Who is Defining Your Shop's Brand?

Identify what makes your company unique, and connect that to customers.


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Not long ago I was asked to deliver a presentation at a coatings conference on the topic of branding. While a personal conflict prevented me from accepting the invitation, the subject stuck with me.  

Particularly in a market like surface finishing—where purchasing agents stand ready to convert us into price-competing commodities at every turn—brand identity becomes extremely important. 

Unfortunately, as the individual who invited me to speak at the conference noted in the invitation, many coaters have neither the time nor the budget to invest in a broad branding strategy. Fortunately, defining and communicating our brand can be fairly simple if we let it be.

For many, branding strategy brings to mind flashy websites, intricate and attention-grabbing logos, jingles, billboards and social media accounts. 

In conjuring up this definition of a brand, we fail to realize that these are nothing more than methods of delivering and communicating our brand to current and potential customers and the greater public, and thinking about these before first defining our brand puts the cart way before the horse.

Whether you have identified it or not, your organization has a brand. It can be defined intentionally by you or alternatively, if you choose not to define it yourself, it will be defined by the market. For as long as we have a brand, why not define it ourselves rather than having it defined for us?

To do so, begin by asking yourself two questions: The first is what factors make your company unique? The second is why should these matter to a customer? Both questions are important. 

An aspect of your company might be unique (i.e. the year it was founded, your founding grandfather’s heritage, the construction of your building), but if that peculiarity isn’t important to a customer, it does nothing to enhance your brand.

In determining the brand of a coatings company, perhaps it is best to focus on what matters most to a coatings customer. 

In the end, customers choose their coaters based on their confidence in the coater’s ability to deliver on time, respond to expedites, perform quality work, provide an adequate level of service, mitigate a customer’s risk and meet any atypical needs of the customer, for instance a less common type of coating. 

Bear these in mind as you define your brand. From there, find the areas where the unique aspects of your organization align with what customers value.

What was your company the first to do? A metal plater I know well was the first company in its region to offer a trivalent chromate conversion on zinc that could pass a 96-hour salt spray test. Since they were the first to offer this finish, by definition, they had been doing it the longest, which in turn offered customers and prospects the confidence that the metal plater was an innovator who could provide this finish well.

What does your company have the most of? A powder coater in the Midwest has more large-part capacity than any other, providing customers the assurance that regardless of substrate size, this company could coat it to specification and do so quickly. A paint stripper has several separate plants, assuring its customers that it can serve multiple customer locations and can provide backup service in the event of a natural disaster or utility curtailment.

What can be defined as the biggest? An electrocoater has the widest transportation footprint in the industry, and boasts to its customers that it can pick up and deliver to a larger territory, and thus to more of the customers’ plants than any other.

Where are you the greenest? In a world that finds itself obsessed with environmental excellence, sustainability and all things green of any factor that sets your organization apart is a worthy candidate of brand differentiation. Is your effluent tested more frequently than required? Have you achieved ISO 14001? Have you never experienced a waste treatment upset, or environmental violation?

Does your business model appeal to a certain type of customer? One coater, thanks to its geographical reach and sophisticated business model, touted itself as the ideal supplier to OEMs whose needs aligned well with the coater’s value proposition. Another was one of only a few to offer tin-nickel plating.

The differentiators used to define your brand don’t have to be obvious. A multiple-facility coater with a private equity capital structure notes this as a potential customer benefit, in that it has access to additional capital as growth opportunities come along, a feature that customers themselves find attractive in a growth model. 

Biggest, best, most, least, longest; choose the adjectives that best define your unique differentiators and build your brand around them.

Next, make a list of the items that define your brand and ensure that they permeate any and all marketing material and efforts. 

Accentuate them when speaking with customers and prospects. Organize the theme of your printed brochures and website around them. One coater I know even created a checklist of sorts, outlining the items that defined his brand and inviting customers to compare the competition to what he felt his organization had to offer.

Creating a brand need be neither expensive nor time consuming. What makes your company unique? Why should a customer care? 

Answer both questions and your brand definition will be complete.  



Originally published in the April 2017 issue.