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Branding Your Business to Stand Out with Dan Antonelli
Episode 4020th September 2022 • Beyond The Tools • Reflective Marketing
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In this episode, we sat down with Dan Antonelli of KickCharge Creative on the importance of branding and its impact on the growth of your home service business.

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Krystal Hobbs 0:04

Welcome to Beyond The Tools, the podcast that helps contractors attract more leads, grow their business, and finally get off the tools. In each episode, you'll discover marketing tactics that work. You'll get actionable insights from other successful contractors, and connect with experts to help you grow. I'm your host, Krystal Hobbs, owner of a social media agency that helps contractors attract and convert more leads. Get ready to take your business to the next level so you can finally enjoy the fruits of your hard labor. Ready, let's go!

Krystal Hobbs 0:46

they've actually created over:

Krystal Hobbs 2:27

I am thrilled to introduce today's guest, Dan Antonelli. Dan, thank you so much for being here.

Dan Antonelli 2:34

Well, thanks for having me, Krystal.

Krystal Hobbs 2:36

So I'm really excited to dig into branding today. And I feel like it's really underrated but it has such a big impact in terms of your growth as a company and even with recruitment and stuff, which we'll touch on today. So I've been poring over your new book, Branded Not Blanded: KickCharge Your Home Service Brand. Thank you for the advance copy and let me take a little sneak peek there.

Dan Antonelli 3:05

Glad you liked it.

Krystal Hobbs 3:06

So, you know, when I talk to a lot of home service business owners, a lot of times they see branding as an expense and not really an investment necessarily into the business. So why do you think branding is so important? And how can it make an actual impact on your growth?

Dan Antonelli 3:29

I think people sort of misunderstand how it affects everything. So we look at branding as really the foundation for their marketing. So if you can get the branding done well and done in a manner that communicates all the right things, then the rest of your marketing is just going to work that much better. So everything from your digital strategy, to how it affects even just average tickets and being able to charge more - the whole idea of what brands do is to really try to control what a consumer feels and believes about your company before you actually go there to perform a service. So if we can have them believe that your company is more professional, more knowledgeable, better trained, we'll be around a long time if something goes well those sort of values, then the consumer feels better about the experience. They feel better about maybe if you are priced higher than someone else, they feel there's a reason why maybe you are priced at that point. So we're really trying to control what they believe about a company before they get there and ring the doorbell. And then after they ring the doorbell, then you kill it on service. You kill it on how you work in their homes and all those other best practices.

I'm looking more so at how I set the expectation of what that deliverable would be if they chose to do business with you. So that's really the basis of really what we do is really try to create an impression of the company before you have the opportunity to get there. And we also tried to create brands that are unique and disruptive and sticky so that the impressions that are repeated over time throughout the community, mainly through truck wraps and things like that, will have people remembering your name when they actually need service.

So on the digital side, as we talked about winning on the streets, the concept of winning on the streets is just rooted in the idea that instead of somebody having to go to Google and type in heating repair near me or heating repair in a zip code or something like that, do they actually just type in the name of that service vehicle that they continue to see in their community and the impression that it left in their mind. So we see a lot of really great results, even from organic searches and branded search terms increased dramatically because people know the name of your company now. So instead of blending into the community with a white van, as everyone else has got, you do something that's more unique, more memorable, and then, of course, you hope will be in their minds when they actually need service.

Krystal Hobbs 5:59

you've looked at hundreds of:

