Branding Your Home Service Business: Standing Out From The Crowd With Dan Antonelli & Evan Hoffman

The home services market is a crowded space. With many companies trying to secure and maintain their foothold, what can you do to make sure your business is noticed? You build and market your brand, of course! In this episode, Tersh Blissett interviews Dan Antonelli and Evan Hoffman, two masters in marketing and sales. Dan and Evan discuss marketing your brand, their work process and why your brand is important. Learn more about how to make your business stand out from Dan and Evan by tuning in.

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Branding Your Home Service Business: Standing Out From The Crowd With Dan Antonelli & Evan Hoffman

I got Dan Antonelli over here with KickCharge. I know you’ve seen his brands around a little bit here and there. You can pick them out of a crowd. They’re great stuff. That’s the thing about everything that they do over there is to make sure that you’re standing out from the crowd. We have HVAC Success Secrets: Revealed, Evan Hoffman. Have you been on that show before?

No, never.

Why not? 

There was a lack of an invite.

There’s some contractual negotiation that takes place.

I’m super excited to have these two guys on the show. We talk all the time and I always ask Dan stuff. He even helped us out with our brand because we were in a crunch to get the new logo out there. We needed it for something. I don’t know what it was, but it was important at the time. Dan was backed up. He was like, “Take a look at this. Take a look at that,” I super appreciate that. I want to talk about branding. He’s the guru when it comes to branding but about the future of the industry and service businesses in general. Dan’s got a magic eight ball, so he’s got it. He knows the future. I know Evan does too. I’m super excited to have both of you guys on the show. With that being said, for anybody that’s reading this, could you two guys give a brief background of who you are and where you’re from?

I’m Dan Antonelli, I run a design agency called KickCharge Creative. We’re based out of New Jersey. We do home service branding. We are a team of about twenty people. We do soup to nuts, everything that’s brand-related. We do brand development, wrap design, print design and digital design. It’s been many years of doing that. At this point, we’re over 1,500 home service brands that we’ve created.

I know a lot of people have the same question. What made you decide to go the route of the design that’s sticking out now? That’s not something that’s been around for years. 

Over the years, we started paying more attention to consumer behavior. We’re trying to figure out how to get inside their heads, how to think about brands in a way that was more unique and disruptive. Over the last several years, we honed in on the idea of disruption and how disruption plays such a huge role in branding, especially for home services.

Home Services Market: You can put a pink and purple van out there and it’s going to be disruptive. It’s different than what everyone else has.

Our idea is based around the concept of leveraging that brand at all the different channels, especially the vehicle, which is one of the most critical applications. We do see tremendous results when we can penetrate the psyche of a consumer because everything that they are conditioned about advertising is conditioned to have them ignore everything you’re trying to tell them.

That’s me. How many times are you advertised to every single day? 

It’s 60,000 pieces of information that you were fed every single day.

Chad Bird, he’s a buddy of mine. We grew up together in the industry. You all did his and it’s awesome. Kudos to their whole brand. It sticks out. Every time you see his vans drive by, it’s there.

It sticks out in a good way in the sense that it’s not something that’s obnoxious. It’s something that’s still delivering a brand promise to that consumer. The tagline that goes along with his visuals is a peach. They are from Georgia, so it makes sense. “We’ll give you a peach of a job,” that’s the tagline that sells that story and set up the deliverable in the consumer’s mind as to what they’re going to get if they hire him. What he had before wasn’t horrible, it was bland.

It was the same red and blue that everybody else always has.

We call that bland. Instead of a brand, it was bland.

Something that is super unique about your approach though, is it’s more than just disruption. You can put a pink and purple van out there and it’s going to be disruptive. It’s different from what everyone else has. The way that you layout the brand is essential on the van.

It’s very clean.

Home Services Market: We’re always making sure that we’re thinking about brands as different as we can and trying to make sure we’re not duplicating exact same strategies in any given market.

The logo is central. It pops. There’s branding that’s effective there. Also, the story that you tell afterwards and how you connect with your customers, I hear it time and time again from every business that has worked with Dan. Everyone says, “I’m so impressed with how well he connected to get our message out there beyond just the logo.” I’ve always been impressed with that.

