Your customer is in the market for central air conditioning. Let's assume that the customer has done some homework, perhaps by using the Internet to find out about the features and benefits of the leading manufacturers.

Keep in mind that surveys have shown that most consumers don't even know what equipment they have in their own homes, and often mistake the name on their thermostat for the brand name of their furnace. But let's pretend that the homeowner in our example is savvy enough to do some preliminary shopping, and he or she has narrowed down the choice to one brand name. For the sake of this column, I'll call that brand C-C-Cold.

The Yellow Pages, Yellow Book, or any other business phone directory might list several dealers who carry C-C-Cold equipment - thus, the homeowner's dilemma.

The Personal Brand

I did a little research before writing this column, reading a book by Peter Montoya titledThe Brand Called You. Montoya suggests that the real reason that people do business with you is because of you - not what you sell or the location of your business. As he states, "You are the business."

His argument is that your imprint goes on everything in your business. If it doesn't, either you don't want to have a hand in every aspect of your business or you'd prefer to delegate the responsibility of maintaining your business image to someone else in your organization.

That thinking needs to change. You are ultimately accountable for everything that happens in your business, not the service tech who meets six or seven customers each day or the dispatcher who keeps the calls flowing smoothly or the customer service representative who answers questions from prospective customers.

Customers should identify with you when they think of your business. Therefore, you need to set an example by making yourself visible and accessible in your community.

In his book, Montoya talks about making a personal connection with your prospects by using a familiar theme that customers can identify with - sports. Here's an excerpt:

"You create a business card de-signed so it looks as if a baseball's seams are running through it, order baseball tickets and baseballs with your logo and name on them to give out as promotions, become a sponsor of the local college team, wear a Cubs jersey with your name on the back to every job, and start sending the people on your e-mail list a ‘Construction Tip of the Day' along with a ‘Baseball Fact of the Day.'

"Within a few months, you're known as the ‘baseball contractor.' Most important, you stand out from all the other contractors in your area."

Standing out from the crowd is a key component in personal branding.


I've visited with contractors all around the United States and found that many of the successful ones differentiate themselves from their competitors.

One contractor writes an advice column in the local newspaper. People identify him as the "guy who writes ‘Ask the Contractor.'"

Another contractor uses bright animal graphics on his trucks, which stand out in a world full of generic white service vans.

Montoya suggests taking a close look at your competitors to see what they are doing to differentiate themselves. If they are making themselves stand out from the rest, don't copy them. Follow the beat of a different drummer.

Sell yourself first and C-C-Cold second. You are the business.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 02/23/2004