Dan Antonelli 6:13

Um, they get a lot wrong. So a lot of times I think they're not also keeping in mind who the target is, right? So women comprise probably 70 to 80% of the decision-making in a typical home, right? So brands need to communicate to them. They need to address their concerns, their feelings, their emotions, and their worries, right? So the thing about even just controlling that first impression, as you see, sometimes guys use mascots and they'll have a mascot that is like super muscled and the guy's running towards you and he's carrying like a pipe wrench in his hand. And honestly, he looks like he's got to beat the hell out of someone. And so you're already sort of communicating something that is off-putting, right? So you're putting a message out there that may make a woman feel at ease about the prospect of actually hiring you. So those are really important aspects to consider. So it's not about even what the owner likes. It's not about what appeals to him or her, it's about what appeals to that target audience. So I think a lot of owners get it in their head that they have to like they're the audience. And it's like, no, it's an audience of one. Let's think about the audience of all these people that really are the buyers of your service and what does it look and feel to them about the experience they might get if they hired you. So I think a lot of people when they started their company, did it the cheapest way possible. They bought a van. And then they had a local guy do a real quick logo or clip art logo. And then they got out and they started doing it and they started growing. But they never kind of fix that deficiency. And so sometimes you have this mentality to that, as they've grown, that sort of perpetuates the myth that they should continue doing exactly what they've been doing, right? So why would I change now because I've been successful using the same logo for all these years? And we always look at it and say, Well, dude, like, imagine how much more success you would have had if you actually had a better brand, and what that meant for so many other different things, not just revenue, but again, recruitment, culture, there are so many other aspects that it plays a role in. But a lot of the clipart logos you see, it's really not communicating, the things that are really important for that consumer. So we really want to make sure that they feel something positive about who you are before you get there.

Krystal Hobbs 8:43

So we talk about a brand that is memorable, and that sets things about your customer and what they're looking for and sets them at ease and gives them a good feeling. And there are all sorts of other elements of a good brand that I know we're gonna get into as we chat here. But how does that make an actual effect on like, what do you spend on your marketing? Have you seen a difference when it's a compelling brand versus a brand that does blend in?

Dan Antonelli 9:16

Absolutely, it's kind of funny sometimes because you hear on different Facebook forums and owners, groups and things like that, and guys will talk about how much money they need to spend to grow and what the marketing spend should be as a percentage of revenue. And you see guys saying, “Well, if you really want to grow, you need to be spending 10, 12, 15% to really grow.” A lot of times, I'll stalk their Facebook profile and kind of look at the company that they work for. And I'll see something that really does not function well and the trucks or trucks are a mess or the logos are a mess, and I'm like, well, that's why you're spending 12% or 10%. We have so many examples of companies that are spending less than 4% of revenue and doubling every year and things like that, so like one client out that we did in Jacksonville, Florida, for Buehler has gone from like 2.4 to 12 million in like three years, spending less than 4% of revenue.

So how did that happen? That doesn't work for most contractors but why did it work here? And it's like, well, we basically made it a household name. We made his brand so sticky. And so, that's something that we've really seen affect the overall spend. So, it's just more obvious as well, too, as far as even just leveraging the power of the trucks. So the trucks out in your community, first of all, are the cheapest impressions you can buy. Okay, so if you look at the dollars at cost per impression for a vehicle wrap as compared to online, as compared to billboards themselves, you will not find a cheaper, more cost-effective means to advertise your business. The problem is, most truck wraps suck, they're awful. So getting that part right is huge, because every one of those impressions is doing so much heavy lifting for your brand. And when they're done well, they really do stand out in the marketplace, especially among a sea of so many poorly executed wraps that don't integrate brand properly, that are illegible. If your an HVAC guy using sun and snowflake clip art and red and blue arrows, like, again, as a consumer, why do I care about that? How is that even speaking to me? What kind of inferred brand promise do I get from that? So all those aspects, again, if I can succeed in getting the consumer to have your brand be sticky in their minds, then when it's time for service, that's who they'll remember to call. So you think about how much money and how much how expensive it is for LSA, and pay per click, and all those other aspects, and you're fighting among a sea of other people. So I would rather people just type in your name of course, rather than heating repair or plumbing repair, whatever the case may be, and zip code. And now you're fighting on SEO, you're fighting on all these other channels and all these other competitors. So if I can win the heart and mind of the consumer at the street level, then it's going to make the spend a lot less, or you'll need to spend a lot less than you would.

Krystal Hobbs:

So when you talk about winning on the street, can we break that down a little bit? So, we want to stand out, you want a brand that’s sticky, what are some of the things that you look at to accomplish that?

