Branding. It’s a word that you probably don’t associate with your trucking company. Certainly, the larger carriers consider it – that’s why Schneider has orange trailers – but smaller fleets and owner-operators probably don’t consider branding. They are truck drivers, not brand experts. But branding matters, and regardless of your business size, a lack of branding hurts.
To understand how branding can help you, you first need to understand what branding is, the value it can provide, and how you can do it, especially if you are on a limited budget.
Branding is essentially how the public views your company. According to the American Marketing Association, branding is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
Most people associate branding with big companies – Coca-Cola, UPS, Amazon – but branding is attached to all companies, regardless of size. Your company already has a brand associated with it, whether you know it or not. The difference is, by proactively managing your brand, you control how people see it. A good brand builds trust and in many cases will lead to better customers. A bad brand will cause good customers to avoid you, leaving you with the customers that value price above all else.
Branding can also help you when you need to access a line of credit or loan. A bank will look more positively on a brand that evokes trust and professionalism and you might get a lower rate as a result. It can be a decisive factor when determining whether you get that loan or not.
If you are a trucking company, your brand is influenced by a number of factors – the cleanliness of the equipment, the timeliness of pickups and delivery, how safe your drivers are driving, and whether your trucks are constantly sitting on the side of the road waiting for repairs.
Your brand is also influenced by your people – are they courteous, professional, and dressed appropriately? Do they quickly handle customer concerns or return calls?
When you build a company, you are also building a brand. That brand extends into everything you do. If you are Coca-Cola, everyone can see their brand and how they use it, but if you are John Smith, owner-operator, how can you build your brand? Here are some tips, culled from the web and other resources:
Build a buyer persona. What is this? This is the person you are trying to reach with your services. In John Smith’s case, he is trying to reach shippers who move freight that he wants to haul. Build a fictional person that represents that shipper who will contract with John Smith; build a complete profile of that person (likes, dislikes, shipper preferences, etc.) and when making decisions about pricing and services, “talk” to that person. What would they like, how much would they pay, etc. If you can craft your business plan to that ideal person, you’re off to a good, focused start on building a service that people will want.
Develop a tone of voice. This is the way you speak to your customer both through your marketing materials as well as through your customer service reps or dispatchers. Be sure that tone reflects the values and vibe you want your business to project, and that it is consistently presented.
Be different. If you sound like every other trucking business out there, you will be treated as such. How do you stand out? Do you provide specialty services? Flexible delivery options? Do you run alternative fuel or a custom show rig? Figure that out and you have a major characteristic of your brand.
Don’t forget your online presence. Businesses today, any business, requires an online presence. This includes not only a website, but social media accounts as well. There are several low-cost options to help build websites like Squarespace, WIX and WordPress, and most are relatively easy to use, offer templates, and plug-and-play capabilities so you don’t need to learn code. The website should clearly articulate your company’s persona, services, and provide easy-to-find contact information. The same goes for social media accounts.
Some other things to consider that are more specific to trucking operations:
How do you and your employees dress? Do you have company shirts that drivers have to wear, or, at the very least, company IDs to identify drivers? You don’t need to dictate how drivers dress, but you probably don’t want your drivers showing up at a shipper’s location looking like they just returned home from a night in jail either. Regardless of how hard you work back in the office to build your brand, the truck driver is the one that meets your customer and is an extension of your brand. How that driver treats the customer goes a long way to your brand identity.
Do you have a logo? This logo should appear on all company correspondence, especially anything sent to a customer. If you can’t afford to hire a designer, there are online tools that can help you generate a basic logo. You can also reach out to local high schools or colleges for help; often they have design students looking for opportunities to hone their skills and resume at a fraction of the cost of a professional designer.
Do you have a tagline? This is something that identifies what service level your business will provide. For example, John Smith Trucking, “Delivering service you can count on.” Often, this will appear right under the name and/or logo of your business and in some cases, can be a more powerful marketing tool than your name itself. Include this on all correspondence.
Are your trucks clean and in good repair? As mentioned previously, a truck sitting on the side of the highway makes a bad first impression, but so does a truck that arrives at a customer location looking like it just finished a mud racing course.
Does your company name appear on your tractors? You should include the name of your company on the tractor but avoid doing so with a stick-on label. This projects a less-than- ideal image and some shippers will be hesitant to work with companies that simply stick their name on the side of a truck, considering it a fly-by-night operation. Spend the money to at least have the letters permanently affixed to the doors if not a more elaborate design that people will remember.
Does your company name appear on your trailers? Trailers are one of the most valuable pieces of real estate trucking companies own, but one that few take advantage of. If you can, put your company name or logo on the sides and rear door(s) of the trailer. As that trailer travels down the road, everyone who passes it is a potential customer. Reinforcing your company name and branding to those passer-bys could lead to new business. Another alternative use for your trailer is to “lease” out the space on the side of it to another business or non-profit organization. Wrapping the trailer in nice graphics helps customers remember you, keeps the vehicles looking sharp, and could make you a little revenue. Big shippers, such as PepsiCo, use the side of their trailers to advertise their products while others provide the space to domestic violence organizations or cancer awareness programs. Drive up to a shipper’s location with a trailer promoting cancer awareness and you are guaranteed to be remembered positively.
As you can see, branding extends to all aspects of your business and whether you are a small or large motor carrier, you too can take advantage of proper branding to better position your fleet. You don’t have to embark on a million-dollar branding campaign, but some simple, low-cost tricks can make a difference. Remember, if you don’t control your branding, your customers will, and you may not like what it looks like.