services and into a vision for the future of your company and industry. If the “Why” is money, don’t expect to inspire many customers for very long. Customers don’t care about the profit of your business; and if that’s the reason your business exists, customers will either start to catch on, or your customer service will go down.
Money isn’t often a motivator for long lasting quality service. A mission and a cause worth working towards are motivators that can drive every part of your business towards excellence and innovation. If you have a vision, some dream of being an engine for change, or that your business will be part of helping an industry grow and progress towards something bigger and better, then customers and employees will feel like they are doing far more than buying your products or using your services. Businesses with a vision make their customers and employees feel like they are active participants in a movement towards a future they can get excited about.
Without the “Why” of your business, you’ll simply leave customers to go back and forth between you and your competitors, each wielding the only remaining tool in your arsenal. Price. In the short-term, one will lose, and often, in the long-term, both businesses lose. The businesses that are overly focused on short term goals of profitability run the risk of not noticing when their industry is changing, and ultimately getting left behind.
While there is a lot to learn about branding and all that can go into it, taking these three steps into account will get your business on the right track.