BOCA RATON, FL — On the table in front of Nancy Nehlsen were three recognizable items: a Federal Express envelope, a can of Maxwell House coffee, and a small red bucket, the kind used by the Salvation Army to collect money.

That’s the point Nehlsen introduced in her educational seminar at the 2002 MCAA convention: Each item is recognizable.

“They’ve done a masterful job of marketing,” said Nehlsen. “That’s what we call branding.”

In her presentation “Face First: Presenting Your Brand to the Public,” Nehlsen tried to help contractors find their unique selling proposition. She even supplied a workbook to get contractors thinking.


To find your “brand,” Nehlsen said the first question contractors have to ask themselves is, “What is it that you have that the competition can’t say that they have? That’s what you have to find out; then you have to go out and brand it.”

The owner of Nehlsen Communications in Moline, IL, discussed the ways she helped a local car dealer brand his way to become one of the leading dealers in the community. “We had to find out what this dealer had that other dealers did not.”

After meeting the owner, she observed that he had an engaging personality, a great sense of humor, everybody liked to be around him, and he had a great smile. “I said, ‘That’s it. That will be your unique selling proposition.’”

To show his warmth, Nehlsen said she made sure that animals were planted in each of the car dealer’s local TV commercials. Before long, viewers said the dealer was recognized for being caring. Pushing the brand further, Nehlsen made sure the car dealer became a board member of the local zoo.

“This got a lot of press coverage,” she said. “He was portrayed as having such a big heart.”


Turning to her workbook, she asked contractors to sit down and figure out step 1: What do you want to accomplish through your marketing-advertising program?

“Are you trying to create interest in the community? Are you trying to gain market share? Are you trying to compete against a major competitor? What is it that you need to do?”

The second step: Figure out what exactly the competition is doing or using as a feature, benefit, or claim. To combat that, Nehlsen pointed to step 3: List three to five characteristics that differentiate you from the competition.

“What do you like about yourself?” she asked the crowd. “Maybe it’s your big smile. Maybe it’s your sense of humor. Maybe it’s that you try harder. Maybe you really are bigger and better. But what good things honestly can you say that differentiate you from the competition? Be honest. If you can’t live up to your promises, the public will catch on very quickly.”

Step 4: Define your target audience. Nehlsen said to factor in geography, demographics, type of business, size of business, and profitability. “You can’t be everything to everybody,” she warned. “No one sells to everyone. You have to understand what your product is and who is going to be interested in [it].”

Step 5: What is the need of your customer? “Once you have identified your target audience, you have to speak the language of your audience,” she said. “Is it comfort they are looking for? You have to find out their needs.”

Step 6 involves putting together the message points of your brand. “This requires brainstorming,” she said. “Is it training? Is it safety? Is it state of mind? Is it saving money?”

Step 7: Do you have proof to back up your message? “Testimonials are great,” she said. “Keep in touch with your customers. They can provide the best messages you want to get across.”

Step 8: Identify the media that suits your target audience and message points. In her workbook, Nehlsen synopsized the pros and cons of each medium.

  • Network TV: High cost, difficult to target, large general audience, high message impact due to audio and visual.

  • Cable TV: Low cost, easier to target than network TV, reaches fewer people than network TV, difficult choosing systems.

  • Radio: Cost varies, easier to forget than TV, message impact lower than TV.

  • Billboard: High cost, difficult to target, large general audience, message impact dependent on many variables (location, design, message length). Best use -- teaser campaigns, not education.

  • Direct mail: Can be low cost, exact targeting possible, message impact dependent on design, message content, and timing. Can be educational.

  • Video/CD: High initial investment, distribution is difficult, exact target possible, versatile, high-impact message, can be educational, can make it interactive, can link to MCAA website.

  • Internet: Can be low cost, targeting possible if linked to existing sites and/or supported with other advertising and collateral materials. Message impact dependent on design and message content.

    “There are many [media] options,” she said. “You have to do your homework to determine which way you think it’s best to get your message across.”

    Step 9 on her list of questions: What do you do that is interesting to the public? “Not all that you do is interesting to the media,” she stated. “You have to point it out to them why you’re interesting.”

    As an example, she talked about the opening of a new bank which she knew would not generate much press coverage. She asked that the bank president talk to the media about interest rates and the local economy — “something that was important for everyone.”

    Step 10: What publicity vehicles could you tie into? Options here, she said, include charity or nonprofit, community leadership, and new product or service idea. “It’s all about image,” she stressed. “The idea here is to get in the public eye.”

    Step 11: How much are you willing to spend to increase your business? “This is a commitment,” she emphasized. “You are going to spend money if you are going to do it right.”

    She concluded that it might be best to get professional help. “To get a good marketing person to help direct you, it’s going to make your life a lot easier,” she said.

    Publication date: 03/18/2002