Insiders share their advice on the rebranding process, from defining a core purpose to selecting a marketing partner.
A strong brand is more important than ever because consumers have so many choices. In order to influence buying decisions, your branding strategy has to clearly differentiate your offering and educate the consumer about it.
Branding is more than designing a logo on a whim. The process is complex and requires you — as a business owner — to consider what it is about your company that makes you different and then to recruit specialized expertise in the right marketing partner to help you convey that idea in the most effective way.
HVACR Business spoke with several contractors who walked their businesses through rebranding initiatives, as well as several marketing experts. According to their experience and expertise, there are three keys to developing a strong brand and several points to consider when evaluating potential marketing partners.
Begin with a Purpose
Begin by defining the purpose and mission of your core business, says Ted Lau, CEO of Ballistic Arts Media Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. Branding, at its very basic level, is the representation of your company to the world. In a more holistic sense, branding includes every touchpoint your business has with its customers, he adds. That includes marketing collateral, trade show booths, websites, and every interaction your staff has with your customers.
“Imagine your company is a person. What’s that person’s attitude? What’s their character? What is that like?” Lau offers. To begin to uncover the foundation of your brand, Lau suggests asking yourself:
• What’s the overall mission of my company?
• What are our core values?
• What’s our core purpose; what are we trying to do?
• What makes us different?
• Who are we targeting?
These are things that Ken Goodrich, founder of Yes! Air Conditioning & Plumbing in Las Vegas, and Lance Fernandez, general manager, considered. When they sought to consolidate a number of area heating, cooling, and plumbing companies under the umbrella of one company, they knew that, overall, they wanted to solve their customers’ challenges.
“We wanted to be able to say yes — no matter what the customer’s challenge,” Goodrich says. “We wanted to find a name that would also establish our company culture; that we could use all the way through — from the person who answers the phones to the person that provides the service. A name that said ‘Here’s who we are; this is what our representation to the market place is.’ ”
With the help of their marketing agency, they began thinking about a positive name that would give people a memorable, overall picture of the company. That name, of course, was Yes!
Once you have your foundation clarified, move forward with defining your target market and developing material that will effectively communicate what you offer.
Know Your Audience
Research is a critical link in the branding chain. If you don’t know whom you’re talking to, your communication efforts are in vain.
“We found in research that females are often making decisions in the home,” says Georgeann Pizzi, account supervisor at MassMedia, the marketing, advertising and public relations agency that developed the successful brand for Yes! Air Conditioning and Plumbing. “They might not be the one making the call, but they might be telling their husbands: ‘Go with this company.’ ”
According to Ray Grimm, president and CEO of A.W.E. Air. Water. Energy. In Dupage County, Ill., research was key for the company’s rebranding. After nearly 30 years of leading The Air Conditioning & Heating Company, Grimm was at the brink of retirement in 2010. However, the company was struggling to grow under the economic pressures, so instead he decided to reinvent the business. He added plumbing and renewable energy services and developed a new, more descriptive name.
“We engaged market research consultants to analyze both our existing clients and the broader market place. We looked at education, incomes, buying habits, and what products and services they wanted. We also surveyed our clients internally and asked how they would rate our service and value,” he says.
It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive, he adds. You have to know who your customer is and what they want.
Select a Partner
A good agency can help you to flesh out your mission, values and goals as well as lead the market research. But it’s important to find a company that understands the industry and with whom you click, say both the marketing professionals and the contractors we interviewed.
Goodrich and Fernandez say they went to colleagues within the community for references to good marketing firms and then they interviewed them.
They asked questions about past customers, their successes, and what branding campaigns they developed for these companies. They ended up selecting MassMedia because, first, they had good chemistry with the account reps and, second, the reps had a real vision for the business backed by tremendous confidence in their ideas, Fernandez says.
Amina Altai, co-founder and marketing director for Imagemme, a brand innovation lab in New York City, says when selecting a branding agency, it is important to keep the following questions in mind:
• Have they successfully worked with companies of your size before?
• Have they worked with companies in your category before?
• Does their portfolio support the breadth of work and aesthetic you are looking to achieve?
Pricing and Value
• Does the price of the project make financial sense for your company?
• How much time will they allot to your brand building efforts?
• How did they reach that price?
Every company considers different variables when pricing a project. Knowing these variables will help you to determine if they are aligned with your needs and how much product-per- dollar you are getting. Ask about these variables:
• How will work outside of the project’s initial scope be billed?
• Do they provide a detailed agreement that specifies all the project details and deliverables?
• Do they provide a detailed reporting on all activities that have been conducted?
• How long do they retain their clients after their initial work has been completed?
• What type of clients have they worked with?
• What kind of results have they pro- vided for those clients?
• Do they have hard figures to prove their work results?
• Will they oversee the entire project?
• Do their services fit within your business goals?
• How many team members will be dedicated to the success of your project?
• What is the methodology for developing your project?
• Do they have the appropriate processes in place to stay organized with your project?
• Do they offer one point person that takes accountability for the success of your project, and guides you through the process?
• Do you feel confident that the company has the stability to provide your business the services agreed?
• What is the communication structure and how often do they update you?
• Are they proactive in leading a project, or do they rely on you, the client, to direct them?
Bringing it All Together
Internal and external communication is another key link that if lost, could derail all of your branding efforts. When rebranding a company, it’s important to make sure that all of your employees understand and buy into the message so that they accurately and consistently represent the company. It’s also important to make sure your current customers don’t get lost in translation.
Grimm says his company had a 100-year history as the The Air Conditioning & Heating Company, and it was of the utmost importance to maintain the integrity and reputation they had already worked hard to establish. That became their biggest challenge: communicating that they were still the trusted company his customers had relied on for the past 100 years — just with expanded services and a new name, he says.
With this in mind, they made the decision to keep the bright yellow color that had become recognizable to the community through their eye-catching fleet. In addition, they tied that color into every new marketing piece they unveiled, add- ing that they have overcome their challenge by continually and consistently communicating with customers through phone calls, direct mail, public relations, community relations, and advertising campaigns.
Similarly, he says, they created consistent internal messaging to repetitively reinforce the new company’s brand, name and service standards for employees. And they created processes to ease the transition for employees to relay the company’s new branding message.
When it comes down to it, Grimm says, your branding efforts are never complete. They’re ongoing. You need to continually listen to your customers and make sure you’re consistently meeting the needs of an ever-changing market. Sometimes that means taking calculated risks that are backed up with fresh ideas that make good business sense, and the courage to believe in your mission.
Heather Onorati is former editor of HVACR Business and now works as a writer and editor in business communications.