Build Your Brand to Win More Bids: Interview with Northstone
There are many different definitions of a brand, but our favorite one is from Marty Neumeier, author and speaker on all things regarding brands. He starts by defining what a brand is not: “A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product.” Neumeier goes on to say that “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
We sat down with Vic Bertrand, President of the landscaping company, Northstone, to discuss the importance of branding in the landscape construction industry. Northstone specializes in high-end residential and commercial projects and has built a strong reputation for itself by successfully building its brand.
Why do you believe branding is important, particularly in the landscape industry?
The concept of establishing a brand is important in every industry, of course, but in this industry, I would say it is even more important. The reason is because people are trusting you with their hard-earned money on a much larger scale than with other types of purchases. Put yourself in the shoes of a homeowner looking to redo their outdoor living space. If it’s a high-end client, they could be looking at spending over $100,000. With that in mind, you can imagine what a big decision it can be to pick a company to execute that project.
A strong brand is important for a landscape company because it gives them instant credibility and trustworthiness. Your brand is your reputation. It can give you an edge versus other companies when bidding for the same jobs.
Is strong branding just as impactful to help win residential, commercial and city projects?
I would give a little more importance to branding and brand recognition when it comes to residential landscaping. If you’re a landscape company trying to get into high-end residential jobs, I highly recommend investing in your brand.
Commercial landscaping is also a lot about branding and reputation.
On the other hand, when it comes to city projects, I wouldn’t say branding is as important. It’s more about price.
What key elements make up a successful brand for a large landscape company?
To me, a brand is successful when your target clientele can hear your name or see your website and associate those elements with your vision and purpose. For example, if I show a stranger Northstone’s website or Instagram, they might think of words like: high-end, modern, professional, lifestyle and luxury. Then, if I ask a past customer, they might add: excellent service, trustworthy and honest. These associations are the building blocks of a strong brand.
While visual elements like logos, colors and a website can have short-term effects on brand perception, the real challenge – establishing trust and credibility – is built over time. In our industry, it is done by executing good quality work, providing great service and being honest. If we can deliver a quality project and service a customer well, that customer will then trust the Northstone brand. Then, they are going to tell their friends about Northstone. It becomes a word of mouth and referral business, and there is nothing better than that!
There is no doubt that visual identity is an important factor in building a successful brand. However, if you can’t execute, and make your customers happy, then that visual identity means absolutely nothing.
Can you tell us a bit more about Northstone’s branding journey?
Our branding journey started with establishing our vision, target clientele and value proposition. Essentially, who we wanted to be, who we wanted to serve and how we would do it better than competitors.
Once that was clear, we hired a freelance creative director and a designer. They helped translate that business identity into marketing assets like our logo, colors, style guide, and website.
What is the most iconic visual element of the Northstone brand?
It is definitely the color yellow. However, we did not just wake up and say, “oh yeah, let’s go with bright yellow everywhere: yard signs, uniforms, t-shirts, everything.” There is research behind that color choice.
As part of our vision, we wanted to become a known and recognized brand. What’s one way to be recognized? Visually standing out and popping. With that in mind, our creative director came back with some research. He found, that yellow is the most visible, impactful color. That is why we chose this very yellow branding.
Funny enough, I was not convinced about the yellow at first. They caught us off guard with that choice, but that’s what’s great about working with external designers. They will present things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of yourself or that are out of your comfort zone.
What advice do you have for a landscape company looking to develop or refresh its brand?
Again, unless you stand behind your brand and deliver what it promises, your branding means nothing. So, my first piece of advice is to make sure you are delivering on your brand promise. Focus on your service and make sure your customers are happy.
That being said, if you’ve been around for many years, my advice would be to stick to your core and find a way to evolve it without losing its “essence” or recognizability. Find a good graphic designer to help you with that evolution. If you look at the biggest brands in the world; Coca-Cola, Walmart, Nike, McDonald’s, they slowly, over the years, evolve their branding.
If you are a new company, I’d say start with clearly identifying your vision, target audience, and what you want to be known for in the industry. Then bring in graphic designers to help you build off of that.
At the end of the day, you should be proud of your company and your brand. If you can execute on what your brand stands for, success will come.