The Commodity Conspiracy

2020 Coast-to-Coast Tour of America: On Friday, October 16, we were cruising along on I-40 when I realized it was time to gas up. It had been some time since we’d seen a gas sign. I pulled off at the next exit.

I saw a big sign that said Roadkill Café– “You Kill ‘Em We Grill ‘Em.” The cafe was covered in Route 66 memorabilia. How could I pass up the Roadkill Café? This name along with their slogan has the benefit of shock and awe. Never underestimate the power of a name.

We waited outside until there was room under the Covid guidelines for us. Roadkill Cafe is a colorful, a one-of-a-kind restaurant. We’ve all noticed the lengths restaurants go to sell their meals through catchy descriptions. The most obvious example is McDonald’s Big Mac.

I’ve never seen descriptions like Road Kills’: Pit Bull Pot Pie (shepherd’s pie), Road Toad Ala Mode (ice cream), Splatter Platter (appetizer sampler), Rigor Mortis Tortoise (chicken and dumplings), are both striking and entertaining. Let’s face it, generic cheeseburgers can get a little boring. You add   the words “centerline bovine” and suddenly the burger takes on a whole new character.

Every business struggles to keep from being thought of as a commodity. This is particularly true if you bid for your business. The assumption is made that the job must go to the lowest bidder. Regardless of who you are, the project will be completed, and there will be no differences in your work than anyone else’s.

One way to ensure you will stand out is using vivid imagery when describing your organization, your team, and the nature of your work. This becomes extremely important when you are describing work change orders and required scope changes. You add value in the way you describe the work while helping your client visualize the action. 

The nouns and adjectives you choose always have influence. Equipment isn’t fastened; it is secured or anchored. The use of dust barriers “safeguard pristine care for the environment.” “Installed new hangers on the water pipe” becomes “procured the design, provision and installation of the added seismic and supporting systems for domestic hot water system.” When you anchor boilers, “seismically secured the HW boilers utilizing the pre-engineered anchoring system in compliance with project specification 26.007-01 and IBC code.” If you lifted the air handlers, you “hoisted the 22 each AHU’s via 260 ton hydro crane onto the rooftop structural supporting system.”

Though it may be difficult to be creative with standard terms that are not subjective. Your detailed descriptions help your clients interpret the request and can be useful down the road in cases of discrepancies, saving you time and money.

I urge you to consider what more you can do to ensure you stand out, that you distinguish yourself from your competitors. Otherwise, you become a commodity and the buyer sets your price.

Your name can reframe and change the game.