Part 1 of 2
We are knee-deep in the middle of a global pandemic. And as we continue to navigate this current landscape and uncharted waters amid coronavirus, a lot of businesses are finding themselves in challenging situations. For home inspectors, many of you have begun to see a significant dip in your booked home inspections. In other, more severe situations, your business has been completely shut down due to stay-at-home orders for your state. Whatever your current situation, it’s impossible to ignore the reality that during a time of year when home inspection business begins to really boom, the opposite is actually occurring.
At ACC, we are in constant contact and in ongoing discussions with our customers and countless others from the home inspection industry. Many of our customers are wondering what the next steps should be for their business and it’s led to some powerful dialogue. After having many of these conversations, we wanted to share some of the best takeaways with the industry at large, while offering a bit of a roadmap forward for those who might need a little extra assistance navigating through the coming months.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Family and loved ones before everything else. I think we can all agree that if you and your loved ones are safe and healthy right now, you’ve got a lot for which to be thankful. Having a healthy, successful business is important, no doubt – and when you really start to feel the financial impacts from business slowing down, it’s hard to concentrate on much else. However, few of us would argue that there’s anything more important than the health and well-being of the people closest to us. Business matters, but it’s important to put it in context of what’s actually going on out there.
BEFORE MARKETING, THERE WAS BRANDING
There’s rarely any shortage of insights, feedback and direction for home inspectors when it comes to the topic of marketing. Great information abounds from our associations, fellow inspectors, industry service providers, and countless others. The examples run wide and deep and depending on how they are implemented, the ROI can be exceedingly impactful…or not at all.
While the topic of marketing is indeed a critical area to cover and one we’ll be including in this multi-post series dedicated to helping inspectors stabilize their business now while setting the stage for an inevitable recovery, we wanted to step back and discuss the importance of brand. More specifically, how often it is overlooked and how – if an inspection business owner spends a bit more time focused on “thinking brand first” – their marketing efforts will be far more impactful and their business growth unstoppable.
It’s easy to get deep in the weeds on the topic of what a brand is and isn’t. And branding? Even worse, as too many think of it as being interchangeable with marketing. It’s really not. Yet, to understand the distinction, we first have to understand that a brand is a perception of a company, product or service. Like all perceptions, brands live in the mind. They aren’t tangible, physical things. In fact, their intangibility is what makes them so powerful.
Once you understand that a brand is a perception, then branding becomes an easy to understand action. If a brand is a perception, then branding is the creation or influence of a perception.
A logo is not your brand. And branding is not slapping your logo on a message and claiming ownership.
If any home inspection business owner tells you their logo is their brand, you can tell them that just ain’t so. Remember, your brand is the perception living in your customer’s mind. That perception is influenced by every aspect of the company, including the name and logo. It is the face, personality, and core values of your business. The entire customer experience. And all touch points must align with the perception the company wants to create.
This is usually where many small business owners throw up their hands and move on to marketing (resist the urge!); partially because they mistakenly think that brands exclusively signify the “bigger” fish in the pond who have fat advertising budgets and nationwide exposure. Not true. Also, because they think they just don’t have the time to put effort into branding every day. Too complex. Too hard. It’s time to change that thinking.
Business brand or personal brand?
The home inspection industry is packed with both business brands and personal brands. The question is, which is right for your business? Let’s start with the differences.
A business brand, as you most likely already know, is built around an identity you create for your business. These days, it’s not an all-too-easy task to craft a name for an inspection business that’s independent of your personal name, speaks to what you’re all about AND a version of the name is available as a URL.
A personal brand is built around you, the inspector – your personality, your lifestyle, and your interests. And in most cases, you’ve named and branded your business with your name. However, if you’ve intentionally focused on creating a personal brand and have NOT branded your business with your name, then it’s time to pump the breaks and reassess your positioning.
Whether you should operate and promote your inspection business as a personal brand or a business brand depends pretty simply on how you see your future:
If you’re a single-inspector firm and have no grand designs of adding multiple inspectors to grow your business into a larger, multi-inspector firm – with the ultimate idea of selling it at some point, or having it operate independently of your involvement as a revenue stream – then you can operate as either a personal brand or a business brand. If anything else, you should consider a business brand.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
There’s no gentle way to say this; if you are spending your time, money and resources to market your business without careful thought to brand consistency, you’re not maximizing your time, money and resources. This applies to both personal brands and business brands. However, let’s focus on business brands for the moment due to their prevalence in our industry. (Don’t feel left out, all you personal brand home inspectors! There’s plenty of good stuff for you too!)
First, it’s helpful to think of your brand like a person – not to be confused with “personal brand.” Just “brand as a person.” Your brand should have an identity (who it is), personality (how it behaves), and experience (how it’s remembered).
Ask yourself these questions about your brand:
- How would your brand introduce itself? If it had to describe its appearance, how would it do so?
- How would your brand talk about your inspection or ancillary services? Would it be serious and professional, or would it be humorous and edgy?
- What would someone say about your brand after “meeting” it for the first time? What are a few sentences they’d use to describe it?
This may sound a bit strange, but the purpose of branding is to create relationships with your customers. The easiest way to do this is to treat your brand as a person and understand that you want your customers to do the same.
So, here’s why this is all so important to consider before you start marketing the heck out of your inspection business without prioritizing brand consistency – blanketing the web with various messages, “branded” imagery, videos, and the like.
Let’s assume you’ve settled on a brand voice (its personality) and that it is professional, informative, but personable and friendly. You want to use social media to connect with your well-defined target audience and decide that posting humorous memes every day is part of your strategy for growing engagement with your audience and general awareness of your business. This is all fine if…
- You choose memes that you know your audience will connect with
- The message and imagery contained in those memes is consistent with the brand personality you’re trying to convey to your audience
- You know the content will not be offensive or misconstrued in any way by your target audience
- You’ve considered the cadence (how often you post) of these memes and know they are something your audience wants to see over and over
- The message and imagery contained in those memes is consistent with the overall perception someone may have of your brand if they only visited your website
The point here is, it’s REALLY important what you choose to put out into the world (digital or otherwise) to promote and market your business. Whatever that is, it should map back to your brand – meaning, it should fit and make logical sense and not immediately scream a lack of connection. Remember, if you think of your brand like a person, and a potential customer bounces into some content you’ve sent out into the universe, are you certain it’ll make the right impression? Is it consistent with your brand personality, or just the opposite?
Make time. Take time.
These days, a strong brand can mean the difference between gaining a loyal customer and losing one to a competitor. And especially during a period where business is down because of COVID-19, you need every lead you can get. Research has proven time and again that nearly 50% of consumers suggest that they consider becoming more loyal to a brand during their very first purchase. The first time you say? Yup. Your first impression to your customer is paramount. So, don’t waste it.
From a unique, eye-catching logo, to the user experience on your home inspection website, to your social media posts and digital campaigns, to the interactions experienced with your staff, your customers are taking note and choosing their purchasing decisions accordingly.
So, the question is…
If having a strong brand is critical to achieving long-term business success, have you focused your efforts on the right things to establish the brand you envisioned?
In part 2 of this branding post, we’ll focus on the key elements required to build a strong brand, discuss the pros and cons of establishing a personal brand vs. a business brand, and detail how to put your brand into action to achieve big results now and in the future.