By Paul Taylor
When Arborists think about the brands in our industry, big names like Husqvarna, Stihl, Morbark, and Vermeer come to mind. What drives some of us to buy a Husky chainsaw as opposed to a Stihl, or a Morbark chipper as opposed to a Vermeer? Let’s face it; there are a handful of equally solid manufactures producing each of the key pieces of equipment and gear we rely on day-in and day-out to get the job done. So what is it about one manufacturer’s products that keeps us coming back for more? I believe we Arborists don’t just buy equipment – we buy a relationship with the company manufacturing or distributing the tools of our trade. Just as homeowners will choose a tree crew based on comfort, trust and familiarity – not just the bottom line of our bids.
What Is a Brand?
A brand isn’t the tagline plastered on the side of your trucks or the logo embroidered on the back of your work coats. A logo doesn’t amount to much unless the company behind it does. Consistently delivering upon a clear and focused promise is the backbone of every great company and every great brand. At the end of the day, when a homeowner has to choose between two companies that are equally capable of caring for their trees, odds are they’ll choose the crew that has built a reputation of trust. Making your customers feel comfortable and at ease when you are bidding a job or pruning a prize tree in their front yard is the root of what branding is all about.
I’ve literally seen guys in a bar nearly come to blows over who they claim manufactures the best chainsaw on the market – perhaps you have too. Some people might call this sort of behavior irrational; I call it brand loyalty. While I don’t think it’s likely two homeowners will get into a brawl at a cocktail party over who employs the better tree service, they very well may sing the praises of a tree company they’ve trusted for years. If they don’t, chances are it has less to do with the technicalities of the work that company performed on their trees and more to do with the fact that their company hasn’t done enough to win over their brand loyalty.
Convey a Clear Message
If you can’t clearly state why a customer would be better off hiring you over the competition, then the odds are slim that a customer will come to this differentiation on his own. Sure, you’ll book jobs simply by showing up for an estimate, reviewing the work that needs to be done and handing over your bid. But why not go the extra mile and give this potential customer an honest reason to hire you – above and beyond the figures written on your quote? Make it clear to prospective customers in terms of image, words, and actions why you are better than the competition. Do you have state-of-the-art equipment? Certified Arborists on staff? More than 20 years of experience? Your brand is more than just the service you provide – it’s the customer’s perception of your company as a whole.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that branding is only for the big boys. You don’t need a marketing department or a great big advertising budget to successfully establish your brand in the marketplace. Large tree care companies employ personnel devoted to nurturing and enhancing corporate brand image, but it’s the folks working in the field who ultimately determine whether or not the customer feels satisfied with their experience. Your company may only be a two-man show, but when it comes time to go head-to-head in an estimate or on the job site – your customer service, the image you convey, and your professionalism can make for every bit as potent a brand as companies many times your size.
If you run a business that sells millions of dollars worth of products a year, I’d be willing to bet you’re investing the time and money required to shore up and sustain your brand image in the marketplace. Smaller scale tree care company owners may say their customers don’t hire out work for the same reasons that consumers purchase chainsaws, hamburgers, or cups of five dollar coffee. I say they’re wrong. Image and brand awareness are every bit as important to the success of your company as the actual work you perform on your customer’s trees. Your reputation in the marketplace is a measure of how your customers perceive your company and your brand. Count on the fact that the perceived value of your service has a definite impact on your bottom line. If you’ve taken the time and care to earn the trust of your customers, they are much more likely to hire you again in the future and may very well promote your service to friends and family. The success of most small businesses hinges on repeat customers and referrals – neither of which comes easily if you don’t earn them the hard way.
Paul Taylor, founder and former “head monkey” of Arborwear, has been involved in the tree care industry since he bought his first chain saw (before he was old enough to drive a car). He is now involved in a new venture, Long Splice Design, and specializes in the design, manufacture, and sourcing of sewn products. You will also find him a couple days a week plying his favorite trade in the treetops. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.