Close your eyes and imagine a Jeep. What do you see around it? People typically see Jeeps in the great outdoors, maybe in the snowy mountains or in the deep woods rolling through the mud.
“Immediately, your mind associates Jeep to the outdoors emotion and how you would love to be somewhere other than the next Zoom conference,” says Steve Lucas, CEO and managing partner with The Storage Group in Orlando, Fla.
That’s successful brand awareness.
“Your brand is the DNA of your business,” says Adam Mackie, senior director of self-storage for G5, a marketing company in Bend, Ore. “From the mom-and-pop self-storage to the large REIT, it is your reputation of the business to the outside customer. It is built internally with what you stand for and it’s what makes it memorable to the customer when they think of you.”
“Your brand should be as unique as a fingerprint,” continues Lucas. “A properly build brand should immediately make one think of what defines your product and service and sets you apart from the competition.”
Avri Boswell, creative and marketing director for The Parham Group in Austin, Texas, says, “Building your brand is honing in on what your message is: Who are you? What services do you provide? It’s recognizing what consumers perceive of you.”
Dan Sommer, vice president and director of marketing for MiniCo Insurance in Phoenix, Ariz., says, “The brand is your reputation; it is what people think of you. It’s paramount and more important than anything. If someone thinks your business is fair, understanding, and good, they will come.”
Building Your Brand
Building your brand is more than logos and colors, although that is certainly a part of the equation. \ The Parham Group, which is in the process of re-branding to separate the different companies, started with three basics of a business model:
- Core values
- Mission statement
- Vision statement
“It’s obvious we are three separate companies, and we didn’t have much of a separate identity for each,” says Boswell. “We started with core values, which sets the tone of the company and creates an identity for each.”
According to Lucas, some of the things to consider when building your brand include:
- Slogan or tagline
- Service commitment
- The appearance of your property
- Digital footprint
Overall, the most important thing is consistency throughout your facilities and marketing campaigns. “If you state one thing, and the experience is something other than that, you’re not being consistent with your brand message,” says Lucas.
Lucas cites an example of promoting easy access to your property, only to learn your prospects cannot find your location because it’s hidden or doesn’t have proper signage. “The details are very important, and one little change in the lines that make up the fingerprint of your brand can ruin the brand,” says Lucas.
When you mention certain color combinations of the largest REITs in the self-storage industry, most people can recognize and name the company.
“Self-storage is very hard to differentiate, but the successful ones do,” says Mackie.
Anne Marie DeCoster, COO of StoreLocal, a storage Co-op in Newport Beach, Calif., says it can be difficult for the small and medium-sized operators to build brand awareness, but with some effort, it can be done. “Google favors large brands, and you can’t effectively build a large digital brand, but there are ways around it.”
DeCoster continues, “Our industry is a very local industry; if you identify with local causes, you can earn brand recognition for the consumer base you are targeting.”
Mackie agrees. “One of the imparts we took from 2020 is that more people are gravitating to supporting local businesses,” he says. “If you’re a small operation and your brand stands out in the local market, you have an advantage, even if national competition comes in.”
Mackie has three suggestions to help you start building your brand:
- Make sure you’ve done your research on what is in your market today.
- Listen to your audience and align your unique proposition to that.
- Be realistic to yourself. Ask yourself what you do very well. If you do customer service well, go for that. If you don’t do something well, don’t focus your brand on that or you’ll be setting yourself up for failure.
Once you’ve set up your logos, colors, etc., one way to build local recognition is becoming a part of the community. Join the chamber, neighborhood groups around your facility, and join the board of a community project or charity.
“You can do a lot of things for the community that don’t cost a lot of money and will generate goodwill,” says Sommer. “One facility opened up for an ice cream social and invited the community. They didn’t even have to be a tenant.”
You can also donate to local charities and hold events such as food drives. “It’s public relations gold to get the media to come and report on your food drive,” Sommer says. “You are building your brand on being a helpful member of the community and not just someone who says, ‘give me your money.’”
As well, you can differentiate your facility from others by providing excellent customer service. Sommer suggests treating each person who comes into the facility as a valued guest.
Another way to differentiate your brand from larger brands is to focus on keeping your property clean, well-maintained, and secure. Don’t forget to promote your security features, such as cameras and lighting. “Check to make sure all the lights are working; build on anything that promotes your property as being safe and secure such as video surveillance,” says DeCoster.
You can differentiate your facility from others by providing excellent customer service too. Sommer suggests treating each person who comes into the facility as a valued guest, walking the property with a clipboard to make notes of the condition of the property, and speaking with customers who are out on the property to see if there’s anything they need.
What’s more, in this time when so many are suffering financial hardship, the experts suggest being understanding and waiving fees in certain circumstances.
Although it is more difficult to compete digitally if you don’t have millions of marketing dollars to spend on PPC ads, here are a few tips that can help you gain a bigger digital brand:
- Create a professional, easy-to-use website that is consistent with your physical brand. Make sure it is user friendly, loads quickly, and provides your customers with a no-contact experience.
- Write quality, helpful blogs on your site using keywords that will lead more traffic to your site.
- Use high-quality and high-definition (but short) videos and promote them on your website and social media platforms.
- Study and maintain social media best practices, including responding to negative reviews in a responsive and helpful way.
Unfortunately, according to Mackie, the most common mistakes facilities make with their brand is not maintaining consistency throughout, not appearing authentic, and not ensuring their brand aligns with their values and customers’ expectations.
“Maintaining your brand is an on-going process and you want to make sure you just don’t take a snapshot in time,” says Mackie. “You need to make sure you’re constantly looking at your company values and they align with your customers’ expectations.”