What the remodeler said: “Clients want our commitment to quality workmanship.” What the clients said: “They cleaned, swept, and vacuumed the jobsite. They didn't swear. We felt like we could leave our 10-year-old at home with them if we needed to run to the store.”

“Not a single customer [we spoke to] said anything about quality,” says Greg Stine of marketing firm Polaris, which worked on the branding strategy for Harrell Remodeling of Mountain View, Calif., ( www.harrell-remodeling.com). “The reality is that unless something cracks, clients can't really judge quality, but they can judge how well they're taken care of.” For Harrell Remodeling, the tagline became, “We never forget it's your home,” which resonated with employees and clients alike.

This is the essence of branding. It's not just about brochures or logos — often the first thing people think of when they hear the word — but about how well promises are supported by actions. Defining your company's promise takes research to create a strategic framework that can help you understand what your business is all about, who your clients are, and how best to reach them.

Seek and Ye Shall Define “Your brand is the promise you keep, not the one you make,” says Kristin Zhivago, marketing consultant and author of Rivers of Revenue: What to Do When the Money Stops Flowing. In the book, Zhivago lists what she calls “promise-keeping resources”: your product or service, your people doing the work, your processes, your policies, and your procedures. Basically, everything your company does reinforces your brand. “It's what people say about you when you're not in the room,” she adds.

Blackdog's Dave Bryan with Marley. The Labrador retriever in the company's logo connotes trust and approachability.
Blackdog Design / Build / Remodel Blackdog's Dave Bryan with Marley. The Labrador retriever in the company's logo connotes trust and approachability.

How do you find out what your promise should be? “Ask your clients,” Zhivago says. “Ask them what the success scenario is. Then you can turn around and look at who you are and what you do. ‘What resources do I have to bring to bear on this scenario?'”

It sounds easy, but although clients like to be helpful, they may not answer honestly. Getting an outsider to canvass previous clients will get them to open up more. Client feedback will also help you differentiate your company from its competitors.

From the outside, remodelers all look alike to clients. So how do you set yourself apart from the competition? Joaquin Erazo, vice president of marketing and public relations for Case Design/ Remodeling, points to Starbucks and Subway as good examples of successful branding. The former made a cup of coffee into an experience and the latter has defined “healthy” fast food. Erazo suggests doing the following at least once a year to help differentiate your company by coming up with or by maintaining your brand:

  • A basic, competitive market analysis. Find out what your direct and indirect competitors offer and how they offer it. What are their processes? Look at their advertising.
  • A gap analysis. What's missing? Mystery shop competitors if possible.
  • Look internally. Do my people have special certifications? Is my process different? Why? Am I faster? More thorough? Is my scope of work unique?
  • Dave Alpert, owner of Continuum Marketing Group in Great Falls, Va., offers a good example of differentiation. His client, Silver Bullet Design & Build in Minneapolis (www.silverbulletdb.com), has two specific areas that it has branded: The Silver Bullet Perfect Project Program, a trademarked process carrying clients from pre-design to post-construction, and the Silver Bullet 2+6+10 Year Limited Warranty. These differentiators are prominent on the company's Web site, and Silver Bullet's logo and text is consistent with the professional position the company has staked out.

    Silver Bullet is trying to differentiate itself from its competitors, but marketing professionals, including Erazo, warn that in positioning your company you don't want to be too extreme. “You don't want to position yourself as too cheap, too expensive, too diversified. You don't want to carve out too small a niche where there's no room for future growth.”

    Once you've defined and differentiated the company, you can develop a position or a brand statement — a succinct way of saying what your organization is best at, for whom, and why.