Below is an article we wrote for Independent Thinking, a specialist magazine that focuses on the independent merchants.
In an industry built from bricks, sand and timber I don’t suppose there’s a dirtier word than ‘branding’. Which is a shame because out of all the tools at a company’s disposal their ‘brand’ should be the most powerful and effective for sustainable growth.
It wasn’t so long ago the independent yards only had to contend with the larger networks for customers. With the advent of the internet and the renewed focus towards builders by DIY chains like B&Q, the battle for shifting bricks has got ever more difficult.
New kids on the breeze-block like Amazon, traditionally a bookseller, are proving to be more than a distraction to the bottom line too.
Companies have no choice but to evolve, as customer expectation has risen to match the experiences they have grown used to in their personal lives. This is being exacerbated by the sophisticated selling techniques that the DIY chains learnt in the consumer market. And who knows where mobile marketing will end, with 75% of builders now using their phones to engage with their suppliers.
As the construction market rises to its feet, there has never been a better time to re-evaluate a brand’s worth.
The golden rule to remember is: ‘Your brand isn’t what you, your shareholders or your staff think it is. Your brand can only be what everybody else thinks it is.’ So in the mind of the customer, your brand will probably be judged by the last experience that they’ve had with it.
Which leads us nicely on to the other side of the counter or the desk. Staff are a company’s biggest asset: they are the ambassadors of your brand and play a large part in how a business is perceived. As you would expect, a helpful member of staff usually escalates in a customer’s mind, creating a helpful company. Obviously a bad experience can do the complete reverse.
Needless to say, for any brand to be successful it’s vital that all staff buy into it. And it’s fine to make your promise aspirational, but don’t make it unreachable. Any brand that makes promises it can never keep is guaranteed to fail in the long run. You can’t say it out loud, but trust is king in any industry.
So the first question. What do you stand for? We know Volvo stands for safety and reliability, Dulux want to add more colour to your world and Wickes guarantee a level of service and expertise by ‘putting their name on it’.
The important thing to remember when looking at a brand positioning is – it takes time for it to stick. The brands mentioned have spent a long time continually reinforcing their promise through every step of the customer journey, gradually building ‘long-term brand equity’.
With this in mind, if a company is looking at refreshing or revolutionising their brand they should start with the promise, use it as a measure, and then look at all the components from the logo to operations, keeping anything that measures up. There’s no business sense in throwing out any brand equity on a whim. But only keep the parts that measure up.
And when a company takes a brand audit, it’s vital they dig deep. They have to look past the logo and colours, they have to look at everything – even the operational side of the business. Companies have to look at the way they speak, interact and engage with staff, partners, suppliers and most importantly customers.
It’s not good enough for a business to tell people they ‘deliver fast and first time after time’ if they only have one delivery truck. It’s much better to say ‘we deliver on time, every time’, making sure an achievable delivery time is given with every order received. Companies have to do what they say, all the time, for trust to be built and sustained.
If a brand gets full commitment from everyone from the counter to the boardroom then there’s no telling what opportunities could arise. Think of a strong, distinct brand as adding extra teeth to your Mitre Saw. It becomes self-fulfilling. For example, companies with the best brands attract better people more consistently. And at a time when attracting new talent to the industry is proving to be difficult, lifting a company above the others suddenly becomes a sound investment.
Getting the brand right has a great impact on messaging and communication. It can give Builders Merchants more impetus to challenge for more work.
Companies that tackle the general apathy amongst builders towards sustainable and environmental issues could suddenly open up a new cash stream. Likewise, if a brand can really help Britain to build more by raising awareness of the government incentives on offer, they should see a positive difference to their profits.
So in essence, branding isn’t some fluffy word out of place in an industry born of brick, timber and steel. It’s the most powerful tool a business has at its disposal. And used properly it could help build a business that truly goes beyond the extra yard.
Andy Bolter is the creative director of Pepper Corporation, an independent, entrepreneurial, creative communications agency that does ‘Whatever it takes’ to create ideas that give brands more concrete for their foundations.