By Harley Rolfe
Me? Scared of the dark? At times. Most people's hearts race a bit when they go into unknown or strange territory. And "most people" includes those who are looking to rent a self-storage unit for the first time. Not many customers are repeats. Most are rookies, and they are wary of their own amateur status. That unease is an available hook for savvy marketers. A first step in breaking down a prospect's caution is to create familiarity. A known name--a brand name--helps disarm them.
When operators begin to feel the pinch of competition and thoughts of marketing begin to swirl, the first thing that many want to do is establish a brand name. That's not where I would start, but it can be done without much additional knowledge or change. One problem is that the name they want to establish is the one they now have, which may not be the best choice. Most existing names were conceived under commodity circumstances. But with more market stress, you may be dealing with a name that may not work as well in the new market conditions.
What's in a Name?
Perhaps a reference to the genesis of brands might help. You know of their use in Western films to identify cattle on the range. Back then, brands were used to identify which cows belonged to whom--quickly and from horseback. They needed to be indelible and impervious to modification. While things have calmed down since those Wild West days, many of the qualities of good brand design carry forward.
Can you think of a successful product that doesn't have a strong, well-known brand name? That's the primary way we identify a product. Sometimes the brand name is the most valuable part of a company's offering. Chevrolet the brand goes on and on, while individual models come and go under that Chevy banner. Think also to the hospitality industry where names like Holiday Inn, Hilton, etc., endure by offering franchisees instant recognition among prospective guests. So strong is that influence that finance sources often will not finance a new lodging facility without an affiliation. A good brand name may be so desired that it can be rented out and used to give instant recognition to other product lines. Often, heavy-duty lawsuits are filed to protect the owner's rights to a certain name. (Be sure to register yours in your state.)
Your name should be transferable. Some day you will sell your facility--the new owner doesn't want to inherit your surname, nor does he want to undergo the cost of establishing a new title. He will pay you for an established name that he can use. And well he should, because you have labored to have that name ingrained in everyone's mind and reinforced with a good reputation. It's part of the going business value and is one reason why an operating business is dearer than the sum of its physical parts.
Keep in mind that familiar things are more valuable than those that are not. A Sunkist orange is more valuable than a no-name orange. That increased value either takes the form of being preferred or commanding a price premium, sometimes both. Your brand name has a high-energy job. It will convey a core message succinctly. To do so, it must use all the tricks of the copywriter's trade--graphics and the selection of arresting words. The ingredients are pretty straightforward:
1. Graphics or logo: You've heard it before: One picture is worth a thousand words. It is the quickest route to something memorable. It illustrates the essence of your offering. It is also the least precise. While the logo is the centerpiece of the brand, it must be supplemented to convey a meaningful message. This is the "music" of our message.
2. Slogan: With a few choice words, we put "lyrics" to that music. It translates the graphic into a meaning that is specifically useful to you. A stand-alone graphic is usually not significant to a viewer until it's linked to your offering. The viewer must be led to the relevance of the graphic.
3. Name: You cannot communicate via the logo alone. The logo needs the name to convey the identity of the offering. When a prospect uses the name, he is really thinking about the logo, made appealing to him by the slogan.
You can just invent a name--like "Kodak," for example. Drug companies do it every time they come out with a new compound. The advantage is uniqueness and absolute proprietary rights. Also, it only means what the company wants it to--no baggage. The disadvantage is the necessity--through media--to give it meaning and to popularize it.
A clever name is good as long as it isn't maudlin or silly. It should entertain and make the name memorable. There is liberal use of double entendres, for example, "We bring good things to life," by General Electric, or "A cut above," the slogan of a beauty shop in my home area.
The brand name and its supporting cast (logo and slogan) should convey a theme benefit of the facility. Terms such as "mini-storage" and "self-storage" are descriptive but don't carry a benefit. The name "U-Save Storage" contains a benefit and uses a price appeal, while "Westside Storage" offers information. (With any luck, the operator is the only one on the "West side.")
As critical as a good brand name is, there are many who try to design one on their own. Don't. Find a good graphic artist who understands the subtle techniques needed to do it well. Case in point: A familiar word (those in your reading vocabulary) actually operates as a graphic. When it is misspelled, for example, you detect instantly there is something wrong with it. You aren't processing the individual letters, but have registered the whole word as one piece. That word has gained the status of a graphic in your mind. It is this characteristic that permits you to read fast. By stylizing the letters of the word, however, you can make it "yours." In so doing, you merge the graphic and name into one entity. This sort of thing is what graphic artists are able to do. You must be mindful of the message and the mood you are trying to convey. The artist cannot and should not invent your message, but he can usually execute it better than you can.
The creation of a brand name is not a casual enterprise. It uses a combination of art and science, and it must be featured in every venue possible. When done well, it is a symphony with several dynamic parts causing the viewer to regard your business as an old friend--despite the fact he may not actually know you from Adam. Brand names are powerful. We shouldn't--and don't usually--take them lightly.
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Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includes executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039. Further information can also be found in Mr. Harley's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.