Several years ago, Audi hired the Gallup Organization to figure out what distinguishes Audi drivers from those of competitors' cars. Whereas BMW drivers, for instance, are known for their pure driving passion, Audi drivers turned out to be “relators” who enjoy talking about their cars almost as much as they enjoy driving them. Audi used these findings to recruit salespeople, mechanics, and others whose personalities meshed with those of Audi drivers. Their numbers have risen every year since.

That's branding: identifying and projecting a distinctive and consistent set of attributes. Although usually associated with multibillion-dollar corporations, branding can be a powerful marketing tool for remodelers as well.

Take Friedell Construction. In 2004, the Minneapolis-area design/build firm underwent a “branding process” that resulted not only in a new graphic identity, but also a new name that neatly crystallized its focus on design and architecture: Friedell Architects & Builders.

Given that the company had been around since 1979, the term “ rebranding process” might seem more apt. But “it wasn't so much a rebranding as a matter of sitting down and figuring out who we are,” explains president Roger Friedell. Despite various marketing efforts over the years, “there was clearly a message that wasn't getting passed through.” Many prospects didn't think they needed an architect, or they didn't trust or understand the concept of one-stop design/build services.

So Friedell used a strategy similar to Audi's. Working with branding consultant Eve Stubens, he identified “four ideal clients” who actually did value the design process. Stubens and her staff then interviewed the four to ascertain what they found special about Friedell's company. The idea is to “go to the people who know you best and have them tell you from the outside in what they see, and then blend that with what you want to be,” Stubens explains. Every aspect of “your core brand vision” should be consistent, she adds, from products to pricing to “the language your sales force uses and the attitude of your carpenter and product manager. Ultimately the whole story needs to be tightly put together.”

Thankfully, the feedback from Friedell's clients affirmed that the company already had the right story. All it lacked was a coherent way to tell it. So Friedell forwarded Stubens' insights to a design firm, which then created the new graphic image and marketing collateral, including a handsome announcement mailed to about 1,200 people in the company's sphere of influence.

The whole process took about three months and was “very reasonable” in cost, says Friedell. He still faces the occasional objection to the design-driven process. But he now has the language and the look that, combined, make it easy “to describe what we do and what we can offer.”