Building and maintaining good public relations is as important a business function as strategic planning, marketing, and sales activities. How the outside world views your organisation has a profound effect on the volume of business you can expect to attract.
After all, word of mouth is one of the most powerful factors in influencing your sales. Good word of mouth can increase your business dramatically. Bad word of mouth can destroy you.
Creating a good public image doesn’t just mean satisfying your customers. It covers every facet of your business, from your dealings with vendors and the community in which you operate, to the image you create through your packaging. It means creating a consistent identity that the outside world immediately associates with your business when they hear its name.
Building a company image
A company image is its “personality”. It is composed of an infinite variety of facts, events, personal histories, advertising, and goals that tie in together to make a certain impression on the public.
Most people think that a company like IBM acquired its powerful corporate image simply by being a powerful corporation. That’s not true: IBM board members, executives, and public relations specialists worked long and hard to create an image that would place IBM in the forefront of the business machine industry.
An image provides a handle for customers to grab onto – McDonald’s has Ronald McDonald entertaining kids with his colorful friends; Telstra links you up with old friends and new. These images appeal to the consumer in just the right way, and the result is increased sales for the companies.
There are many elements that go into building a company image. The key to creating a successful and appropriate image for your business is:
- knowing who your market is, and
- building an image consistently and carefully around that market.
Determining your target market
Knowing your market is important to forming your image. Market research permeates every facet of business. You must remember who you’re talking to as you describe your business to them.
You need to know from the very beginning who your customers will be. Many people have a problem focusing on a specific market, and consequently waste a lot of time and effort attracting people who will never buy from them.
When building a company image, you should direct your energy and strategy toward the segment of the market you have identified as the most likely to purchase your product or utilise your service. Then you need to ask yourself a few key questions that will help you develop the type of image that will attract these people:
- What is the lifestyle of my customers?
- What are their buying habits?
- Are they budget-conscious?
- Where do they live?
- What features do customers like about my product(s)?
- What features do customers like about my competitor’s products?
- What benefits do my competitors list in their promotional material?
- What benefits does my product have that gives my company a competitive advantage?
- How are my competitors’ promotional materials designed? What colours are they using? What typefaces are they using?
- What type of packaging are my competitors using?
- What is the pricing like in the market I am targeting?
Once you know who your target market is, you will be ready to figure out how you are going to develop the right image.
Image is everything
An image develops slowly over time. It’s up to you to build it with foresight and care. There are many ways you can develop your own special image. These include:
As a small business owner, you can’t afford to ignore even the smallest detail when it comes to your printed materials. One of the most important printed items you use is your business card.
A business card says a great deal about a business and it is often the first and only thing a potential customer sees. These days, you can do a lot of creative things with business cards, if you have help from a good artist and printer. They will also incorporate your special message and logo onto letterhead, pamphlets and brochures.
In general, if you want to convey the image of a “no-nonsense” operation, keep your printed materials subdued and businesslike. They don’t have to be boring, however – use a quality stock paper, make your logo prominent and use a bold typeface.
If your business is less formal and more “fun”, then you should probably be a little more creative. Use brightly colored paper stock or try a foil stamp to add some excitement.
The Spoken Word
Many times, taking your message directly to the public is better than putting it in print. Every time you speak at a meeting, lecture at a nearby college, or network at a cocktail party, you are personalising your business by presenting your business to others face to face.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of word of mouth as a tool for advertising, promoting and enhancing your business. You can call yourself a true humanitarian, but unless you get out there and help the homeless or another charitable cause, no one will believe you.
You may want to be known as the expert in clothing executive women, but no one will know until you start holding monthly seminars or fashion shows in your boutique. You also need to dress the part. In other words, your business should be an extension of yourself.
A visual image is most important of all. You can use graphic displays, trade-show exhibits, and special events to make a visual image. You might also use promotional videos to market your business. The computer has made it easy for almost anyone to create sophisticated graphic displays. With all the competition for attention in the marketplace, it is increasingly difficult for the businessperson to gain visibility.
Building an image takes time and careful planning. If you know who your audience is, and what they want from you, you are ahead of the game. The next step – defining what your image should be – involves taking a good look at your business, and deciding how it would best fit in the marketplace.
