3 things industrial services brands have to get right

Industrial services companies tend to be highly relationship-driven businesses. As a result, the industrial services portfolio often expands and evolves with the needs of its clients. While a great model for growth and customer-centricity, success can give rise to a specific set of challenges as the market itself evolves or as the company expands into new categories or geographies. Before long, what the company does has evolved well beyond the original About Us page - and employees or customers in different parts of the company can have vastly different perceptions about the company’s core promise.

Three key brand-related challenges that industrial services companies need to get right at every stage of their growth:

  1. Build loyalty to the brand, not just to the people.
  2. Keep your customers educated and informed about the marketplace.
  3. See your company (and your portfolio of offerings) through the eyes of your customers.

1. Build loyalty to the brand, not just to the people

With relationships at the heart of the business, it is natural for that relationship to reside within single individuals. Of course you want your customers to love your people – but it is the plural “people” that is the key.

As you grow customer relationships, build equity in the brand alongside the equity that continues to be built into the person.

Your account person is the vital link between your customer and your brand. Building your brand intelligently is not about transferring that equity to the company at the expense of your employee. Rather it is about helping your employee rely on his/her team (the brand!) to help them deliver on the promise – AND taking the opportunity to make sure that the customer is seeing the breadth of capabilities and expertise that exist “behind the scenes.”

Additional best practices to support this objective:

- Synchronise communications. Whether online or off, social media or traditional, communication channels need to support one another across the customer experience. Deliver a consistent relationship across customer service, operations, accounts payable – and keep your key account person in the mix.

- Illustrate the scope of your service and how it fits to the lifecycle of product purchase, delivery, maintenance, parts, etc. An actual illustration can be very effective here: e.g. an end-to-end supply chain diagram; a service sphere diagram, showing your role in supporting the customer’s ability to achieve whatever it is you are promising.

- Speak with one voice. Consistency with logo, visual identity and messaging is an important part of good brand management, but it is not the only part. Put the proper tools, training and resources in place to empower everyone in the organisation to live up to the brand promise - from the person repairing your machinery or delivering your materials to the customer service rep helping to resolve a billing issue.

2. Keep your customers educated and informed

Thought leadership should not live merely within the few folks in the market department creating content for your web site. Your clients rely on you to take care of entire segments of their business. As their market evolves, they want to be able to rely on you as the experts in your space.  

Be the experts that your customers need and want you to be.

Give sales and operations teams time, and access to training, industry events, innovation workshops, etc. – all to help them stay a few steps ahead of their clients. Your well informed team will be better prepared to grow your strongest relationships, bringing new insights and knowledge to every conversation, facilitating cross-selling to related offerings within your portfolio, and reinforcing the confidence your clients have placed in your brand.

Additional best practices to support this objective:

- Build tangible outputs for your teams to help your clients appreciate the vital role you play in their workflow. For example, service timetables, 10-point checklists, tracking apps, etc. can all work to embed your brand in the workflow

- Be clear about what customers can and should buy next. For example, use a process diagram to show where the customer is in the lifecycle of the product. Help them see what others typically buy next (e.g. a dealer’s suggested 25,000 mile repair bundle).

- Consider dashboards that bring your service team into customers’ workflow, helping customers see you as a vital part of a greater whole rather than a disconnected component.

3. Look at your portfolio through your customers’ eyes 

Your portfolio may have evolved more through its own momentum than by grand design. As a result, new or prospective clients may see a confused portfolio of offerings. If you’ve spent the last 10 or 20 years naming each of these off-shoots, chances are many clients don’t really have a clear picture of the full scope of what you do and how each of these services relates to one another (and, more importantly, to their needs!). Likely, there were also some vertical or regional acquisitions in the mix.

This is a textbook brand architecture challenge. You do all of these things well. They share some common DNA in terms of approach and promise. But from the outside they just look like a bunch of different services you offer or products you sell.

Take a step back. What is the perception you want your customers to have about the service(s) you provide?

Additional best practices to support this objective:

- Make sure customers know what you are selling by eliminating brand names with little equity that get in the way of understanding the integrated nature of your offerings.

- If you’re positioning a national, integrated business, you better look like one. That means limiting the number of brands and sub-brands – and supporting a consistent, national experience wherever in the country your customers may be.

- Help teams understand that naming is a wicked temptress. Look for ways to integrate product and service into a real solution before thinking what, if anything to name it. Or, if you have named solutions, ask yourself: Is it clear what this thing really is?

In a vacuum, many of these suggestions may seem obvious; bringing them all together is the tricky part. Position your firm for success by arming your team with the strategies and practices to help them continue to set your brand apart from competitors.

*Image courtesy Monty Rakusen/Corbis