Not only that, kudos to your entire team. How many of your vans are in the HVAC business? I’m seeing a bunch of them on there. I was like, “I’m going to put my van over there.” 

We won 30 times so far. We swept the last couple of years. That’s cool. One year, somebody ripped off one of our designs and they won with one of our ripped off designs. That was interesting. We still won by default.

That’s crazy. I’ve seen Timo’s. I’ve seen that design ripped off many times. That’s your OG design.

One of the original ones. That was one of the original winners for the HVAC business, truck tops and trucks contests.

I’ve seen you post this before, “Imitation is not the largest form of flattery,” or whatever. It’s because you’re blatantly ripping off their brand and product, and that’s trademarked too. 

It’s trademark infringement. It’s an expensive lesson to learn when you’re on the receiving end of it which is dumb. Invest it the right way from the start.

It doesn’t make sense not to. This was a thing for me when we first started out. Cashflow was tight. Should I invest the money in creating that brand? First off, I don’t know what P&Ls are. I don’t know how to manage money. I’m a service guy that is doing good to charge $75 an hour or whatever the case may be. At that point, should they rebrand? I would hate to have twelve vans because like Fred Kennedy, that’s where Chad and I grew up together. He had a whole fleet of vans that he’s rebranding now.

That’s the quandary. You can go out and start, bootstrap it as best as you can. At a certain point down the road, you’re going to wind up having to redo all those things. Is it more expensive at that point? It is more expensive at that point, but I understand that as a brand-new startup, you may not have the budget to do it. Maybe don’t wrap the trucks fully. Maybe let’s do vinyl lettering to start, to get your name out, and then save the money to do it. We always like, when you have the opportunity, to do it from scratch or from the ground up because we know everything after that point is going to be on brand.

Disruption plays such a huge role in branding, especially for home services. Click To Tweet

We have stuff that pops up every now and then that has our old logos and stuff on it. I don’t want to throw it away, but if I handed this out, people would be confused. 

The funny sayings that we’ve said, “The most expensive logo you’ll ever pay or buy is the one you paid the least for.”

It’s true. Evan, share a little bit about you, who you are and where are you from.

I’m Evan. I’m with On Purpose Media. We run a marketing agency and when we have some spare time on Wednesday afternoons, we drink whiskey. We have some fun with our show, HVAC Success Secrets: Revealed.

Check them out. Where are you all published? I follow you on YouTube. Do you publish on any of the podcast catchers or something like that? 

It’s everywhere you can get your podcast. We’re a little behind on those audio edits, but we do go live every week with YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn.

The editing part of doing a podcast, this part right here can be overwhelming when you’re first starting. Getting guests on the show, how are we going to brand this, and all this other stuff, but then after you start getting rolling, I got 65 episodes that need to be edited. I was like, “I got to find time to do this,” but it’s fun to do and rewarding. What would you say is one of your biggest benefits from doing podcasts in general? 

I’ll give you two perspectives. From our perspective, it’s connecting with people and now there’s a reputation that’s put out there. When we’re meeting people at these events or we’re walking around and I got my hat on, people are coming up and saying, “I watch your show.” It’s really cool. It’s very weird.

It’s crazy because they’re like, “How are you?” I’m like, “Who are you?”

Home Services Market: Colors are such a big deal as well. We’re always looking at colors that in theory and on paper should never be put together. Those are the ones we want to put together because then they’re ownable.

That’s cool from that perspective. It’s fun and entertaining, but the connections that we’ve made have been much more impactful. We can get deeper quicker because they do feel like they know me. That barrier of trust is let down a little bit more. Now, we can have some real conversations and get right into the weeds of what issues they have. Are we a good fit to solve it or is someone else a better fit to solve it? That’s a huge benefit from that perspective. From an HVAC or service business perspective of putting out a show, the value comes in the traffic that can come back to your website.

Would you say they need to have a lot of HVAC specific content in order for that to be the case?

Yes.