The final step – establishing your image – is an ongoing process. Remember that any time you distribute printed materials, appear and speak in public, or produce any visual aids or events, you are helping to project and maintain the image you desire.
Using your business name
What’s in a name? If you’re in business, the name of your company can be a very important asset that establishes a strong identity. An effective name is one that describes the type of business you are in. An exotic, unique, or nondescriptive name is generally a liability because it doesn’t associate your business with a product or service.
The name of a company can go a long way toward developing an identity and establishing an image for the business. It creates the first impression the public will have of your company.
A name like Odyssey, Inc. doesn’t say much about the business in question. It doesn’t describe the business. That doesn’t mean Odyssey isn’t a good name, however; it just means it should be more descriptive. If we added “travel” to the name – Odyssey Travel, Inc. – we would know a little bit more about the company.
Can you name a company after yourself? Sure, as long as people are able to associate the name with the type of product you’re selling. In fact, founders used to name their companies after themselves in order to assure the public there was a real person behind the business. Max Factor Cosmetics was named after its founder, Max Factor. Kellogg’s Breakfast Cereals was named after its founder, William Kellogg.
There are advantages to using your name in the title of your business. These are:
- Stronger personal credit rating.
- Greater prestige within the community.
- Instant name recognition.
You need to be careful, though. If disaster strikes and your business goes broke, your personal credit rating will also suffer. Consider building up your personal credit and then converting the business to a corporation by using only your last name. On the other hand, selling a business with a non-family name is easier if you ever want to get out.
Of course, the search for a name can be a very arduous and disappointing one. Even if you choose a name that is only somewhat similar to that of another company, the other company can file suit. Any infringement, or even alleged infringement, on a trademarked name, including its logo or typestyle, can result in a costly lawsuit. Having a company name, however, is a necessity, and a good, descriptive name is an asset to any business.
Choosing your logo
What is so important about having a logo? It is a visual representation of the image you want to convey. The big blue letters of IBM form a monolithic symbol that people have come to associate with quality business equipment. The bucking horse of Ferrari embodies the speed and strength of Ferrari sports cars. In order to build an effective company image, you need to take advantage of this symbolic language.
Begin by following the simple rules of visual communication. Keep these watchwords in mind:
- Originality – Your logo should be original, not imitative. The old rule still applies: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Imitating another company signifies that your company is a follower, not a leader.
- Distinction – Your logo should be memorable. It shouldn’t be distasteful or outlandish. It should, instead, build impact through a clear and functional design.
- Taste – While your logo should be memorable, it should also be aesthetically pleasing.
- Marketability – The logo should be readily adaptable for use in advertising, public relations and sales promotions. It should serve as the symbol that consolidates the entire company.
Although you should keep these rules in mind when developing your logo, remember that any commercial symbol that doesn’t get its message across in a few seconds has failed what is was supposed to do – communicate the company’s line of business and how it regards itself in the marketplace.
Consider how you would like the public to perceive your organisation before you proceed with the design of the logo. Do you want your company perceived as conservative? Brash, with a tremendous amount of creative energy? Luxurious and quality-oriented? On the cutting-edge of the industry? These are questions you need to answer after you’ve researched the industry and the competition.
Once you know what type of impression you want to create in the market, you need to convey that in a design. Almost invariably, the simpler the design, the longer viewers will remember it. That applies to typeface, color and shape. You want an eye-catching, easily understood design.
Choose a typeface that represents the identity you want to project. There are conservative, bold, modern, and classic typefaces. Companies will often develop their own typeface and trademark it. The idea is to match a typeface with the character of the business.
Color is generally used to express a mood. Bright colors are used for companies selling fun products, dark colors are more conservative and serious, and neutrals project a warm, caring mood. Again, your use of color should be tied to the message you are trying to convey.
Many financial services companies use darker colors with a contrasting neutral color. Their intention is to convey a conservative image. On the other hand, toy companies will often use bright colors set against a neutral background in their logos.
Shape, of course, refers to the basic form of the logo. Will it be circular? Square? Rectangular? Triangular? You need to decide how your company will best be perceived through the various shapes you have to choose from.