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Time to Take Responsibility for Marketing Your Own Brand

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Service centers tend to excel at such operational disciplines as inventory management, processing and logistics, but often fall short when it comes to marketing. After all, the products they sell are just commodities, right? Not necessarily. Just because service centers are primarily distributors doesn’t mean they can’t find a way to create a brand preference in the minds of their customers.

A case in point is High Steel Service Center (see article on page 30). The Lancaster, Pa., metals distributor recently invested $10 million in a new coil processing line that combines two Bradbury roller levelers and one Red Bud Industries stretcher leveler to produce steel sheet that is absolutely flat and stress free. Company executives are so confident in their product that they have applied for a trademark and are marketing it under the brand name: “HIGHSL: Panel-Flat that Stays Flat.”

“High Steel Service Center offers a unique competitive advantage to its customers by eliminating their number one challenge: problems relating to flatness and stress removal,” says Rick Bennett, company president. By recognizing a need and offering a unique solution, High Steel hopes to distinguish itself from the many purveyors of commodity sheet.

Metal distributors are highly vulnerable to the commodity trap. In many customers’ minds, one metal sheet, bar or tube is pretty much the same as any other. Therefore, each transaction boils down to a negotiation over price and delivery. The task for metals marketers is to show customers that their product is somehow different and more valuable, and justifies a premium price. This explains the trend toward greater value-added processing in the service center sector.

Admittedly, differentiating commodity products is very challenging. Most companies try to convince customers that the quality of the products and services they offer is superior to the competition’s. That may have worked in the past, but expectations are so universally high today that good quality is no longer a differentiator, but basically the cost of entry.

Service centers don’t necessarily have to create their own brands from scratch, but could do a better job of leveraging those of their suppliers. Distributors of KaiserSelect Manifold Bar, Concast Metals’ lead-free GreenAlloys or Sapa’s ACC-U-LINE aluminum products, for example, should make sure their customers come to value the special attributes of these products. Promoting a brand by communicating its unique selling proposition takes a lot of time and effort. Consistent use of brand elements such as the name, logo, color and packaging become very important.

Brand marketing is not easy, but it can be done, even by service centers. Isn’t it time for you to take responsibility for your own brand?