Like us, we try not to generate a lot of traffic to our site per se because they are not the same. We talk a lot more business than we do HVAC. 

The layout of this show is very much, how do we give back to the industry? How do we contribute? You’ve done a phenomenal job with that. I want to acknowledge the fact that what you have done for the industry is a gift. The time and energy that you put into this have been phenomenal. The amount that you give back is tremendous.

When it comes to a local business, what’s the benefit of it? Where does the ROI come in for them? If you put out a show and it’s 15, 20 minutes of long-form content that you put out on a weekly basis, you transcribe it, now we put it into a blog. Now you’re on YouTube, podcast networks, and you’ve got a blog post that goes out that’s transcribed. Ten minutes is going to be about 1,000 words, fifteen minutes about 1,500 words, which is a good-sized blog post.

From there, we’re also cutting it up and making micro-videos. Now, you’ve got your Facebook and Instagram posts for the week. You’ve created 3 to 5 pieces of content from that. From one fifteen-minute video that you took the time to do, you’ve now duplicated it out over multiple different media streams. Our belief is who are we to decide how your consumers should receive your content?

That’s a good point. If you only put it out one place, they can only consume it one way. Is that what you want? It’s going to be like, “No, you can’t see us anywhere else.” That’s what you’re telling them if you do that. Dan, have you experienced the podcast world and doing podcasts?

I’m overwhelmed with all the work that goes into it. I’ve done a couple of things to some channels. I run a Facebook Page for wrap design where I’m trying to teach other people how to be better wrap designers. I’ve done a couple of things on that, but the amount of time that it takes to produce this stuff and then to do all the other things to get it out there, it overwhelms me to think about that.

Home Services Market: One thing that gets missed when it comes to the brand is the recruiting aspect of it. It makes your marketing more affordable, but it also helps with retention and it helps attract more people because it looks like you are a more formidable brand in the market.

I think about my personal Facebook posts and things like that and what I have to do to get those things out. It’s like, “I’m going to add another layer of stuff that I’m responsible for.” It’s scary. You make a great point of how much all this content does help. I have a social media person who does KickCharge’s social media. She’s always asking me, “You should do some more live stuff. Everyone loves when you go live.” I’m like, “I should do a lot of things but I’m doing the best I can.”

That’s the real world for a lot of business owners in general. It’s like, “I’m trying to put out fires over here and you want me to create an Instagram post?” Evan, at what point would you hire someone to do your social media stuff? Dan, what made you decide to do it? 

It was a mix of client needs because we run the social media campaigns for a lot of clients and then it was a mix of doing our stuff. Our social media person, Kim has been with us for several years.

Do you have to hire somebody full-time? 

She was full-time from the beginning. She’s been great. She’s the voice of who we are. Even combining client work with KickCharge work, who takes precedence? What do you get to focus on? We focus on the people who are paying our bills first and then we try to get our stuff afterwards.

We have a Facebook user here who asked, “The more brands Dan does, is there ever a concern that his designs will become the noise? It’s already super recognizable that he designs it.” 

You have to remember that when people view our work, especially people that are fans of our work, you have to realize that our work is across the country. They are not concentrated in one geographic region or a specific region. We’re always very conscious of the approaches that we’re using in any given market. That’s part of the initial research that we do. It’s like, “Who is in this market? Have we done anything in this market?” I’m not going to put the same strategy, colors or approach in any given market. I’m going to make sure because that would dilute the effects for both brands that we’re trying to create or that one that we’ve already created, and the new one that’s coming on board.

That would be right for a ticked off customer.

We’re very cognizant of the approaches and strategies that we use. Strategies are dictated by the competitive landscape among other things and the goals of that particular company. It’s not always like we need to do a retro mascot. Maybe we need to do clean and corporate. It depends on a lot of factors. It depends on who they are trying to reach, what their goals are, and things like that.

The most expensive logo you'll ever pay or buy is the one you paid the least for. Click To Tweet

We’re always making sure that we’re thinking about brands as different as we can and trying to make sure we’re not duplicating the exact same strategies in any given market. It’s a big market but again when people follow us and they see that we’re doing 2, 3 or 4 a week coming out, there’s going to be some commonality in terms of our theory about a brand and disruption. There are many awful brands in most given markets. That still plays in our favor.

