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Small Business Brand Building 101: Part II

By Bridget McCrea

For Nova Lighting, setting up and maintaining a long-term brand strategy is a central business focus. In fact, every time this Charlotte, N.C.-based industrial and commercial lighting distributor opens a new location, immediate attention is given to establishing the firm’s brand as the distributorship of choice for both prospective and current customers. “Good branding is an important business mission for us,” says Bill Hurd, president. “In many cases, it’s not only our top marketing tool but also a way to convey our experience, reputation, integrity, product knowledge, and commitment to great customer service.”

Establishing a brand independent of its major suppliers (Phillips, Sylvania, GE, Cree, and Cooper, for example) isn’t always easy for Nova Lighting. “These manufacturers funnel a lot of money into their own branding and they do a pretty good job of it,” says Hurd. “As the middleman between those suppliers and the end users, it’s up to us to establish our own brand in a way that sets us apart from our competitors.”

That’s exactly what Nova Lighting is doing right now in Greenville, S.C., where it recently opened a new branch location. “We’re basically establishing a brand from scratch here,” says Hurd. “No one in Greenville really knows who we are – yet.” To reverse that tide, Hurd says the firm is using a combination of direct mail, in-person sales calls, joint marketing efforts with manufacturers, and “door knocking,” to get in front of the potential customer and introduce the Nova brand. Across all of these efforts, Hurd says maintaining a consistent look, feel, and image goes a long way in establishing a brand in a new market.

“The messages we’re sending have to be consistent and they have to tell our story in a meaningful way that customers will connect with,” Hurd explains. For example, the firm’s core values and mission statement – both of which are featured on its website – align well with other marketing messages and customer promises. Calling his firm the “Chick-Fil-A of the lighting industry,” Hurd says Nova’s brand commitment also carries over to activities such as employee recruitment and hiring.

“We try to hire individuals who fit well with our culture and who can easily communicate our messages to the marketplace,” Hurd says. “That way, customers buy into who we really are, not just what we’re selling.”

Pulling it all Together
Defined as the company name, logo, advertising, website design, sales activities, or other elements that customers connect with, brands help firms stand out from their competitors and clients connect with the companies that they buy products and services from. As middlemen in an industry where manufacturers often pour millions of dollars into their branding efforts, electrical distributors are in the perfect position to establish and leverage their own individual brands.

Getting there requires some elbow grease. Dan Antonelli, author of Building a Big Small Business Brand and president at Graphic D-Signs in Washington, N.J., says a good first step is to look carefully how you want your brand translated across the various platforms that it will be implemented on. Employee uniforms adorned with names and company logos, for example, or delivery trucks wrapped in consistent, recognizable advertising messaging can both contribute to a successful branding campaign.

The truck wrap approach works well for Hampton, N.J.-based electrical contracting firm Maglio Electric, LLC, which has made direct sales as a result of its branding efforts. “Just a few weeks ago a customer was in the middle of an electrical emergency and called our office while driving behind one of our wrapped delivery trucks,” recalls Justine Maglio-Wardell, office manager. “We were able to quickly re-route that truck, follow the customer to her home, and take care of the job for her.”

When selecting distributors to work with, Maglio-Wardell says she notices both branding and advertising. “I’m always curious about how firms handle their branding and the time that they put into it,” she notes. “As I’m flipping through magazines or perusing the web, I definitely pick up on certain branding techniques that distributors use to showcase themselves.”

Standing Out
Getting the attention of contractors like Maglio Electric, LLC, in the sea of online and offline distributors who are vying for their attention requires a well-honed branding approach, says Antonelli. Companies that lack in-house expertise in this area should consider working with an outside agency, graphics designer, and/or marketing firm to help set up the branding effort and ensure that it’s maintained and followed across the enterprise. “Pick an agency that has experience with signage, vehicle advertising, web, email, and social channels,” says Antonelli, “and that can pull together a complete, cohesive branding package for you.”

Recognizing the fact that most established firms can’t simply “flip the switch” on a new, company-wide initiative overnight, Antonelli recommends a phased-in approach to branding. Start with easy changes – business cards, employee uniforms, website redesign – and then move up to more difficult (and sometimes cost-intensive) steps like new signage and truck wraps. “We don’t recommend stripping off all company logos and replacing them overnight,” says Antonelli. “Instead, use a phased-in approach that gets both employees and customers used to the idea of a revamped company brand.”

In return for these efforts, electrical distributors can expect results like increased market share, improved customer awareness, and even the ability to “charge more for their services,” says Antonelli. “We’ve seen branding help instill confidence in customers that might not otherwise buy from a particular distributor,” he says. “When you consistently deliver on brand promises you can establish a premium brand that customers will embrace and even be willing to pay more for.”

See Part I of this series here: Small Business Brand Building 101: Part I

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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