Dan Antonelli:

Certainly, you look at color as a really unique aspect that you have to be concerned about. So when we rebrand the company or brand the new company, we want to research what that market looks like. So what other companies are in that particular space? What are their brand colors look like? What do their trucks look like? What are their brand approaches like? Are they mascot driven? Are they icon driven? Sort of what is a unique and compelling story that any of those competitors are telling. And then you have to basically look to do something that's very different. In most markets you'll find so many companies just using red and blue as their primary brand color, especially in the HVAC space. So we almost never recommend red and blue as primary brand colors because not only can you not own it from a competitive landscape, you can’t own it just because of its association with Americana and other aspects of it.

miles later, there are:

So like I said, you could put a pink van and polka dots. And people would say, “I see your van all the time.” But saying, you see your van all the time isn't really the benchmark, it's just part of the benchmark. What does the van say about your company is the other aspect. And so many really get that part wrong, because they'll try to do something disruptive, maybe they'll succeed at that, but then I think the company is going to be cheap, they're gonna be out of business next year, they're not going to deliver a premium service, and I'm not willing to pay a higher price for their service. So that's the part where, again, trying to control all aspects of that perception, from that initial impression that consumer may see out in the street. So if you see that van parked on your neighbor's driveway, you're already forming impressions of what that neighbor may be getting, like, are they cheap? Like, if it's a white van with a magnetic sign, they're getting cheap. But if it's a really wrapped premium-looking brand then they must be putting in a really nice system. Like, that's the way people think, it's biased. It's just the way it works. So how do we counteract bias and even bias against contractors in general? Because most home consumers are worried about not being treated fairly. I don't know if I need a capacitor to fix my air conditioning unit or if I need a whole new unit, right? So, how do I make that consumer feel, and trust that that contractor is delivering something of value, that they're honest, that they're ethical? Those are all the aspects of the consumer psychology behind the brand that we're really trying to essentially control as best we can.

Krystal Hobbs:

Absolutely. That makes sense. So if I own a home service company, and I'm hearing you, Dan, I think about that maybe I should look at rebranding. When do I know that this is something I need to do for my company?

Dan Antonelli:

The owners have to take a hard look and say, Does this brand represent us? Is this who we really are today? And I think that that's really the basis of a lot of rebrands that we do is that the service that they provide inside the home doesn't match the expectation that the customer has before they get there. So they may get there, they get the job and they wow them with great service, but if they were to be judged solely on how they looked prior to arriving there, I don't necessarily get that. So it's awesome that they leave and they killed it and they did a great job - that's awesome. But I want them to feel that before you get there. I don't want to have to prove myself. I mean, you're gonna have to prove yourself anyway. But I rather the consumer believe that you are a provider of a premium service. And so that part is really being introspective for the owner. You look at inwardly and say, first of all, from a recruitment perspective, does this even look like a place that I would want to work at? All right? So am I going to be proud to wear this uniform? Am I going to be proud to drive this wrapped truck? Does my brand help communicate the values that this company believes in and stands for?

So there's aspects of that too where you have to just stop and kind of look and just say, Is this really who we are today? And even for myself, we rebranded and renamed my agency. Almost five years ago, we used to be called Graphic D-Signs. It was graphic d dash signs. And 23 years prior to it, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But it wasn't who we were and who we had become. So I had to do that as well. I had to take a hard look. And that was hard too because you sort of like, Well, we've been successful with it. Like, why did we change? I'm like, wait a minute, that's what I tell everyone else that they shouldn't be thinking about. So going through that for us was actually a great thing. I'm so glad we did it. And it helped us on so many different levels. But it was the same thing, like, it wasn't who we were anymore. And yes, we could have gone on doing what we were doing with it. But it just wasn't us anymore. So that's kind of the same thing. And that's hard because that old brand is that warm blanket for most owners. That's what they have comforted because they know they've used it to get to where they are today.

