Published in December 2005

Brand Your Business…
By David McNutt

…Or your customers will brand it for you.

     Conventional thinking used to tell us that branding is for large companies with lots of money. Today, branding is about anything and everything that creates an image or an experience around your product or service. Your company is being branded with or without your awareness.
     Say you walk into a mall to watch people for a few minutes. You see an overweight man with a nightstick and a teenage girl with orange hair. You think to yourself that the man is a security guard and the teenager is probably not doing well in school and is rebelling against her parents. A friend approaches with two people you don’t know. One of them is introduced as an attorney, the other as a carpenter. The attorney is nicely dressed; that works. The carpenter has Italian loafers, a colorful sweater and manicured nails. That one slipped by you. You just branded three people and one brand was slightly revised.
     It’s in our nature to categorize and label. Our brains have the ability to make organized sense out of millions of chaotic messages and experiences. Over the course of our lives, our minds have created distinct, complex pictures and descriptions of the people, products and services we encountered. McDonald’s, Michael Jordan, The New York Times, Miami, Levi’s, Hillary Clinton and Mount Rushmore are all “brands” of one type or another. Brands have an amazing ability to retrieve and display an image and experience in our minds, complete with feelings, smells and tastes.
     You may think that branding doesn’t have much to do with a contracting business, but in reality, the simple act of opening your doors for business makes you a brand in the eyes of everyone who drives by, works alongside or directly conducts business with you. Every telephone answer, every delivery, every job, every email, every employee greeting, every solder or crimp and every meeting is creating a brand in the eyes of everyone around you. It may not be the brand you want, but it’s the brand you have. The only choice you have in the matter is to either become a positive or a negative brand.
     Conventional wisdom used to tell us that brand management was about crafting the marketing communications message: about the company’s experience, capability, quality, project history and service. In fact, it doesn’t matter what you say; what matters is what people see and hear. If you want to know how your company is being branded, call a consultant, general contractor or facilities manager and ask. Then call others where a project didn’t go so well and ask; then another, and another. Soon you’ll understand your brand and why you have to take control of it.
     The choice to take control of your brand should be approached in an almost parental way. The entire company and everything it does is the brand, and it takes nurturing
and guidance to make it strong. Brand development is developing the company so it downloads positive images to the mental hard drive of everyone who comes in contact with it—especially its customers. It’s about how you sound on the phone and how you respond. It’s what your building looks like, inside and out. It’s how your people dress and how they conduct themselves, and how they talk to electricians and project managers and vendors. It’s about what time your truck arrives and how your crews clean up at the end of the day. It’s about safety, and courtesy, and competency, and expediency. It’s about managers and executives and how they contribute to leadership, compassion and decency.
     All of this comprises the direction of the brand. Once the direction is correct, magic happens and you begin to build brand equity: a collection of positive brand images created every day, one marketing event at a time. And eventually, if you’re good at it, the company might just become what it says it is.



Chicago-based David McNutt, a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council, has been involved in many business sectors of the systems integration industry. Send comments to him at dmcnutt@testa.com.

 

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