Branding Hits the Mark

Branding Hits the Mark

To effectively brand your firm, you need to carefully craft your message, develop an identity and be patient.

By Philip D. Zaleon

So, what is branding anyway?

It's knowing whether you should visit the BMW showroom or should stick with Isuzu

It's your teenage daughter insisting that the shirt from Wal-Mart will never be as cool as the identical shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch....

It's knowing if you should recommend a Sub-Zero or Samsung refrigerator to your client.

Once upon a time, branding was the act of burning your logo into the hide of a cow with a hot iron leaving your mark for the world to see. Today, branding is the act of burning your logo into the mind of the consumer with hot marketing leaving your mark for the world to see.

Why should a kitchen and bath dealer be concerned about branding?

Your brand is how your intended audience perceives you. Looking back at the examples that started this article, each corporate name BMW, Isuzu, Wal-Mart, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sub-Zero and Samsung automatically put an image in your mind's eye. It's not by accident; it's by design through the branding process.

And, you should be concerned for two reasons;
1. Your competition is branding itself (especially the chains).
2. Branding directly and measurably benefits your business.

The measurable benefits you will see from branding include:

  • Differentiation The branding process forces you to take a long, critical look at the business side of your showroom, your clientele, your niche in the marketplace, your strengths, your weaknesses and your aspirations. You will do the same of your competition. As a result, you will find your point(s) of differentiation and accentuate them throughout your marketing, thus setting yourself apart and creating unique value and brand personality.
  • Direction The points of differentiation that you emphasize will provide a path for you to follow in your marketing and advertising campaign.
  • Value Regardless of your points of differentiation or the direction you take, your value as a designer, showroom, studio or business will emerge. Your marketing and advertising efforts will establish and exploit your value and credibility to prospective clients.
    As Laura Jensen, CKD, CBD, owner of The Kitchen Guide in Barrington, IL notes, "The closer that the branding can capture the essence of the business, the better it will be."
  • Customer Loyalty Establishing, sustaining and living up to your brand will instill customer loyalty.
    Mark Palmer, president of Atlantic Coast Kitchen & Bath in Savannah, GA highlights the point by saying, "We make sure that we take care of our clients and that they are satisfied with the completed project. This has created a trust in the company that supersedes the brands that we carry."

After all, the customer is the most important part of any business, and efficient customer loyalty will enhance your brand image, making you reliable and trustworthy.

Amir Ilin, owner of Küche+Cucina in Paramus, NJ agrees: "At times, customers insist that we brand our name into their drawers or that we put construction signs with our name outside their house. Builders pay more and buy our kitchens just to have our name when marketing their houses."

  • Staff Retention A well crafted and executed branding campaign will transform your showroom into a more focused business. You will take on the reputation you espouse in your branding effort.
    Ilin maintains that some of his employees "came to work here because they knew about us through the years in the industry." This is just one more benefit of branding your business.
  • Efficient Marketing Once you have established your differentiation and direction, the marketing guessing game is over. You can plan for the year, comfortable in the knowledge that your efforts are well thought out and leading you toward the goal(s) you have set for yourself and your business.
  • Efficient Advertising As with efficient marketing, branding will ensure that you end up much less likely to say yes to the salesperson who happens by the showroom right after you deposited a client's retainer. You may even be able to downsize your Yellow Pages presence.
  • Increased Profit An effective branding program can increase your profit margins. Bill Camp, CKD, of Triangle Design Kitchens in Raleigh, NC has been branding his showroom for almost five years. "The investment [in marketing and advertising] brings more to my bottom line, plus my gross profits have grown. It's almost like you don't pay for it because you make up the additional expense with greater profits."

Branding is a process one that takes time, energy, effort, money and patience. But, with measurable benefits, it's worth it all. According to Kevin Telaak of Artisan Kitchen & Bath in Buffalo, NY, "It's a matter of getting on the radar screen of potential clients in a desired demographic category."

You may be saying to yourself, "In theory branding sounds like the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, but in practical terms, how do we do it?"

The process can be broken down into four primary areas.
1. Crafting a message differentiation and direction.
2. Developing an identity logo and a look.
3. Dissemination consistency in all economic conditions.
4. Patience this is not a going out of business sale people will not flock to your showroom.

Craft a message
This is not as simple as making up a slogan, although that can be part of it. Your message should reflect your ambitions and dreams as they relate to doing business in your market. Let this be a personal as well as professional mission. The analysis exercise should include the following:

  • A definition of the greater market.
  • A definition of your target market.
  • An evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • An evaluation of your competition's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Goals for your showroom/business.

Once you have completed the analysis, you will see a picture of your future emerging. You will see your customers, know their buying habits, understand their desires and recognize how you and your competition fit into the equation.

Now, couple that picture with your own goals and you can begin to position yourself as
the only alternative for your customer base.

