It’s an unfortunate reality of our industry that many of our customers think, “HVAC companies are all the same.” Taking that one step further, they think, “If all HVAC companies are the same, then I may as well buy from the company with the lowest price.” It’s a sad thought process, but it’s not their fault. It’s ours.

In my last article, I explained why a strong brand matters and why it’s critical today to be branded as the “energy-saving and money-saving experts.” Because the federal government has made energy efficiency an attractive option and because there is a movement among consumers to value “green” choices, HVAC contractors who can position themselves as the energy-saving expert in their market will win.

There are two components to a successful branding initiative. One is getting your internal operations wrapped around your new (or revamped) brand, and the other is what you need to do externally to showcase your new (or revamped) brand promise to your customers and prospects. Getting things right internally comes first--which is what I’ll focus on in this article.

The idea of branding can be tough to grasp. It’s not tangible like a piece of equipment. It is a feeling, an idea, one that lives (or dies) by the way a company treats it. Your long-term success is directly related to how well you define your brand, align your team around it and live it day to day. Here’s a plan for succeeding at each step:


1. Define and develop the brand.

You’ve already defined the brand for your company in a general sense as the energy-saving experts. Now you have to get specific about what that means for your company. In order to do this, you need to foster a culture in which your brand can last long term, and couple real executive leadership with a structure that incorporates other levels of your company.

Defining the brand can’t be delegated. It has to be top-down, with buy-in from the owner, general manager, service manager, etc. It also needs to be bottom-up, with buy-in from your entire team. Here are some tips to think about:

Involve different levels and departments of the company in the development of your brand promise. This can add new perspectives to the brand decision and cultivate ownership of the brand throughout the company.
Think outside your box. Do your research inside and outside the industry. You’ll be exposed to new ideas for ways to develop your brand internally (or leverage your brand externally), increasing your chance of developing a successful, long-term brand promise.
Consider an outside facilitator to enhance the process. Many companies look outward during the brand development process so they have a partner in the process who is accountable to keep things moving forward. Since most of your team will be inclined to think about getting their regular work done (making the next sale or hitting the numbers), they will naturally focus there--at the risk of not moving the needle ahead on the brand process. An outside facilitator will keep your team focused, add expertise and give you a better chance to develop a strong long-lasting brand.

2. Communicate the brand and align your team around it.

Once you’ve defined and developed your brand, make sure that every member of your team is familiar with it, understands it and can represent it to your customers. You need to build a level of excitement and enthusiasm around the new brand. Passion for your brand message will translate into better customer service across the board. Your team will want to know what the plan for the brand is and what their role in it will be. When they understand their role, they’re more likely to buy into the brand and see themselves as part of it.

3. Live the brand.

The goal of all this is to utilize your new brand to generate more business. The only way that can happen is if you make the brand live--every day and in every conversation, every promotion and every job you complete. Here are a few suggestions to make sure your brand will live for your company:

Treat your brand as an ongoing project. Regularly check in to be sure that your actions are consistent with your brand promise. Are the company's actions living up to the expectations of the brand? Where are you falling short? Where is there opportunity to strengthen the brand? Your management decisions should be made with recognition of how they will affect the brand. To sum up, it's important to monitor the “state of your brand.”
Support your employees because their behavior supports the brand. Regularly reinforce your brand message with your team and they’ll carry the message on to your customers.
Enhance the brand. For maximum impact, always be on the lookout for ways to grow and refine your brand. Encourage input from your team about ways to take your brand to the next level. This will strengthen their commitment to the brand and strengthen your overall efforts.

Follow this path and you’ll be in a strong position in your market. But remember, your brand promise is only as good as your commitment to it. If you don’t actually live up to your brand, you will fail. In the next article, I’ll discuss what you need to do externally so your brand lives for your customers just as it lives for your team.

Blaine Fox, Vice President of Warm Thoughts Communications, is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry. He is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors to improve their marketing, fine-tune their operations and grow bottom-line profits. Previously, Blaine was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. Blaine oversaw 160 field employees, 30 install crews, 12 sales people and a call center that handled 140,000 calls per year. Blaine is a sought-after speaker, and will be presenting at Comfortech 2009. He is also a frequent contributor to HVAC industry trade publications. He can be reached at bfox@warmthoughts.com