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Monday, December 17, 2007

The importance of branding

So what do I find when I key in "Construction Sub Trade Branding" on Google? Not much. But I did come across this reference to Vicano Construction in Brantford -- and their page inviting subtrades to log in and apply to be suppliers. Obviously this is NOT branding for the subtrades -- but is great branding for Vicano! (And may lead to some jobs for subs not wishing to 'worry' about branding -- who just want to bid for the work.)

Sonny Lykos has sent me much useful information about branding. I am still going through his binder of material, his reference books, and other resources. Today, however, I connected the mental dots (sometimes it takes me a while) and realized that "Branding" is the answer for the struggling sub-trade; the victim of abuse and frustration; of bid-shopping and manipulation, and simply of being the low person on the totem pole in this industry.

Yet, for a very simple reason, I confidently will say that 99 per cent of the subs out there won't get it.

They won't because they see themselves as doing their trade, not as selling a brand.

Heck, they won't see it because I couldn't see it until Sonny laid on the materials and information to me. And I am in the marketing and publishing business, and read a lot, and, well, should know this stuff.

How can we expect someone who has built a business as a masonry contractor, a drywaller, or a mechanical contractor to understand branding? Heck, the company that excavates foundations doesn't think of itself as Coca-Cola or Dell Computers. "Branding" seems to be an arcane and absurd concept when your business is laying sod or stringing wire.

But if you are in any of these businesses; any of the subtrades "just doing your job", you will want to find a few minutes to figure some things out about branding, and then set to establish your brand and marketing plan.

"Huh," I'm sure you'll say. If you are a typical sub trade, you'll probably have a modest roster of regular clients, you know who they are, and you bid their jobs in accordance with your usual practices. If you are competitive, you win. Maybe you like some of your clients better than others; know who treats you well, and who tries to squeeze every cent out of you; and for the ones that are reasonable, you sharpen your pencil and give a bit better price. You get by. Marketing is for sissies. You have work to do.

But what if you could increase your prices by 20 per cent or more -- without investing in expensive equipment? And either diversify or improve your client base -- so you are less at the mercy of one or two organizations? Alternatively, you may decide you don't really want to grow -- to get too big for yourself -- but you would like to find a little more profit from your existing business. Again, carefully thought and planned branding strategies (correlated primarily with simple client service and relationship initiatives) may produce huge results.

So, the next step, is how do you get started? I'm going to assume for now that you are not the biggest reader -- and all the gobbledygook out there anyways doesn't really relate to your own business. So while it will be helpful to read some of the useful books on Branding, here are some other ideas:

  • If you have ever purchased advertising in one of our publications, feel free to call me. I'll listen to your situation, and suggest options. (I promise not to try to sell you more advertising -- only a tiny portion of the branding process -- you may buy some, but that is because I've succeeded in practicing what I preach about branding.)
  • If you aren't a member of your relevant trade association, or in the U.S., a chapter of the American Subcontractors Association, join. Then call and ask for support and resources relating to marketing and branding.
  • You can hire a consultant. The challenge is getting the right consultant, not the BS and phony stuff that some consultants spout -- at overpriced fees. I can recommend Sonny Lykos (if he is available) and Michael Stone. Locally, you may find someone who works well with you (I use Bill Caswell in Ottawa).
Most likely, when you enter into this branding and marketing space, you will make some mistakes and possibly encounter some false starts. But it is worthwhile. Ask Sonny Lykos. He has avoided the commodity pricing trap and makes money, because he knows how to brand his business.


Sonny Lykos said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mark.

As I've stated before, most contractors, including specialty contractors, think with a tradesman mentality instead of a businessmen's mentality. And all too often, even those who think as a business person have the impression that "branding" is like advertising. Not so. Advertising and marketing only gets the customer interested in the company. They are therefore, tempted to try their product, or in our case, service.

Branding is simply what the customer thinks of you. It's that simple. It's not a logo. It's not a discount. It's not "only" the caliber of your work. Their perception is based upon a compilation of every single contact anyone from your company has had with them, and believe it or not, that includes how those in the company answer the phone, what they say, and their manner.

It's the opposite of what one specialty contractor said to me when I called him for the first time: "Yea!" I simply said: "I have the wrong number." and hung up."

I'm semiretired, yet even while working only part-time, my prices continue to be double to triple my supposed competition. Your readers would be very smart for starters, to buy and read "Brand Harmony." And if they really understand the contents of the book, they will incorporate what's in it and begin to enjoy substantial increased margins, while reducing aggravation and time, in the running of their business.

The key is to not just "satisfy" a customer. Many business do just that, merely satisfy them. The key is to WOW each customer. Treat them in a manner that is the opposite of what they expect, and the opposite of what they expect because what they expect is the public's knowledge of the lousy reputation of our industry.

Or don't bother and keep the status quo - fighting for every job, and at less than you desire. Understand that "branding" brings the customer - and sales - to you, instead of you having to continually advertise and market while trying to sell yourself to them.

Remember, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target, Big lots, Family Dollar Store, and the like are all in the same category, the low end, and there are many of them. But how many Dillards exist? Don't brand yourself as a Chevy, but as a Cadillac or Lincoln, and with each hour prove that you're worth every dollar.

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Sonny, I've certainly enjoyed Brand Harmony -- and will write about it in an upcoming post. The big challenge here is tying the principals of brand harmony to the practices of the construction industry. Clearly you've been able to do it; so have some others, but the great majority just don't get it. Our challenge is to explain what these contractos and subs need to do, perhaps in a simple set of industry-relevant exercises and suggestions. (Then, perhaps, a fewe will make the commitment.)

Sonny Lykos said...

You're right. I'll try to put some suggestions to paper.

Sonny Lykos said...

So, specific to our industry, just how does one become a person or company that is in demanded by it's customers? To do so it must become an anomaly to it's industry.

What is the standard by which contractors, both general contractors and specialty contractors operate? Let me list just a few important, or rather "notorious", examples:

1. Phone calls are not returned promptly. How could they when you're so busy doing other things. Hey, you run a business, right.

2. Cleanliness is not important. Why should it be since it's the "workmanship", not the residual debris that's important, right? Especially for plumbers and electricians.

3. So what if you show up a couple of hours (or days) later than the arranged time and day. You have problems like everyone else, right?

4. I know you look like you just changed your water pump, but Hey! you've been working. And what does a haircut have to do with your work?

5. Never, ever, do anything for free. Even if it's good for marketing or PR, never Forget you are in business to make money, not give it away.

6. Help other people if needed? What are you nuts! No one ever helped me with anything.

So, take all of the above, add a few more that you can think of, and turn them all toward you. People who you've contracted with were late, slobs, didn't return your calls, looked like they just crawled out from under a rock, nickel and dimed you for everything, and never once offered to give you a hand when it was needed. So how do you like being treated not as a customer, but as a 3rd rate person?

It's funny when one expects others to apply the Golden Rule to them, but don't think of applying it by to their own customers as part of their company culture. After all, they're too busy running a business. And it's as simple as that - the Golden Rule. Take care of your customers, and their staff, as you would like to be WOW'd by those with whom you sign contracts.

Go ahead. Be an anomaly. I dare you! But before you get started, remember what Albert A. N. Gray said about the Common Denominator of Success, in one of Marks November columns. Mr. Gray wanted to find the one thing that all successful people had in common, what he summed up as the Common Denominator of Success. And he found it:

"Successful people form the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do."