So it takes guts to say I am going to pivot and essentially, sort of not throw away but basically start with a new brand and refresh and do that. And a lot of companies never get to that point. And it is largely because it's a comfort level. And so it's very easy to tell yourself, Well, there's no reason to change because look at how much success we've had with what we have. And like I said, I always look at it and said, Well, it's admirable, like, I think it's amazing how successful you've been with that brand, right? Because it's awful. Imagine where you would have been if you had better tools, if you had better marketing tools, if you had a better foundation for all your other campaigns, and if you had a legitimate brand story. Even like brand story as concept, most home service contractors have literally no brand story. If you were to ask them to identify what's unique and compelling about using our service, and they may throw out some generic stuff, “Well, we're honest and ethical. And our work is 100% guaranteed.” Like, dude, at this point, everybody's work is like 100% guaranteed. It's kind of meaningless at this point. So some of these companies legitimately have no brand story, there's no compelling reason. So what do we do? How do we overcome that? We just spend more money, like we spent more money on marketing, just trying to hammer something to get people to remember to use us. So I'd rather start with the idea that there is a compelling reason why consumers should use your company, and then build and craft a message and a brand story around that ideal.

Krystal Hobbs:

And, Dan, I know you talk a lot about a good business name in your book as well. This is an industry where a lot of people are using initials or their last name. If you're looking at rebranding, a name is always a good place to start. So what does a good business name look like?

Dan Antonelli:

This is again, a very sensitive subject for a lot of owners because maybe it's the last name brand, or worse, an initial base brands. Initial base brands are absolutely the hardest names to get sticky in people's minds 100%. You know, TJS Plumbing, what does that mean to me? Like, what's the visual that comes to mind with that? How does that make me feel? Does it make me feel anything? Why would I ever remember it? And then I associate visuals to make people remember something like that. So again, it becomes something where we have to spend more because it's not something that's memorable. So this year, I think we'll probably rename, I don't know, maybe 40 or 50 companies, I would say. And we've done it probably about 75 times or so I would say we probably renamed companies. We have never experienced a net loss in revenue subsequent to renaming any company that we've done. So people always are worried about that. And it's a legitimate worry, like, you should be worried about what may happen with that. But if it's rolled out and done in the right manner, it's always been net growth after. So what makes a good name? Names that spur a visual in your mind - those typically tend to be very sticky and very easy to remember. Names that are easy to spell. That's also like somebody's last name brands. You speak the name on, let's say, a radio ad, and the consumer still doesn't know how to actually spell it. Like, I want to say that's marketing 101. But there are still a lot of companies that have names that you don't know how to spell. So that's kind of problematic when it comes to your online strategy. So names like that. Names that also have an inferred brand promise are also superior. So if I simply say that name, I will imagine that the service that they would provide will be superior. So like air experts, sounds like a much better-qualified company than TJS Heating and Air does, just by its very name. So any name that can deliver the brand promise, just from the basis of its name itself, is going to be easier to assign a brand promise to. So that's why last name brands are really difficult. So some people might say, Well, we've been in the community for 25 years. And that's a little bit of a different issue than I'm starting an HVAC company next week, and I want to use my last name. Well, now, it's going to take a really long time for people in your community to associate your last name with a specific brand promise. So you could do it and there's obviously plenty of companies that have last name-based brands that are doing very well. But it takes so long for people to assign a value to that last name, rather than starting with a name that already has a value. So I always say I'd rather start with something that has a value because I don't have to wait years for people to establish my reputation. I could start right away when people start feeling something about that deliverables.

It's challenging doing naming. It's really hard. There’s trademark things that have to be dealt with and worked out and you have to make sure that it's done in a very strategic manner when you roll out a new name. We've seen names that are also just so generic and that works against you. Like, for example, a name that is actually a search term. So like, you know, we just renamed a company that does garage doors, and it was called The Garage Door Company. And that was very generic in the sense that you could type that in, or you could type in garage door company and then you'll have all these other competitors trying to beat you on that keyword. And like, that's the name of your company. So generic names like that also really hurt you from an online perspective, because if somebody's searching it, they're not only just gonna get your name, they're gonna get dozens of other people that are vying for that keyword. So like again, if your name is a keyword search term, it's probably not a good idea. Because it's too generic to show up in branded search terms.

