By David H. Martin
When most people think of successful brands, they think of national (or even international) brands such as Apple, Cocoa-Cola, Nike and McDonalds. But not all successful brands are national—or even regional. Many are strictly local.
Brand building is not a success formula that works only for giants. You can build your own brand in your local market. And you really should think about doing just that. Make it your goal to be the best brand in water treatment in your market! Today, building a brand of your own—or adopting a better-established one—is becoming a necessity for everyone in the water treatment business. With all the choices that water treatment consumers face, they rely on brands to help them decide. If you don’t have a recognizable brand in the markets you address, people will choose you on price alone—or, more likely, they won’t choose you at all.
Your company name
What’s a good name? That’s hard to say. Marketing professionals will tell you that virtually any name can be built into a successful brand with the proper mix of creativity and, more importantly, plenty of advertising support. Take Smuckers, a funny name, but a premium brand to be reckoned with on the grocery shelf. Looking at it objectively, a familiar name is a good name. An unknown name is a bad one. If your company is well established in your local market, you should be very careful about changing the name. An established name earns important recognition value over the years, which is sometimes referred to as brand equity. Don’t discard it lightly. Does a good brand name have to be descriptive of the business? Not necessarily. Just look at Culligan, a name that became synonymous with water softening over time through consistent advertising.
Let’s say you run a 15-year-old, family-owned business called Jenkins Water Conditioning. Through the years the business has evolved into a water bottling and drinking water equipment business. So you sense that you need a name that reflects what you do today. This means you have several things to consider:
- The established name of your company
- The brand of your bottled water
- The brand(s) of equipment that you sell
If you are an independent dealer with no franchise or other group name affiliation, you may have the option to private label the equipment you sell, especially if you assemble it yourself. Let’s call your proprietary product brand WaterLine. At the same time, you decide to retain Jenkins for its hard-won local awareness for water treatment. But you decide to drop Conditioning from the name in favor of your new proprietary brand for both your bottled water and equipment. So your new business name might be Jenkins WaterLine Services and the products you sell would be branded WaterLine.
Can you borrow brand awareness?
If your business is affiliated with a national franchise or other group, you might want to make their identity yours for maximum awareness and the borrowed credibility that only a nationally known brand can lend. The decision is yours. Before attaching a new name or brand to your business though, be sure to seek legal counsel to determine clearance for usage in your state. Some names are protected only in the states where they do business. Others are protected for national use.
Brand building is a process
Use this proven process to help you arrive at the right brand decision or, as the case may be, decisions. Keep in mind that the process requires careful self-analysis of the underlying values your business seeks to convey. More important than the brand name is the image your brand projects. Successful brand building involves three phases: defining, promoting and assessing your brand.
Defining your brand Your business name is the basis of your brand. When your name becomes a well-known local brand, the results are more leads, sales and profits. A well-maintained brand:
- Differentiates your business from your competitors
- Builds value
- Becomes a powerful and energizing tool to build business volume
- Combats price pressure from competition
- Provides a platform for building trust In a service business like home water treatment, your brand can be defined as your local reputation, earned from:
- Past performance
- Skills and abilities
- Current performance and expertise
- Physical attributes of your business
To determine the essence of your brand, make a checklist of achievements and attributes under each of these criteria. Don’t be afraid to list negatives that you can change with a plan and effort. Is your past performance consistently strong or spotty? Are you known for specific skills and products? Do you depend too much on a large rental base and too little on equipment sales? Is your store’s sign rusty and in need of replacement? Are your truck’s graphics fading away? Do your service crews wear clean uniforms? Remember, a well-defined brand is focused, distinctive and relevant to today’s market.
Promoting your brand
Building a brand is best done over time by promoting it frequently with steady repetition. Start with a strong, simple logo and make it unique. Don’t design it yourself; have it designed by a professional. Display the same logo wherever you go and on everything that represents your services: store, home show and Building Your Brand: By David H. Martin Be the Best Brand in Your Market Water Conditioning & Purification March 2013 truck signage; advertising; literature; stationery and business cards. Make sure every employee carries business cards with your logo.
Get involved in image-enhancing activities that can help build your brand:
- Participate in community events as an expert on local water issues
- Solicit speaking engagements on water quality
- Lead local environmental clean-ups along waterways
- Supply water for local athletes and amateur events
- Conduct water taste samplings at any and all events
Use the Internet to generate low-cost and no-cost frequency for your offers and branding messages. Email present customers and past customers, driving traffic to your company website. Consider Facebook, Twitter and writing a customer e-newsletter.
To promote your brand effectively, you need to focus on specific audiences, e.g. families with children, senior citizens, office managers and restaurant owners. Do something remarkable and worth talking about to create some word-of-mouth buzz around your brand. Pick a worthy cause and support it aggressively. Combine the trustworthy recommendation of a friend or respected figure with regular exposure through other forms of marketing and your brand could spread like wildfire, speeding up the whole brand-recognition process. Focus your efforts on key brand-building messages you wish to convey:
- A promise of expertise and satisfaction
- An image of dependability and trust
- Prompt, friendly service
- Certified products served by certified professionals
Assessing your brand
Building a brand is an ever-evolving process. As your brand grows in local awareness and acceptance, your values and objectives may well evolve and even change. That’s why constant reassessment is so important. Write a list of core competencies that impact your brand:
- Attention to detail
- Good listening skills
- Superior product knowledge
- Excellent troubleshooting ability
- Ongoing education
- Customer satisfaction guaranteed
- Industry longevity
- Water test services
- Diversified product mix
Examine your efforts to build your brand by asking for feedback from customers on how you are doing. Talk with competitors’ customers; find out why you lost a sale to a competitor. Pay attention to referrals and their closing ratio. Perform a periodic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis .
Building a strong local brand for your business is easier and more affordable than ever before with all of the remarkable, available web resources at your disposal, and when combined with traditional promotion tools. Start assessing your brand today and never stop reassessing it.
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@lenzimartin