Over the past several years, companies all along the construction supply channel have embraced the importance of their brand—defining it, cultivating it, and using it as the point of focus for their marketing and sales efforts. Many companies, particularly manufacturers, understand the significance of a concerted branding effort. But we still find that many firms in the industry ignore branding altogether—and dealers are among the biggest culprits.

In some ways, it's understandable. Most dealers have been doing business for a long time and they are well known to their customer bases. Dealers also may argue that word of mouth is the best and cheapest way to market.

True enough. But in an evolving marketplace, where consolidation, technology, and vertical integration are redefining the landscape almost daily, builders are making buying decisions by a different set of rules.

So what's a dealer to do? Start with branding. Here are just a few of the critical advantages a strong brand can give you:

  • It clearly differentiates you from competitors.
  • It defines the value you bring to the process.
  • It builds repeat sales and generates trial among prospects.
  • It creates loyalty. We still buy from brands we trust, and a strong dealer brand can prevent longtime customers from taking their dollars to a competitor.
  • It creates the foundation for your entire sales and marketing program.
  • It turns your staff into brand ambassadors—a team that consistently articulates to customers the same key messages about your brand.
  • Today, more than ever, dealers need to articulate why they're different or better—something a strong brand can achieve.

    How builders make their buying decisions also has changed. In every industry study we've seen, builders report that a variety of service factors—factors directly related to a dealer's brand—are growing more influential in the buying decision. As the industry evolves, a strong brand that clarifies a dealer's points of differentiation will become increasingly important. With a consistent brand, one dealer stands apart from its competitors, enabling it to defend and even increase market share.

    Defining Your Brand I admit, it can be a challenge to reach a consensus on the most important building blocks of a brand and a creative way to distill them into a clear, concrete message. One way to get started is to ask your key staff a couple basic questions: Why do builders buy from us? What value does our team add to the sales process? Next, talk to a cross section of customers, asking them the same questions. The answers you'll get can be revealing, and they often differ dramatically from long-held assumptions.

    These answers are the platform for your brand. Examine your logo, tag line, and positioning statement to be sure they embody and amplify the essence of your brand.

    Of course, your brand is much more than a tag line. Your brand also should drive the strategies, tactics, and messages of your entire marketing communications program.

    Implementing a Brand Once you've defined your brand, it will be much simpler to develop communications—advertising, sales promotions, displays, collateral, and so on—that hammer home your key messages. A brand also brings consistency. You'll be reminding your customer time and again just why he chooses you. And, over time, maintaining a strong, consistent brand will help you win over prospects—and boost sales with new dollars that these prospects bring and greater business from your existing customer base.

    It's no secret that builders have shifted their emphasis—they care as much about how dealers provide service as they do about the products themselves. That fundamental shift should push dealers to pay close attention to their brand—the message they're sending about the quality of service they provide.

    Of course, if you don't take the time to define a brand in the minds of your customers, your competitors will. Right before they take your business. —Jim Groff is president of Baublitz Advertising, a York, Pa.–based marketing firm that focuses on the building and construction materials industry. groffjc@baublitz.com.