Krystal Hobbs:

That makes sense. And I think that's something that not a lot of businesses think about especially with the generic side of things and how that plays out. I know, you have one example in your book of a brand you guys did for Turtley Awesome, which I thought was a brilliant example of like, what to do. Can you walk us through a little bit why that worked?

Dan Antonelli:

That was a name that we pitched. And I remember pitching it to the owner. I think the best relationships we have with clients are ones where they really, really trust us, right? And they really believe in what we do. But I wasn't sure he was ready for it. Honestly, it takes guts to do that, because like, you look at more traditional names for HVAC company that's out there, that's not like a mainstream kind of idea. So I remember pitching it to him. And I'm just like, “Listen, are you ready for this? Like, can you handle this?” And he's like, “I'm totally into it. And I'm totally on board with it.” And then we wrote the tagline for him. And we knew the truck itself was going to be thematic and that we were going to have like this mascot with the turtle and everything and he's crushing it. Like, he's doing so well. He's in Florida and it's just such a fun name. But it's a disruptive name so it's not an expected name. And so, really connecting well with women demographics. The kids are all pointing to it and they're getting mascots made of the actual turtle. And so there are all really cool aspects of that that are working out. But it certainly doesn't feel like every other HVAC company. And sometimes, like, that's something that we hear as an objection. Like, “Well, it doesn't look like what everybody else is doing.” And I'm like, “Bingo! That's exactly what we're going for is we don't want to look like every other HVAC company.” But the natural inclination of some owners is to sort of go back to that safe space because they see what everyone else has been doing. And then we're coming in and saying, “If they're all doing that, we're gonna go the other way.” And so again, it's that comfort level. It's like having the guts to go sort of zig when everyone else is zagging kind of idea if that makes sense.

Krystal Hobbs:

Absolutely. I love that. And that's a great example. So anybody listening right now, you need to go check out the book so you can see what the Turtley Awesome brand looks like.

Dan Antonelli:

We did their website, too. It's a pretty cool website. And again, the website, if you read the website, it's fun to read. Like, most HVAC websites are not fun to read. They're written for an SEO perspective, or they're written for an algorithm. Mrs. Jones doesn't really take any interest in reading or anything like that. But like, the wording on that website is really, it's funny, like, it's fun to read. Like, we infused the story into the wording. So I think that's another aspect to that, like, you see a lot of generic websites that again, from a company that doesn't have any real story or a compelling message to send, they all sound the same, they'll say the same stuff. So when you go on a site like that, and you read the words, sometimes you want to read more of it, because our writers love to use a lot of puns and things like that so it's kind of fun to read. So they get again a very good sense of personality. So you go on a site like that, and then they come to your home to perform service, I don't think you're setting the expectation that this is a company that's coming here to rip me off. He has a company that's really fun. They're very astute in what they do, but they're doing it in a way that makes me feel comfortable with the service. So, that's a great example like I said, working with him was just really fun, probably one of my favorites that we've done. And there was a new company that had started out there, they were previously called King heating and air or something, I can't even remember what they were called, which shows that it wasn't really a good name to begin with.

Krystal Hobbs:

Well, nice work on that one. So, Dan, I know most of our conversation today has been around how a good brand can affect how consumers feel about your company. But I know you said one of the surprising things is how it can affect your culture and your team. So tell us a little bit about the importance of branding when it comes to the internal company.

Dan Antonelli:

Absolutely. And I'm gonna use an example of a company that we renamed and rebranded in upstate New York. They were previously called, and this is the problem, it was TJM Mechanical? Something mechanical so they were focused on commercial, and they wanted to move into residential. And we renamed them Grasshopper. And we learned about grasshoppers and the fact that grasshoppers actually can only move forward. And so the tagline forward as a way of life became not just a tagline externally, but internally as well. And from a cultural perspective, that has been a really huge part of their success. And they've gone from, I think, again, less than 100,000 in revenue for residential, so I think they're projecting four or $5,000,000 18 months later. So really crazy results, crazy numbers. And her ability to attract talent has become so easy, or much easier. Like, she had people, like, once they launched that brand, coming to her seeking employment instead of her trying to have to advertise to attract people. And then once they got there and understood how this idea of forwarding is a way of life, that's really something that has driven, I think, their success. Because it's not just about delivering great service, it is about sort of the idea that everything we do as a company is meant to not only move the company forward but to move our people forward as well - to make them better, to help improve their lives, to help improve their financial situation, all those aspects of it.

