Most snow and ice management companies are making a critical mistake unbeknownst to them. They repeatedly make this mistake, and every customer is affected by it. What could be so important to a business, yet so universally neglected? In a word, branding.
Many owners may think their company is too small to be concerned about a brand. Not true! Successful branding does not require a marketing budget, advanced education or social media savvy. In fact, each company already has a brand; typically it has just been ignored, under-promoted or misunderstood.
What is branding?
A major hurdle for most companies is that they don’t really understand what a brand is supposed to be. It’s understandable, considering the concept of marketing has become so convoluted in today’s world of information overload, where marketing mediums have changed and technology companies like Google and Facebook use secret algorithms to determine who is most popular.
Fortunately, there is a simple definition that will always guide companies in the right direction: Branding is simply the impression someone has when they think of a company. No matter what size the company, what channels are used to engage customers or what type of product or service is being sold, perception is reality.
So why is branding so important? In essence, a great brand leads to higher sales and profit. Brands that get people talking about a product, whether through a logo, colors, music or any other sensory experience, lead to consumers taking action and having a preference. Consider the feelings we experience at the mention of Ford vs. GM, iPhone vs. Android, or Coke vs. Pepsi.
Learn from the best
The best brands are tied to an emotional experience, leading to their customers often becoming promoters or ambassadors. Consider Apple’s brand (which may be the world’s most valuable brand, at an estimated value of $145.5 billion). Apple’s brand is so powerful for a number of reasons that could be easily imitated by any company.
First, Apple rarely focuses on what their product actually does. There isn’t a features-and-benefits sales pitch; rather, it is an emotional impression of how owning an Apple product will feel. It isn’t that Apple creates the experiences, because they are naturally occurring no matter what phone is in one’s pocket. But Apple regularly makes the connection about how those experiences are captured, shared and enhanced by owning an iPhone.
Second, Apple is consistent in its branding. Both in frequency of advertising and tone of message, there is no debating that Apple has a strategic plan that it follows when educating the marketplace about how to feel about their company. By being consistent, the message is more clearly received and remembered by consumers because it takes less cognitive effort to process each impression. Through repetition, the brand is remembered.
Third, Apple ensures that its brand permeates every consumer experience. Whether purchasing a product online, visiting an Apple store or using an iPhone, iPad or Mac, there is a sameness to the experience that reinforces the brand. It is no accident that Apple stores look and function so differently than every other store, since the first one was constructed in 2001. They are designed to emulate the clean, simple, functional and technically advanced experience of using an Apple device. Every device, experience and employee supports the brand image Apple has decided to create.
Save the brand
So how can a snow and ice company, even one with no marketing budget, harness the type of branding power that has propelled Apple to become the world’s most valuable company? By defining what the company does well and how it makes customers feel and designing every experience to reinforce that message.
The best way for a company that already has had some success to determine what a brand should stand for is to interview its best customers about what the brand means to them. Loyal clients are already devoted brand followers. Ask: “Why continue to buy from us?” The answer should be an integral piece of the brand experience that the company seeks to define.
Next, the answers should be synthesized into simple descriptors of the brand experience that every member of the company can understand. They should be shared and discussed openly and supported by the company’s mission and vision. It is not possible to reinforce a misunderstood brand.
Once understood, each client interaction should be evaluated from the brand perspective. All client communication should be consistent in tone and image to avoid conflict and the dilution of the message. Consider how the phones are answered, what invoices look like, how problems are handled, appearance of equipment and crews, marketing messages and what type of services are provided. When everything comes in line, a strong brand message can be achieved.
A strong brand is the result of working every part of the business and is a true team effort. Apple understands that having the world’s most valuable brand directly relates to the fact it is the world’s most profitable company. By successfully branding a company, increased sales and profits will follow. Branding is too costly to continue to choose to ignore it. Fortunately for snow and ice companies, now is the perfect time to relaunch the brand before winter arrives.
Neal Glatt, CSP, ASM, is account executive for Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.