How do you decide the size of the market before you’re like, “It’s acceptable to have another brand here in this market?” Like the retro style that you’re known for. 

If I have someone and they come up in the competitive research from our new client and saying, “We can compete against this particular company,” I’m not going to do anything that can be remotely confused with them. If it’s a nostalgic base, retro mascot, we’re not going to do nostalgia and a mascot either. We’re going to think about doing something that’s icon-based. Maybe it’s based on their initials.

Do you have some brands out there that are less like the peach? 

That’s all depends on the market, what they want their image to be, and what’s the story they want to tell with their brand.

I feel like at some point it’s like, “I can’t think of anything else.”

It’s hard. Honestly, the hardest part of our job is trying to constantly be fresh and think about different ways that we can do it. There is a finite number of ways that I can show a mascot holding a wrench, but how do we do it? What’s the rest of the wrap design? What’s the rest of the story that we wrap around? How does the tagline interact with the story that we’re telling? We’re trying to think more holistically, not just, “It’s a cool logo and it’s a cool mascot.” It’s how does everything work in a story for this company and how do we make sure every single touchpoint is delivering that story.

You’re building this story and the entire culture of the business around this new brand. Have you ever had a situation where the owner was like, “It’s not going to work. I’m not going to put forth the effort to follow through with this.” You spent the time to build this cool brand but then there’s no follow-up with the brand. 

Are you asking like have we ever had a client who does not want to proceed after we’ve pitched creative?

No, they proceed a little bit. 

We certainly have had scenarios where they are like, “We want you to do the logo and the vehicle,” then that’s it.

I feel like that’s not enough.

The sad part is then we haven’t leveraged what we just built. We haven’t used it to its potential. I hate to see that. I hate to see a beautiful brand and then a generic website, and the content on the website is generic. It could be the same content for your biggest competitor and it would read exactly the same. It’s more than just, “Let’s put your logo on the top and change the button colors. Now you’re branded.” It’s sad that we went through this whole exercise on trying to craft a story, and now we’re going to go generic for everything else. It doesn’t make sense to me but it happens. We can’t do everything for every single client. We’d love to but sometimes it doesn’t work out that we can help them with some of these other channels.

Ron Davis, a close friend of mine. He said, “Huge shout out to Dan.”

Ron’s a good example of a company that color plays a big role in what makes his brand special.

I never would’ve picked his colors. When you see it, it’s like the burgundy and the brown. It works perfectly. It looks amazing. If you would have asked me for a color palette, that would not have been it. 

Even if you think about similar approaches, color is such a big deal as well. We’re always looking at colors that in theory and on paper should never be put together. Those are the ones we want to put together because then they are ownable. That’s why red and blue don’t work because we got Americana associated with red and blue. You’ve got a million HVAC companies associated with them. I don’t want to put a red and blue brand out into any given market if I can avoid it because I can’t own those colors. I can’t say every time I see that blue van, I know that yours. It doesn’t work that way.

That would be tough for sure. We had other questions too, Evan was asking this too, about the future of the industry. I’d like to hear what both of you think about the future of the HVAC and home service industry. 

A big part of it is exactly what Dan is talking about when it comes to brands because brands are going to be vitally important. I’ll let you go deep on that. Branding lets all of your other marketing efforts get cheaper.

What do you mean by that?

When you’ve got a memorable brand, people are searching for you. They are not searching for the service because they remember who it is that they are supposed to be connecting with.

What if they remember the peach but they don’t know the name? I imagine that can be a challenge.

I would build content on the website that talks about the peach specifically being the heating company with the peach. I would make sure that that content exists on the site and multiple different places, so that keywords going to get pulled when it comes up. Whether it’s a blog post or the homepage, as long as it shows up for the site, that’s something I would build in.

Do you feel like branding is the future?

