“Branding is the art of becoming knowable, likable and trustable.”
—John Jantsch, author, speaker and marketing consultant
You might think of your self-storage brand as simply being your company logo, colors, tagline and signage. That might have been true 20 years ago, but branding has grown to encompass so much more in the modern age. So, what exactly is it, and why is it so crucial to your business? Let’s break it down and discuss how to create a brand that’ll entice renters and build a loyal customer base.
What Is Branding?
In short, “branding” is the feeling a customer gets every time they have a “conversation” with your company through marketing. Jonah Sacks, author and co-founder of marketing firm Free Range Studios, defines it this way: “Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touchpoints.”
Customers want to do business with people they like. Preferring the way your facility feels vs. another down the street is often a deciding factor for prospective tenants, even if they don't realize or verbalize it. Outfitting your company with a spectacular personality that causes customers to feel certain emotions can be the difference between a self-storage operation that thrives and grows or one that stays small and stagnant.
Branding isn’t just a logo, colors, slogan or signage. It’s your company story. What are your business values? What are its mission and vision? If you don't know these off the top of your head, it’s time to consider and write them down.
Once you have a good understanding of who you are as a company and what you want to represent to the world, start thinking about who your customer is. Ultimately, you need to understand why they store with you—not just the situation driving their need, but why they decide to trust you with their possessions and memories. Think about how you want people to feel about your facility, company and user experience. What adjectives would you want them to use to describe your business? Then begin to build your brand around those traits.
What Does Branding Include?
Branding for a self-storage operation (or any business) isn't cheap. Make sure you’ve budgeted for the following customary items, which should be included in an initial branding campaign or even a rebrand:
- Consultation with a marketing or branding agency
- Company logo
- Company colors and fonts
- Company slogan/tagline
- Graphics for print and online marketing materials
- Customized stationery and business cards
- Vehicle wraps for moving trucks
- Merchandise/swag for giveaways (T-shirts, hats, mugs, water bottles, etc.)
- Brand guidelines that explain how and when to use the logo, colors, fonts, etc.
In addition, think about your self-storage facility’s office furniture, rugs, wall art, plants and landscaping, and music playing in the hallways. Even the technology you use at the gate and within the office will represent your brand values and tell customers—without using words—what you most want them to feel.
How Do You Create Loyalty?
Now that you have a clear understanding of what self-storage branding is and what it should include, how do you use it to create a loyal customer base? Remember, branding helps customers build a relationship with your company, so they think about and choose you when they need storage. When done correctly, it makes them feel safe, secure, happy, etc. It creates a feeling of familiarity every time they interact with your business.
To you, it might not make sense that the font or colors on your signage could make someone feel anything, but research has shown that they do. The subconscious mind is always working, whether or not we’re aware of the stimuli. Branding is just one way to communicate with a customer's brain and help them feel good about your business. The drone video on your website landing page, the way your business card feels in a person’s hand, the color and texture of your unit doors … all of these contribute to the way a person experiences your company.
So, if you want to instill loyalty in your customers, create branding that makes them feel positively towards your business, and then use it consistently across all user touchpoints. Prospects and tenants should get the same good feeling no matter where they interact with you, from your website, signage and marketing materials to your facility curb appeal.
What Mistakes Should You Avoid?
Branding can be expensive, so make sure that you’re deliberate in every single choice you make for your self-storage business. Really give it some thought. If there are any inconsistencies, it’ll confuse customers and make them feel like they aren’t getting the same level of quality and service in one area that you managed to create in another aspect of their journey. And correcting these discrepancies later could be expensive.
Also, avoid being too trendy. It might be tempting to jump on the latest bandwagon, but this’ll likely result in short-lived success. What’s popular today is often irrelevant tomorrow. Having a timeless brand that stays true to who you are, the values you uphold and the history that has helped shape your company is more important in the long run.
Because branding can be a complex process, consider getting help from a professional. Trying to do it yourself can result in big mistakes that’ll be financially and emotionally costly. However, take care when hiring. Your sign company might say it can build you a brand, but they really just have a basic graphic-design artist on staff. That isn’t the same as a marketing professional who has expertise in how to illustrate and craft a story that turns leads into customers. If you plan to bring in an outsider, be sure they can offer the whole branding package, not just part of it.
When Should You Rebrand?
The demographics and habits of a buying market are always changing, so it's important to regularly evaluate how your brand is being received. Many self-storage operators choose to rebrand every five to seven years as a way to stay top-of-mind and keep their message relevant.
Business branding has evolved into a full personality for a non-living entity. Setting it up before you break ground on a new project, convert an existing building or purchase an established facility can help your company drive success. It’ll also help you build a loyal customer base and create an emotional tie to the self-storage experience. A strong brand will allow people to remember who you are and what you stand for, giving you an advantage in a competitive market.
Jess Casto is co-founder of Moovement Marketing, which offers self-storage marketing services. She joined the industry in 2010 as a manager for a mid-size operator in York, Pennsylvania, and later became the company’s director of marketing. Her goal is to help facility operators bridge the gap between operations and marketing. To reach her, email [email protected].