And so I think a lot of owners look at brands or rebranding as something that is meant to be external in nature. And for a large part, certainly, it is. But what we find here, later on, is that they didn't really fully understand, from a cultural perspective, how much it was going to change their internal culture. So it sort of becomes this inflection point. And it sort of changes the trajectory of the company. And recruitment becomes easier for sure. Retention becomes easier. And, of course, you have to live up to the values that this new brand is exuding. And I think you have to always have great leadership to instill those values. But it certainly does help shape or reshape culture, and give them an idea of really what the mission is. And so a lot of the launches, when launching a new brand, really become an opportunity for the leadership to speak about the direction that the company is headed, and why the rebrand was necessary. And then of course, what it means for them as an employee. So there are all those aspects to that, that are sort of the hidden or not so visible initial results that happen after a rebrand. But you talk to a company, usually a year or so later, and that's a big thing that they all seem surprised about as far as what it's done internally. Because you hear companies a complain. And I'm not saying that this is always true, but, certainly, a common complaint is we can't find any good people. No one wants to work here. No one wants to work hard, or whatever the case may be, we can't find anyone. And then again, you view what they're presenting. And you say, Well, I wouldn't want to work there either. Like it doesn't look like a place I want to work out whether it's just dated branding, day-to trucks, uniforms, I don't want to wear any of those things. They're all going to play a role in that. So sometimes, again, that inward being introspective and saying well, is it a place I want to work at? You walk into our office here and see the way that we've branded our space and the setup that we have and it's really nice. It looks like a place I want to work at. And that plays a big role. Like, when you walk into the conference room of an HVAC company, like, are the walls branded? Is there messaging about the vision? Is there messaging about who we are as a company, what we believe in, what our values are? Like, all those things, or any of those things there or is it just like all white walls, and it's pretty bland? And so, the wall wraps have become like a really big part of our business too, because we love it after we do the brand that we get to design some of these wall wraps so that when people walk into this space, they're immersed in the brand as well. And, again, I think if you're a potential employee, you walk into a space and your interview in a conference room that has these messaging, you're gonna walk away with a feeling about this company and what they stand for.

Krystal Hobbs:

Absolutely. And I think especially given the labor shortage and all the challenges that all companies in the trades are facing, this is such an important piece that I don't think many people even realize. So I think that's amazing to see how it's impacted some of your clients with their recruitment and retention. So, Dan, I know that there is so much we could cover here and you go a lot deeper in your book when it comes to these concepts. So where can our listeners learn more about the book connect with you and learn more about KickCharge Creative?

Dan Antonelli:

Sure. Well, the book should be available, hopefully, in mid to late September. It'll be on Amazon. It'll be on Kindle. It'll be in iBooks. And you can always actually get the book on our website to you at And if you want to learn more about us, obviously, you can go to that same address too and learn more about what we do.

Krystal Hobbs:

Amazing. Thank you, Dan. And we'll put all of those links in our show notes as well to make it easy to connect with you. Well, thank you so much. This has been such a value-packed episode, and I really, really appreciate you being on the show.

Dan Antonelli:

Thanks for having me, Krystal.

Krystal Hobbs:

Hey, guys, just wanted to say thank you again for listening to Beyond the Tools. I love hearing from our listeners and knowing what topics, what guests, and what's resonating with you from these episodes. So if you want to share your feedback, please do so. You can DM me @reflective marketing on Instagram, and Facebook. We're also on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tiktok, wherever you want to. So @reflective marketing, and if you are enjoying the show, please go ahead and leave us a review. It really really helps us to spread the word to other contractors about our podcast. So thank you so much again.



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