I feel like it’s a vital component of it. I also feel that content creation is vitally important, especially as we move towards an era of voice search being prominent in homes. It’s a lot easier to go to your Alexa or Google Home and say, “I need an AC company,” and it pulls up the one company. You went from a Google search where it has 4 or 5 ads being served, plus the local service ads at the top with three businesses there, the map pack, and another ten in the organic search. Now, it’s boiled down to one business.

Does the transcription from creating a podcast help with that?

Yes, it does.

Because you’re talking in normal talk, I shouldn’t clean up a transcription? 

The more generic you are, the more money it's going to cost you to get sticky in somebody's head. Click To Tweet

The written word as far as like going on a blog post, yes, clean it up. As far as the transcription that goes on to your Spotify or something like that, keep the actual. It helps in furthering that brand in the market because you’re putting out your voice and now that matters. You’re making a difference. You’re adding more value. You are the expert in the area. You’re going to get all the natural traffic that’s going to come back to your site because when you are national with content, whether that’s a blog post or YouTube video, people are naturally coming back to your website to then read that blog post.

You get some of the domain authority. That’s one of the big words that I don’t know what it means, but I stuck it in there hoping for the best.

To your point too, Roy Williams who is from the Wizard of Ads wrote this in his book, “Overspending on marketing is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” When you boil it all down, that’s the reality. When you see some of the numbers people talk about as far as how much they need to spend on advertising, a lot of it is because they have an unremarkable brand. The more generic and the more bland you are, the more money it’s going to cost you to get sticky in somebody’s head.

We want our clients to spend the least amount of money possible. I feel like sometimes we’re the only marketing agency ever to say, “We want you to spend less money not more money with us.” That’s the whole idea. Brand search has become such a big deal as far as the strategy for getting more leads from the digital channels.

I’d rather someone type in the name of the company and know we’re going to show up number one for our branded name rather than, “Heating repair Georgia,” and then hope that my organic efforts have been number one. We may not be number one on that, but I know we’re going to be number one for brand searches. It’s hammering home that brand and that brand-centric approach, especially when it comes to the vehicle.

How many times have you seen a competitor ranking high? I see it in pay-per-click all the time. 

Pay-per-click, that’s a defensive strategy, which if I’m being honest is a bad move. Maybe from a digital marketing perspective like you guys might think that that’s something you should do.

I used to get so mad whenever I’d see how many times I was paying for clicks to my own brand name and they’re like, “You got to do it because all your competitors are doing your name too.” I’m like, “What a jerk.” 

There’s a big competitor in the digital marketing space that bought all of our keywords once. On some level, I was almost flattered. I’m like, “You guys are worried about me? Little Aussie, you guys are buying all my keywords.” I’m like, “No one’s going to get confused with you and us, so have at it.” I told all my employees to click on it.

The other thing that gets missed too when it comes to the brand is the recruiting aspect of it. Yes, it makes your marketing more affordable but it also helps with retention. It helps attract more people because it looks like you are a more formidable brand in the market and stable, “There’s less risk here. I’m going to go work for them instead.” That was a conversation I had with a potential client that’s a business owner.

You see these guys saying, “I can’t get anybody to work for me.” I know the labor market is super tough but sometimes you look at, “What are they giving their employees? What does the brand look like? Are they going to be proud to wear a uniform or get in that truck?” It’s like you can’t get there with it. I’m like, “That’s part of the problem. Do you look like a place that people want to work?” Being introspective and looking at it yourself and saying, “Maybe that logo that we had for 25 years is dated.” Who’s going to tell you that? Are your employees going to tell you that your logo sucks? Is your wife or husband going to tell you? Nobody is going to tell you.

It depends on the culture that you built in your organization.

For a lot of employees that also represents a warm blanket. They are afraid of change and they don’t want to change. Many of our clients that we’ve rebranded, before they were announcing that they were rebranding to our employees, I was like, “Why are we changing?”

