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Small Business Brand Building 101: Part I

By Bridget McCrea

Look around your warehouse, stockroom, office, or even your own home and you’ll find no lack of corporate branding strategies designed to get your attention and turn you into a long-term customer. Venerable consumer brands like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Walmart have honed their brand-building techniques to a science while electrical product manufacturers like Sylvania, Legrand, GE, Hubbell, and others devote time, energy, and money to making sure their products get top billing.

The fact that manufacturers put so much emphasis on their own brands places the electrical distributor in a unique position. On one hand, the distributor can “ride” the branding efforts of its suppliers, but on the other hand it can also work to carve out a place for itself in its customers’ minds regardless of the specific brands that are on its storeroom shelves.

The latter approach is preferential, says Dan Antonelli, author of Building a Big Small Business Brand and president at Graphic D-Signs in Washington, N.J. “Establishing your individual identity and brand approach is an important step,” Antonelli says, “but it’s often overlooked by small firms that aren’t sure what goes into a good branding effort and why they should even be doing it in the first place.”

What is Branding?
A term that’s tossed around a lot in the business world but not always clearly defined, branding is basically the idea or image of a specific product or service. It’s what customers connect with – either through a name, logo, advertising or website color scheme, design, slogan, or even a 1-800 number (1-800-ASK-GARY, for example).

Using one or more of these elements in conjunction with advertising (a logo on a website, for example, or a 1-800 number on a vehicle wrap), organizations work to build brand recognition and stand out from their competitors. That way, the next time a customer needs a related product or service, that brand will pop into his or her mind and prompt a phone call, web order, or in-person visit.

But good branding goes beyond just designing an original logo and slapping it onto a stack of brochures or line cards. According to marketing and branding expert Susan Gunelius, author of What is a Brand? 5 Factors that Define a Brand, it also includes the brand promise (what customers will get when they buy your product); perceptions (how consumers perceive your brand); expectations (what they expect in return for their loyalty and investment); persona (what’s the brand actually like?); and tangible elements (logo, messaging, packaging).

“Bottom line,” says Gunelius, “a brand is clear, reliable, and believable to both your consumers and your employees.”

Walking the Tightrope
As middlemen who navigate the line between large, often well-branded manufacturers and customers who have a wide variety of supply options literally at their fingertips, electrical distributors are in a prime position to leverage solid branding techniques. In return, distributors can expect benefits like higher mindshare among customers, more market share, larger customer pipelines, and better bottom lines.

“When a company is well branded it communicates longevity and stability in the marketplace,” says Antonelli, “and the promise that the firm will be there to provide quality products and services when needed – and for the long haul.” Good branding also helps distributors establish various touch points – a wrapped delivery vehicle, store signage, website, or email correspondence – and then integrate those touch points in a way that delivers a cohesive, understanding message to customers.

Bracing for the Future
As the electrical marketplace gets more and more competitive, and as online and big box players continue to make their way into the industry, the electrical distributors that have mapped out and started using effective branding strategies will be well positioned to win. “By not leveraging their brands, distributors are missing out on a big opportunity to establish themselves as the ‘go to’ companies in their customers’ minds,” says Antonelli, who advises distributors to either hire dedicated marketing professionals or outsource the task for best results.

“If you don’t dedicate someone to the task, and if you rely on a salesperson or manager to handle the branding effort, the results may not align with your expectations,” says Antonelli. “You may get one vehicle wrap done or a website set up, but those things don’t add up to a cohesive branding effort.”

To electrical distributors who don’t put much effort into branding and feel that they don’t need to, Antonelli says:  You’re already achieving success, so imagine how much more progress you’d make if you actually had a brand for your firm? “Even companies that have been around a long time need to put time and effort into this,” he says, “if they want to get to the next level and maintain that all-important customer mindshare that they worked so hard to get in the first place.”

In the second part of this article we’ll look at what it takes to establish a great distributor brand and give you the tools you need to get started on your own branding journey.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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