Having spoken with hundreds of business owners over my career, I know that most business owners give little thought to their brand or brand strategy when they first start their business. Many hire a graphic designer to create a logo, plus maybe some business cards and stationery, and call it a day.

But branding is more than just a logo. It is what your business is striving to achieve, your values, and your unique messaging to your customers. Branding your business, and more importantly having a strategy to disseminate your message, is a process worth doing and a process worth revisiting periodically. You want to ensure your message is relevant in today’s marketplace and on target with your target audience and your original vision.

While there are many parts to branding, I want to talk about your messaging. That is the part that I feel most business owners miss out on. Messaging to your target audience needs to differentiate you from your competitors. So, think about your company. What is it that you do for your customers that other companies similar to yours don’t?

If you work in a niche, your niche may be what sets you apart. If you don’t, you need to think about the value you bring to your customers that others don’t. Essentially, you are answering the question, “why should we choose you?”

Now, that sounds like an easy question. But I can tell you that it is not easily answered. Many contractors I’ve worked with answer with things like my experience or our customer service. Unless you are Nordstrom’s, customer service is never a delineating factor that will cause clients to seek you out or pay a higher price. And while experience can sometimes be the differentiator it is only after people hear you speak on your area of expertise that it will be the deciding factor. It will not usually cause people to seek you out when used in a branding message.

In the article Being Different is Better than Being ‘Better’, branding strategist Tracy O’Shaughnessy says, “The more you differentiate yourself from your competitor, the less price will play a factor in the buying decisions of your customers. You won’t be a simple commodity, and you’ll become something different, something necessary.”

One way to attack the question is to start by asking your previous customers about their experience with your company. Why did they choose your company? Ask as many as you can to get a good mix of responses. Look at reviews written by your customers. Is there an overall sentiment that you can expound upon?

Also, think about your target audience. If you are a home builder, they are buying a house. But think about the process and the pains that they go through to have a new home built. How do you ease that process for them? How do they feel after working with you?

Imagine being a very visual customer who is nervous about building a new home. Colorado Springs home builder, Saddletree Homes, uses the tagline “We build the home you see when you close your eyes and dream.” That’s a pretty powerful statement and tells the potential customer they are going to get exactly what they are envisioning. Another Colorado Springs home builder, Winston Custom Homes, uses the tagline, “For a home you’ll love and your neighbors will envy.” That one statement implies that everyone wishes they could have a Winston Custom Home.

When it comes to messaging, it is important that every piece of marketing collateral – from your website to your business cards, printed brochures, company apparel and online marketing – be consistent with your brand messaging. And, you must also be consistent in your marketing. I have said before that visibility is more important than ability and it is true. If you want to scale your business, you must commit to a marketing budget and get your company name in front of your potential customers.

Once you’ve implemented your brand strategy you want to track the results, listen for feedback and ensure that it is working. I recommend revisiting your brand messaging each year while you’re working on strategic planning for the next year.

Last year, long-running paint company Benjamin Moore went through the process of revisiting their brand. This week, they released their new “See the Love” marketing campaign. Steve O’Neill, CMO at Benjamin Moore, says their new messaging conveys, “We are more than just about making paint. We believe that paint has the power to transform a job into a calling for contractors, a business into a passion for retailers, a vision into reality for designers and architects, and a house into a home for homeowners.” So, while they make a commodity (paint), the focus of their messaging is the end result for their target audiences.

Steve O’Neill said the process took a little over a year because they revised their vision statement, interviewed customers, hired FIG advertising agency to help with the creative and then hired expertise for the commercials. Now, your process does not have to take a year. The length of time it takes is going to be directly proportionate to the amount of people involved in the process.

I think the most important thing you can take from their process, though, is to not go it alone. While you may be the best custom home builder, if you don’t have experience in marketing or branding, bring in a company or someone who is. In the end, a great message well distributed will help you to grow your business and stand apart from the crowd of competitors.

Read More