Jensen achieves this by first putting together a mission/ vision statement. It was a two month project that, as she puts it, "forced me to think about it, which I'd never done in an organized fashion previously." In the case of her business, she was able to take her vision statement and include it in a public relations program that was disseminated to her local media. The epilogue to the story it was picked up by a local newspaper and, according to Jensen, "the one article was directly responsible for 35 projects."

Develop an Identity
Your identity is your image to the world. It will consist primarily of your logo and "look." The "look" is best defined as the way people see you; the colors you use, the feel of your ads, the type of music you use in your television and radio commercials, the way your logo is represented and the impression made by your Web site and other marketing collaterals. They should all be consistent throughout your marketing efforts, regardless of medium. The world to which you are speaking will begin to recognize each element as yours, and respond in kind.

Küche+Cucina developed its high-end identity through a look established in its print campaign. Ilin says, "some people think that we are very expensive because the ads are done very well, but on the other hand, we do get some of the most expensive projects in the area from these ads."

He adds that he believes the most important thing about developing a brand is the name itself. "I chose Küche+Cucina [which means kitchen + kitchen in German and Italian] because it is different, unique and memorable. Most companies in the industry are called Kitchens by X, or Kitchens Unique or other very generic names like these. Customers do not remember these names and, after shopping for a kitchen in a few places, can't tell who is who. They all remember the name Küche+Cucina."

Telaak says, "We knew that we needed a look and a name that spoke of 'Luxury' even before the customer researched our company further. Our look needed to be consistent throughout everything we produced. When customers are introduced to 'Artisan Kitchens and Baths,' they remember the look."

The look at Atlantic Coast Kitchen & Bath was established early on in conjunction with naming the company. Palmer says, "We hired a professional design company to come up with our logo and look. We have kept that same logo and look for the last eight years and have it on all of our trucks, ads and any special advertising. Right now we are developing a new positioning statement."

Be Consistent
Assuming you have crafted your message and developed your identity, it's time to let the world (or at least your market) in on your secret. In simple terms, it's time to market yourself. This can be traditional advertising on radio, television and in the print media, or you can disseminate less traditionally and focus your efforts on the Internet, direct mail, home shows, parades of homes, sponsorships, in-showroom events and other creative ways. Typically, however, a combination of efforts will get your name and brand "out there."

One of the major stumbling blocks to effectively disseminating your message is an unrealistic (or non-existent) marketing budget. Traditionally, this industry recommends spending 1.5 3% of your annual sales volume in advertising. Although this figure is a start, in order to be sure you're not short-changing your efforts, you may want to consider 5% as a minimum for a total marketing budget and that's if you're established with an established brand in your market.

The Web site provides more detailed information to help you determine how best to set your budget.

Atlantic Coast Kitchen & Bath splits its budget, allocating 1% to "marketing," which includes printed literature, home show expenses and catalogs, and 3% to "advertising," which includes newspaper, Yellow Pages and magazines. Mark Ergmann, of Coastal Kitchen and Bath Design in York, ME takes a different approach, choosing to make his marketing and advertising budget a fixed cost. "I treat my marketing and advertising like I do the rent or my electric bill. I cannot afford to put it on a sliding percentage scale. If I don't market, clients won't come. So, I have got to be consistent regardless of the prevailing economy.""
Ilin spends about 6% annually, with most of the expenditures going to two-page spreads or at least full page ads in magazines. Ilin says, "Our advertising has made us a household brand name in our marketing area."

Camp, too, budgets aggressively. "I consistently spend between 7% and 8% of my estimated gross sales for the year on my marketing and advertising. Triangle Design Kitchens has established its brand everywhere our potential clients are."

Have Patience
Patience is probably the most important element of branding your showroom. "Branding is not for the faint of heart," claims Palmer. "Thinking back, I would say it was a two- to three-year period before steady results started coming in from our consistent advertising. Now, after eight years, we really see an influx of business from the years of advertising."

While branding doesn't generally produce instant results, a long-term approach can lead to very positive results in the long run. For instance, Palmer notes that just putting his name on his trucks has led to a huge increase in awareness, even though he may not have people storming into his showroom. He says, "You need to have the outlook that 'you may not buy a kitchen from me today, but when you do need one years from now, you're going to know that we are here.'"

Likewise, it's important to remember that everything worthwhile takes an investment of money, time and patience. And, you will never reach your goals if you don't start sometime.

Lowe's and The Home Depot have opened the door. They are spending millions nationally to increase awareness for our industry. Your job is to get a slice of the pie. Branding will direct you to the type of pie. Marketing that brand effectively will get you a bigger slice of that pie.

Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z promotion & design, a full service integrated marketing and creative agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry.

Prior to founding Z promotion & design in 1996, Zaleon held the position of v.p./research & development for a new technology-based communications firm. In addition, he spent over 12 years in the television industry as a graphic designer, a producer, director, animator and marketing director at top 30 (TV) market affiliates, as well as CNN.

Zaleon can be reached at Z promotion & design, P.O. Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Phone: 919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447; E-mail:; Web site: