There are two types of plumbers:
The first kind is a commodity. They’re the first company you see in the phone book. They’re whoever picks up the phone. They’re the plumber that comes to mind when all a customer needs is “a plumber,” and they’re all interchangeable.
The second kind is more than a plumber. They’re a brand. They’re the plumber who sponsors your nephew’s little league team. They’re the plumber with the 60 minute guarantee, or the plumber with more 5 star reviews than all the competition combined. They’re the plumber that donates to your favorite charity, and they’re anything but interchangeable.
As Google’s Home Service Ads continue their march across the country, the future for commodity plumbers looks bleak. If Home Service Ads really do catch on, the local map pack in Google results could soon be replaced with a HomeAdvisor-like paid lead generation product with very strict requirements for advertisers. Once every company in the pack has 5 stars, a $2,000 service guarantee and background-checked employees, then what? Some believe that the only option left will be to compete on price, and that’s always a race to the bottom.
But there’s another way. What if you could get people to skip over the Home Service Ads, cruise past Yelp, fly over Angieslist, and land on your site instead? What if you could grow so much loyalty that they already had your number? What if they said “you’re the last plumber I’ll ever call” and meant it?
It’s not as crazy as it sounds, and branding is the key.
What is a Brand?
For a plumber, that’s an easy question. Your brand is a promise that you’re more than a commodity. Your brand fills in the blank:
“I’m not just a plumber. I’m a __________ plumber.”
Sure, you can say you’re a “great” plumber, but that’s what every plumber says. If all you do is say it, you’re still a commodity.
To make that, or anything else, your brand, you’ll have to prove it. Over and over.
The good news is, building your brand takes just two steps:
- Learn what your customers want, besides “just a plumber.”
- Show them what you are, over and over again.
Building a Brand through Reputation
Tracy, CA is full of flaky plumbers. Yelp is full of horror stories about other plumbers in there who never showed up, charged ridiculous prices, or had no customer service skills.
In Tracy, there aren’t enough quality plumbers to go around. So, to build his brand, all Brandon Simpson of Simpson Plumbing had to do was grow a reputation for great service.
That started by growing his reputation on Yelp. No matter what you think of Yelp, the site has over 100 million users, and consumers largely do trust the reviews on it.
By going out of his way to provide great service, letting customers know how important Yelp was to him, and doing what he could to salvage his few bad reviews, Brandon built a nearly flawless reputation on the site:
But step 2 isn’t just a one-time thing. You need to show you customers over and over again that you really are more than “just a plumber,” and you need to find more than one way of showing it to them.
It’s one of the reasons you see this, the moment you land on Brandon’s site:
Whether you find Simpson Plumbing through Yelp or through their site, it’s impossible to miss their 5 star reviews. And since they can and always will get more reviews, whether they like it or not, their 5 star average becomes an ongoing promise.
When you call Simpson Plumbing, you don’t get “just a plumber.” You get a plumber backed by a strong service record, and a good chance that they’ll preserve it.
Building a Brand through Social Causes
In the last few years, breaking gender barriers has become a big deal. Franchises have been built and destroyed by their treatment and portrayal women, but the action isn’t limited to the silver screen.
Mary Jean Anderson of Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air is an anomaly. While she’s not the very first woman to own a plumbing company, there are few other companies that have built so much of their branding on their ownership. Their entire brand is designed to drive home that idea that they’re not “just a plumber”—they’re a plumber by, and for, women.
First, their website couldn’t be much pinker. Every element is saturated with a deep pink that’s impossible to ignore, all the way down to their footer:
Second, the fact that they’re female owned has has helped define their outreach strategy. Mary Jean has been extensively covered on other websites because of her unusual occupation, which has helped grow their brand visibility and SEO.
Third, Anderson has sponsored Susan G. Komen’s breast cancer awareness run more than once. Associating with this high profile charity sends a strong message that they’re not just a woman-owned company, but a company that supports women.
The real genius of this branding, however, isn’t just that it screams “we support women.” It also helps define women as their target market, which gives them the opportunity to cater to their target market in a unique way:
Building a Brand Through…Anything
Portland loves bicycles and novelty, so Joshua de Parrie received a bunch of press when he became The Bicycle Plumber.
Phil Barnett’s choice to wear his religion on his sleeve (and in this case, on his trucks) helped him build a brand with Livermore, CA’s Christian community.
Just about anything can be a brand, as long as it’s enough to set you apart from the competition. If a consumer skips over another qualified plumber to call you instead, then congratulations. You’ve got a brand.
The Elements of Brand Building for Plumbers
Once you have a brand – a story worth telling – there are lots of ways you can tell it.
Let’s say you’ve decided to brand yourself as “the hardest-working plumber on earth.” Here’s how I would tell that story:
- With your name. A name like “Unbreakable Plumbing” or “Nonstop Plumbing” sets the stage.
- With your slogan. How about “We sweat the details so you don’t have to” or “Your plumbing doesn’t stop. Neither do we.”
- With your policies. Want to send a strong message? How about 24/7 service with no overtime charges for nights and weekends.
- With your visual design. Use masculine colors and textures, like brick red and diamond metal. Use bold, blocky fonts all over the place.
- With your employee profiles. Publish profiles for your technicians that focus on their personal achievements.
- With your about page. If you come from a long line of tough, blue collar workers, tell everyone about it.
- With your partnerships. Run a contest on social media, and give the winner 3 months membership at a local gym.
- With your sponsorships. Sponsor a charity triathlon.
- With your scholarships. Offer a scholarship for young entrepreneurs.
- With your logo. Nothing says “hard work” like a big steel anvil.
- With your videos. Use time lapse to show the full scope of your big jobs.
- With your trucks. Buy trucks with large, exposed rivets.
- With your reviews. Push extra hard to get reviews from your commercial clients, and you clients with the biggest jobs.
- With your blog. Publish DIY guides for services that customers won’t actually want to do themselves. Celebrate employees who have recently pushed their limits. Share your favorite local coffee shops. Talk about your personal heroes.
- With your uniforms. Forget about clean, white shirts. Go with thicker, darker fabrics.
- With your publicity stunts. Convince one of your plumbers to wear a GoPro all day and stream it on Facebook. Hold a rodeo-style competition to pit your plumbers against another company’s plumbers. Hire a professional weight lifter to help your plumbers for the day and send the footage to your local news station.
- With your social media. Share before and after pictures, motivational quotes, and photos of your new, heavy-looking equipment.