BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
SAN FRANCISCO — Most customers may think a company’s brand is its name, symbol or logo. Many companies may view their own brands the same way.
Not true, said brand expert Karl Speak, who spoke at Nex-star Super Meeting XXIII Feb. 20 and 21 here on “Brand Management: Building Loyalty through Branding.” Nex-star is the best practices contractor group formerly known as Contractors 2000.
“Brands are not marketing programs, logos, advertising campaigns or tag lines,” Speak said. “They are relationships. Brand management really is relationship management.”
Service contractors and other firms must build these relationships to create loyal customers. Brand-loyal customers buy more with less effort from the seller and actively refer others to buy, Speak said.
“The value of your business is directly proportional to your reputation,” he said. “Brand is about growing your business through your customers. You build a strong brand through your customers.”
A brand is a tool that businesses use to tell customers what to expect from them. It becomes an embodiment of what both the companies and the customers value, such as quality, promptness, cleanliness or efficiency.
“Your customers depend upon your brand as much as you do,” Speak said.
Brands are very much based upon customers’ perceptions of the experience of doing business with a company or consuming a product or service, he noted. So, every interaction of a firm’s employee with a customer either works to build up or take away from the strength of the brand.
“The contractor’s brand happens in the field,” he said.
With that being the case, the manner in which field employees interact with customers is essential to the strength of the brand. So, creating a strong brand begins inside a company with values shared by employees and management.
“The brand on the outside is only as strong as the brand on the inside,” Speak said. “How you treat each other inside is how you treat customers. What goes on inside is what is reflected to your customers.”
Similarly, Speak said contractors should develop their personal brand along with the business brand. The two usually are related in the customer’s mind.
“You already have a brand,” he said. “Your brand is a reflection of who you are and what you believe, which is visibly expressed by what you do and how you do it.
“You are the brand in your company if you are the owner or leader of your company.”
Characteristics of a strong personal brand include distinctiveness, relevancy and consistency. In other words, a person with such a brand would stand for something or have a distinctive point of view; would connect with what someone else considers to be important; and would be consistent in behaviors that others experience or observe.
“Strong brands are not about being different but about the difference you make,” Speak said. “Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be more about what you are really like. You can only be great at something you believe in.
“Most of you work too hard not to stand out but to blend in.”