<< Continued from Part 3: Building a Following

And now, a rant on self storage branding

At StorageFront, we’re in the business of web marketing for self storage. Before starting this company I spent 15 years marketing businesses in a bunch of different industries. I love marketing like hippies love hemp. So you can imagine my unease when I hear operators in this industry say, “Brand doesn’t really factor into a renter’s decision unless you’re a national chain, like Public Storage or Extra Space. Just throw a logo together and write something about me.”

Yer killin’ me. Why don’t you guys just stab me in the heart.

You don’t have to be one of the top 20 self storage chains before branding matters to your business. A brand isn’t just a name and a logo. It’s your position, your personality, your people—and the expectation consumers build of those things over time. Without that, you’re just another boring acre of garages with wide driveways and climate control. You have to do something to avoid the commodity label and the profit-sucking $1 move-in special.

You’re just empty square feet behind a fence? Yeah, and GE is just a light bulb. Yet somehow people prefer GE bulbs to generic brands on the same shelf. GE knows it isn’t branding bulbs; it’s branding trust. What are you branding?

Successful operators get it. At SSA’s 2010 Spring Conference in Colorado Springs, I met Bob Cerrone, SVP of Strategic Storage Trust. He talked of his concerted effort to build a strong new brand for 60 facilities. He seemed as invested in the brand identity as he was in price, location and amenities. That’s because he knows that a renter in, say, California, can choose from hundreds of different storage units with the same amenities. He knows he has to leverage his image to lure that renter.

What does Twitter have to do with branding?

Self storage is a need-based business. That means people don’t call you until they need you. No matter what you do with your marketing, you’re not going to stir more need for self storage the way Apple stirs more need for iPhone apps. There are only so many renters out there to share between 50,000 U.S. facilities. So you want people to know you and your business when the need for self storage arises. That means you have to stay in front of them. You have to interact.

“If you want people to know who you are and remember the name of your business, you have to keep putting it in front of them and you have to continue to interact with your buyers.” - Joel Comm, Twitter Power

This is especially true for the small to medium operators. You guys have the ability to express unique personality and flexibility that the big guys can’t—what with their strict brand guidelines and corporate communications departments.

Use Twitter to build and support your brand

Remember the choice you made in Part 2: Getting Started? We talked about deciding “who” will be tweeting – yourself, your company, or both – and committing to that voice for the duration of your Twitter life. That way, your followers will learn what to expect from you and your image will grow stronger over time.

So what’s your “story”? Are you friendly and personable? Automated and fast? Cheap and easy? Are you an old-fashioned values mom-and-pop shop with big-box America growing up around you? Are you a convenient, streamlined option in the middle of an office or retail or medical park? Are you an upscale facility with state-of-the-art security? Are you patriotic to the core, like this facility in Wasilla, Alaska? Do you care about the local economy? Do you give away hot coffee on the commute to the big city? Are you passionate about ‘going green’?

Attach your company’s name to that story so that when the customer sees it, he learns to associate with it.

Now, think back to what it took to be popular in high school—a sense of style, a quick wit, always having something cool going on. These are all qualities of Twitter masters. Use these techniques to build your story. Inject relatable personality and random thoughts between self storage tips, service values and limited-time deals. It can go a long way to maintaining interest. Make it human, but not too personal (no one wants to read about your indigestion).

Then watch and learn. What are the styles and techniques of the people you follow? What makes them responsive to the people they follow? Try to spark that kind of inquisitiveness without veering away from your story.

Always stick with your story. Switching voices or changing strategies can dilute your image, like water dilutes vodka, and nobody likes a weak drink.

Finally, mix one-way messages with two-way conversations. Like I said in Part 1: Why I Love Twitter: Twitter wasn’t built for broadcast marketing messages. If you use it that way, you might alienate and lose your followers.

<< Part 3: Building a Following | Part 5: How to Tweet >>