BOSTON, MA — “Companies are not run by the bosses anymore. It’s the large group in the middle that drives the company’s success.”

Those were the words of David Allen of the McKinstry Co. as he addressed attendees of the Mech-anical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) Conference held here recently.

Allen drove home the point that the people “in the middle” are the ones with a finger on the pulse of a company’s clientele. They know what clients want, Allen says, and therefore management and owners should pay a little more attention to them when developing client relationships (see chart, page 18).

In order to build a client-focused culture, it is important to update the image of the contracting industry — one that needs a facelift, according to Allen.

“This is not an industry that has been in very high esteem for the last forty years,” he added. “We are wasting resources in a field where we are not valued.” Knowing what works today comes from learning and listening, according to Allen. He said that too many businesses dwell on losing customers instead of making adjustments to correct any problems.

“We have to learn to lose jobs and be happy with it — as long as we lose the jobs for the right reasons.”

Allen added that many of the larger construction businesses have a tendency to lose touch with their own people because of the sheer size of the business.

“It’s easy to have a ‘killer’ image when you’re a smaller company, because it is easier to keep a small staff on the same page,” he said.

A killer image also means keeping up with the times.

Figure 1. "Upside down" client development focuses on those people who have the closest ties to the company's clientele.

Updating an industry

“In the construction business we have the notion that we don’t have to look ‘hip.’ We’ve taken a corny approach to marketing ourselves. In other words, we have to be hipper.”

In order to develop a hip image, it is important to look at how a company’s brand name is perceived.

“Customers associate you with something whether you agree or not,” Allen said. “You need to understand the concept of branding.”

The best way to promote branding is through the buildup of your image, according to Allen. A company can attract and maintain customers simply through the image it creates.

“I’ve visited with about 300 mechanical contractors and I’d say that only 30 to 40 know about successful visual imagery,” he added.

If a company is willing to upgrade their branding through an image makeover, it should spend a lot of time on pre-development, unlike the “old days.”

“We have to stop making ourselves a commodity,” Allen said. “Pre-development should come with a price because of what it costs to do business.

“We don’t do enough consumer research; rather, we have one ‘schmoozing strategy.’ The value comes from talking to your customers early because technology moves so fast and the window of opportunity is not always there.

“Make your employees aware of who their customers are and what they do. If your people don’t know what a customer does for a living, it is harder to respond to their needs.”

Allen listed several steps to defining an image by branding a company’s services:

1. Understand the power of branding: Create images and educate clients.

2. Understand desired market position: Know client needs and which ones are unmet, know how your brand is perceived, and know how the competition compares.

3. Pick a brand strategy: Define “overall brand,” carry it throughout all company “sub-brands,” manage within boundaries, and create a company “brand map.”

4. Define your brand for the long haul: Develop brand identity and consistent delivery.

5. Include senior management with your brand: Brands are key assets, and all staff members in all departments contribute to “brand building.”

6. Communicate the brand’s message: Brand position, consistently over time, portray your core identity.

7. Use consistent visual imagery.

8. Portray consistent brand differences in different markets.

9. Develop clients: Build brand loyalty through marketing, communication with key clients.

10. Protect brand identity: Make careful changes, refresh the brand with new benefits, and prevent erosion of brand equity.

11. Track brand progress: Brands guide clients to services.

“Strong brands don’t dilute themselves so easily,” Allen added. “A good, solid brand drives the value of your company.”

By offering a solid brand and staying “hip,” contractors also create a good working environment, which is very important, according to Allen.

He called it the “internal platform” of a company, which includes its:

  • Historical relevance;

  • Graphics and presentation;

  • Culture and environment;

  • Reputation; and

  • PPW and HR.

We all know that HR means human resources, but PPW?

“It stands for ‘preferred place to work,’” said Allen. “People win clients by being a PPW.”

Branding through image and a good workplace — two ways to stay competitive in the modern environment.