It’s the comfort level there. We do a lot of virtual interviews and hiring events. We’ve had people come on the show, it’s on Zoom. They’ll come on and say, “I’ve been following you all. You look like a fun place to work.” I’m like, “Are you a stalker? You’ve been watching us?” He was like, “I’ve seen you in this event over here and you all did this over there.” They recognize our brand every time that we were doing something. It was instant. As soon as we had the job out there, they applied for it wanting to work with us. There’s so much that we could be talking about here but we have a whole lot of stuff going on here. How do people connect with each of you and follow you along the way, Dan?

Our website is KickCharge.com. My email is Dan@KickCharge.com.

What’s the process or the timeline to rebrand if they want to do that? 

We’re booked out for almost three months to start. Once we start a typical rollout, depending on how many assets are going to be part of that rollout, it could be anywhere from 3 to 6 months to get the new brand, truck, website, and all those different things.

How many vans have wheels matching the Instagram stories that I see? I’m like, “I’ll drive that thing around.” 

There’s a few. There are two that we did for Element Air in Louisville, and another one that we did for Clog Wizard in Delaware. We had mocked it up with the purple rims. Some of the 3D rendering software allows us to change rim colors and stuff. We’re like, “This looks badass.” We didn’t think like anybody was going to do it and both clients did it. It’s fun because that’s taken it to the next level. There’s another nostalgic client that we did the branding for, Atlas Plumbing in Vegas. If you google it, you could see they have a Chevy Express where they put the white wall tires on the van and it looks cool. It’s fun when we have clients that go all out like that.

That is awesome.

I’m Evan Hoffman. You can find me on Facebook. HVAC Success Secrets: Revealed is our Facebook group. We’ve got a group as well as the show. You can check us out in both places there. Our website is OnPurposeMedia.ca because we are from Canada.

You all record every Wednesday afternoon. 

Wednesday 2:00 PM Mountain.

I appreciate everybody that’s on here and sticking it out to the end. I’m super thankful that you all would come and hang out with me for a little bit. You all have a wonderful day and we’ll talk again soon. See you.

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About Dan Antonelli

Growing a small business is no easy task. It takes ingenuity, resolve and setbacks before reaching success.

Dan knows this because he’s lived it.

From a one-person basement shop to an award-winning agency, Dan navigated the tumultuous small business landscape and lived to tell the tale. Moreover, he’s helped over 1,000 individual brands recognize the better side of business: all while building a best-in-class agency that’s collectively earned over 200 design awards.

Ever since he began hand-lettering trucks at 14, Dan has been chasing his passion for brand building and logo design. His expertise on small business marketing has been referenced by Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fox Business News, SiriusXM, SignCraft Magazine, Intuit Small Business Blog, The Newark Star Ledger, HVACR Magazine, Contracting Business, and Green Industry Pros, among others.

Dan is frequently recruited to speak at workshops and industry trade shows as a brand master and champion of small business success. The definitive industry expert on logo design for small business, Dan has authored three books on the subject and established KickCharge® Creative as the premier brand-building agency for small businesses nationwide.

His latest book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, is a critically acclaimed playbook for all-things branding. Check it out here.

Dan relishes helping small business owners and entrepreneurs crush their competition. As President of KickCharge, he oversees all aspects of brand design and development. As Creative Director, he combines his design passion with seasoned brand-building expertise. As the nation’s leading small business branding advocate, Dan reminds clients to invest in their brand and embrace it as the rock-solid foundation of a successful business.

Driven by his relentless desire to surpass the industry standard for small business branding, Dan operates with a single mantra in mind: Be better today than you were yesterday.

Fiercely competitive by nature, Dan is also an avid Cat 3 cyclist, as well as the organizer and promoter of our agency’s very own team – KickCharge Creative Cycling Team, which includes nearly a dozen cyclists who compete or ride in various cycling events in New Jersey and beyond.

About Evan Hoffman

Co-Founder – Website/SEO Manager

“If you help enough people get what they want you will have everything you want” – Zig Zigler. This quote has been a driving purpose for Evan since getting into business for himself while attending the University of Alberta. What you need to know about Evan is he is a competitor. This is exactly what you want in someone running your SEO and PPC campaigns, as he’s going to do whatever is necessary to win you that top placement.

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