Mike Abrashoff, former U.S. Navy Captain
Originally published: 10.01.16 by Terry Tanker
One of my favorite discussion topics is branding. I see a lot of companies large, small and in-between doing this well. I also see, and deal with, an equal number that don’t.
Companies fall into two categories — those that understand the “what” of marketing communication strategies and, probably more important, the “how.” They also understand the basics, such as branding takes time and it’s about all you do, not just the ads you run.
The other category consists of those who don’t understand. Commonly, they expect immediate results and consistently confuse the many different components. They expect an X result when they should be expecting a Y.
In the real world, you don’t have infinite resources and you don’t have perfect products — no one does. Guy Kawasaki, who was an early Apple employee and has written for us in the past, knows a lot about branding.
I don’t agree with everything he writes about, largely because in his world, the mega brands he commonly discusses do things HVACR contractors simply can’t do. That said, below is some of Kawasaki’s sage advice, along with my definitions and commentary that should help you apply it to your business.
Seize the high ground. Establish
This is straightforward, because you own service companies. There is nothing better for a customer than to have a great experience with your firm — it will make them happy. You’re doing good, fixing problems for customers. And, it can easily be argued you are changing the world (can you imagine our world without heating and cooling? I can’t).
Create one message. It’s difficult enough to create and communicate one branding message, however, many companies try to establish several because they want the “entire” market and are afraid of being niched. “Our computer is for Fortune 500 companies. And, oh yes, it’s also for consumers to use at home.” Pick one message, stick with it.
Speak English. Not necessarily “English,” but speak in non-jargonese. If your positioning statement uses any acronyms, the odds are that a) most people won’t understand your branding and b) your branding won’t last long. For example, “best MP3decoder” presumes that people understand what “MP3” and “decoder” mean much less the term “MP3” itself. Not to be an ageist, but a good test is to ask your parents if they understand what your positioning means — assuming your parents aren’t computer science professors.
Many large companies struggle with this. They let engineers get involved with writing marketing copy, and 99 percent of the time it doesn’t turn out well.
Take the opposite test. How many times have you read a product description like this — “Our software is scalable, secure, easy-to-use and fast?” Companies use these adjectives as if no other company claims its product is scalable, secure, easy-to-use, and fast. Unless your competition uses the antonyms of the adjectives that you use, your description is useless.
You’ve got competitors — a lot of them. Create a simple message. Superior service; Certified technicians; 24/7 service; Experts at … Over time, you can use all of these, just not all at once.
Cascade the message. Cascade it up and down your organization. The marketing departments of many companies assume that once they’ve put out the press release or run the ad, the entire world understands the message.
This is simple. Make sure everyone in the organization understands the message and your branding. The folks answering your phones and technicians in the field are the most critical.
Examine the bounce back. You know what messages you send, but you really don’t know what messages people receive. Here’s a concept: you should ask them to bounce back the message that you sent so that you can learn how your message is truly interpreted. In the end, it’s not so much what you say as much as what people hear.
This is really important. Make sure your message is being interpreted and understood the way you intend.
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets.
Your brand is your promise to your customer. It is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your market; or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option; or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based, to some extent, on who your target customers want and need you to be.
Terry Tanker has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming JFT Properties LLC. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, NATE, AMCA, and ABMA. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for NATE and was the chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.