Make sure you protect your brand!

BY MIKE MARKOVSKY SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR PAY ATTENTION specifically to what you do the next time you're in your local grocery store. As you cruise up and down the aisles, you almost half-consciously choose products and throw them into your basket. We all do it! Even those of us who shop with a list, usually glance at the list and go to the section that contains that specific type of product, only to

BY MIKE MARKOVSKY
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR

PAY ATTENTION specifically to what you do the next time you're in your local grocery store. As you cruise up and down the aisles, you almost half-consciously choose products and throw them into your basket. We all do it! Even those of us who shop with a list, usually glance at the list and go to the section that contains that specific type of product, only to click into catatonic mode in time to select the "right" brand from among all the alternatives.

That, my friends, is the power of brands! Once you've established the positive affinity for a brand, selection is virtually automatic — unless a subsequent negative experience sours you on it. And, in that case, you would almost automatically click to the next most acceptable brand on your subconscious list.

The beauty of brands is that once a provider has established a positive affinity for his product or service with a buyer, he really doesn't have to advertise to maintain that affinity. So, buyers loyal to a particular brand are a low-maintenance bunch!

I'm always amazed at the lack of brand focus among many business-to-business operators — in particular, distributors and contractors who sell and install other people's products. Loyalty to distributors and contractors is a measure of the affinity customers have for their brand, based on the quality of the service provided, the overall value supporting the price charged and the performance of the products they purvey. This is particularly true for distributors and contractors that use multiple brands of products in their business.

In these days of commoditization, brand preference — for either the brands you carry or for your personal brand — is one of the only ways to counter low-price pressures. Commoditization, after all, is the single-minded focus on price above all else. And, with the popularity of the aggregated bid — where a list of "commodities" is priced and awarded as a group — it's easy for "brand" to get lost in the shuffle.

In the end, the purchaser of the lowest priced commodity products often still has lofty expectations with respect to the quality, longevity and performance of the products in question. The value of the "best price" very often goes away immediately after the product is installed.

So, what happens when a commodity product operates within the value proposition of its lower cost but beneath the expectations of the buyer? Brand damage to your brand as the provider of that "inferior" product! Can you ever say, "Hey, Bub, you got what you paid for"? Uh, no, not without even more damage to your brand!

In the simplest of terms, as a contractor, you are what you install! That's a truth in today's business environment more than ever before. And, that truth flies in the face of those who would offer "frequent buyer" and other incentives to persuade distributors and contractors to use perhaps marginal, commodity products instead of brands that will fulfill the downstream demands of specifiers and buyers.

Wise operators provide value, as opposed to pure "price," in both the products and services they sell. They recognize that somewhere upstream from the actual transaction, the cost of the frequent buyer incentive is baked into the price of the products they support.

And, that component of the price doesn't carry any value to the ultimate customer. Like the old commercial said, "You can pay me now or pay me later!" Is it possible that the price difference driven by the wholesale incentive could have been used to obtain a better product for the ultimate customer? If the answer is truly "Yes," the ultimate customer, who supported that frequent buyer sale, will most likely become aware of that shortcoming at some point.

It's up to you. It is, after all, your brand and your future!

Mike Markovsky is a senior partner of Fast Forward Strategies, a business strategy development company headquartered in Sparks, Nev. Focused on accelerating business in B2B enterprises, FFS works with clients to develop and implement short-and long-term growth plans. He can be reached at 775/ 626-3037, or visit the company's Website at www.ffsreno.com