Think of your company's brand as a promise to the customer.

Like it or not, your customers are influenced by brands. We all are. Think about the products and services you buy in business and for personal use. The product or service's brand is an important component in why you choose one company over others.

What is a brand?

A brand is an image, a feeling, about your company's products and services for your customers. Brands develop over time; they are based on the customer's experience and expectations. Your “brand” is one way you can deepen your connection to and your relationship with the customer. Think of the different kinds of brands we encounter in day-to-day commerce.

  • Product Brands: McDonald's, Mercedes, IBM. Just reading the names of these companies evokes powerful images. Think McDonald's, and suddenly you can see the golden arches, the restaurant layout, you can almost smell the French fries. You probably can hum at least a few of their advertising ditties. Think Mercedes and once again, there's no confusion - you just “know” what “Mercedes” means. And it is the same for IBM and thousands of other consumer products.

  • Service Brands: FedEx, Avis, Ritz-Carlton. When you absolutely, positively have to get your package there overnight, what do you do? Go to the post office? Call UPS? Nope. You go to FedEx and you willingly pay the premium. You know the ads, you recognize the logo and the brand colors (orange and purple: an eye-popping choice). All of these things help support the feeling of total confidence in their service. Avis - “We're No. 2, we try harder” - need I say more? The Ritz-Carlton - while you may have never stayed there, the name, “The Ritz,” gives you a distinct feeling about what staying there would be like.

  • Component Brands: Intel, 3M. Branding is not just for consumer products and services - components can have indelible brands too. Take Intel. Most people don't even know what an Intel chip looks like. Yet, it is a powerful brand. The mere fact that a computer has “Intel inside” stuck on it gives the customer a better feeling about this purchase. The sticker adds to the perceived value and to the retail price. 3M hasn't reached Intel's level of component branding, but they sure are working on it. “We don't make the products you use, we make the products better.” Some day soon you may see skateboards, bike helmets and plastic tubing with “3M” stickers affixed to them.

  • People Brands - Martha Stewart, Donald Trump. Martha Stewart is an icon and a brand. She transcends her products, TV show, magazine, and K-mart linens. By the same token, Donald Trump is a brand. The people = brand occurrence is both rare and bad for the longevity of the brand. When the icon is gone, the brand is severely diminished. You want your customers to “buy the brand,” not to buy “you” - this way your brand and your company can survive even when you are gone.

    So what does this have to do with the PVF supply house? Look around your own warehouse. Do you stock “name” valves such as Powell or Apollo? How about brand name flanges like Kerkau or AmeriForge? Do you sell fittings made by Anvil or Weldbend? Do your customers request specific brand names when they order? And do the brand name products command a higher price? I bet the answers are yes.

    Your “brand,” your image in the market, is directly tied to your product lines and your service.

    Wholesalers, like many industrial clients of mine, tend to think branding is some kind of Madison Avenue hucksterism bent on fleecing gullible consumers by the power of advertising. Wrong! A strong brand makes your company visible. A strong brand can give you an edge. It increases the perceived value of your products and services, which can translate into higher prices and profits. Strong brands command loyalty, which means better customer retention.

    Think of your brand as a promise. Each time you deliver quality products and services, you make good on your brand promise. You strengthen your customer relationship. How your customers feel about you is more important than what they think about you. Emotion is the power of the brand.

    Now start thinking about conveying your own brand. This is something separate from selling Powell, Weldbend, Anvil, etc. It's making people want to buy from you no matter what manufacturer brand names you sell. You want them to associate buying from "My Supply House Inc." as the fulfillment of a promise. Here are some questions to jump-start your brand thinking:

    • What makes your company different?

    • Are you different enough?

    • Does the customer understand how/why you are different?

    • Are you sending out a consistent brand message every day, to all your customers?

    First, you need to differentiate your brand, starting with the tangibles.

    Think about the benefits you deliver to your customers. Identify the one or two that are most critical to your business. What is your brand promise? Speed? Innovation? Customer service? Value?

    You started your business because you believed you had something different and better to offer. Trust that instinct - this is the foundation of your brand.

    Second, you need to differentiate the intangibles about your brand.

    What does your brand feel like to your customers? (If you don't know, ask them!) Emotions are hard to capture, hard to quantify. A PVF supply house brand should exude trust, consistency and reliability. PVF is not the place for a “whimsical” or “trendy” brand. Remember, PVF customers are drawn to certain brands because they want to feel confident and secure in their purchases. Safety, trust and value are the hallmarks in the PVF world.

    The value of the “brand”

    When faced with a choice between you and the competition, customers will choose the company they "feel better” about. It is difficult to persuade them that you are better unless you can demonstrate that you are truly different.

    A consistent brand is a strong brand, so stay on message. Corporate identity is the visual part of a brand. Every place your brand touches your customer - brochures, packaging, uniforms, letterheads, signage, advertising - should have the same look and feel. Build a simple one- to two-page Web site with your logo, your capabilities and contact info. Your brand will seem bigger.

    All of your employees are your brand ambassadors. Your receptionist's greeting on the phone should support the brand. Creating, promoting and supporting the brand is everybody's job. All of your employees, your Web site and your marketing materials need to convey what your brand is all about.

    Start building your brand today. Branding isn't gimmickry or Madison Avenue. Everything you do affects your brand in the market. You may not know it, but every day you are creating your brand image. So why not do it well? Build a brand that will build your business.