WHAT TO EXPECT
Your company and/or product identity impacts your bottom line. A positive company and product identity will enhance your sales and your entire marketing communications plan. This module examines the importance of your company’s identity and explains how you can create and project an image that will help you sell your product or service.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. What You Should Know Before Getting Started
Is Your “Company Identity” The Same As Your “Company Image?”
What Specific Characteristics Comprise My Business Identity?
Why Is My Business Identity So Important?
II. The Process Of Creating Your Company’s Identity
A. Determine Your Business Identity
B. Create Your Identity
C. Project Your Identity
III. Some Last Thoughts About Developing Your Image
IV. Training Module Checklist
I. WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GETTING STARTED
Is Your “Company Identity” The Same As Your “Company Image?”
The two purposes of this discussion, are very close in meaning but somewhat nuanced. Your company identity can be defined as the various characteristics by which you and your product are recognized and known. Your company image therefore, is how your business identity is perceived by customers, professional associates, the media, and the public at large.
Apple Computer, for example, is known for pioneering state-of-the-art computer products. Most consumers are familiar with the Apple Logo. The production of computers and computer technology is one aspect of their corporate identity. But how is this company perceived? What image does it project? Opinions may vary, but generally, Apple Computer is considered a pioneer–a company that several years ago set out to change the world with computers, and did.
What Specific Characteristics Comprise My Business Identity?
There are many characteristics that establish your business identity: your product or service, logo, and advertisements are the most obvious features that tell your potential customers who you are. But there are many additional elements that contribute to your image including your office location, the paper you use for correspondence, and even how you speak over the phone. Your identity is affected by everything you do that your customers and potential customers might become aware of.
Why Is My Business Identity So Important?
There may be a temptation on the part of new business owners to think: “If my product or service is good, that’s all that counts.” While a quality product is essential to a quality image. The reality is that in today’s business arena, image sells. If you’re a financial planner and extremely adept at investing other people’s money, you need to communicate that you’re not only financially smart, but that you’re reliable and trustworthy. You wouldn’t visit a client’s office dressed in jeans and a t-shirt; you would probably wear a conservative suit. Why? Because a conservative suit conveys the image that you are dependable, reliable–the kind of person who can be trusted to handle finances. People don’t want to give their money to someone who conveys via their dress, that they aren’t serious in a business situation. For this type of business you wouldn’t have a business card printed in neon colors either. A white card with a traditional type face would be a more appropriate choice.
II. PROCESS OF CREATING YOUR COMPANY’S IDENTITY
The process of creating your company’s identity will follow these stages:
A. Determine Your Business Identity
B. Design Your Business Identity
C. Communicate Your Business Identity
A. DETERMINE YOUR BUSINESS IDENTITY
Ask yourself this question: What do I want my customers to say and think about my product and company? Answering this question will help you determine what kind of identity you want to establish. For example, do you want your image to be that of a pioneer, innovative, high tech, reliable, full of status, conservative? When determining your identity, you must also evaluate and consider three important factors:
1. Type Of Business and Product.
If your business is providing entertainment to children’s parties your identity is likely to be fun and lighthearted. Your logo would encompass bright colors and it would be highly appropriate to have balloons in your office. Your image must make sense and match what you do. If you sell expensive custom watches, your image must communicate status and elegance, but a tire wholesaler has to convince his customers his product is reliable and durable. In general, professions dealing with finances project conservative images. Companies dealing with advanced technologies project modern images. Advertising agencies and design firms reflect artistic identities.
2. Target Market.
A rule of thumb to follow in developing your identity is that it should match the identity of your customers and potential customers. If you own a corporate cleaning service and are targeting Wall Street Firms, you should project the conservative image of your potential customers. You might be tempted to think, “I’m not handling the money, I’m just cleaning their offices,” but that would be a mistake. People like to deal with people who reflect their own image. It makes them more comfortable because they are dealing with a known entity, someone they can relate to and understand. It’s important to remember that there is always a subtle, yet pervasive psychology operating as a potential customer makes a decision to buy. Although the quality of your product and service is a major factor in the outcome of the process, they judge your company by its image. If you become business associates, your image and reputation will impact on their image and reputation. That’s why a business are so careful about who becomes associated with them.
3. Your Competitors.
You must also determine the image your competitors have. There are two schools of thought on this issue. One that says your own business identity should come close to your competitor’s and the other that says you should stand out from your competition. For an identity with the greatest impact, you want an appropriate blend of the two. If you’re a new pharmaceutical company and your competition has been in business for several years and has an excellent reputation, you will not be able to match their image in terms of consistency and reliability. You shouldn’t try. Certainly, you’ll want to project an image that like them, you have smart and trustworthy people working for you. But what you need is an image that can give you a competitive advantage. In this situation you would construct your identity to suggest that you’re an “innovator. “You would turn to the fact that you’re a new, fresh company with a different approach to research and development to your advantage. Your advertisements would stress that because you don’t have to deal with a tangled bureaucracy, you can spend more time coming up with cutting-edge products. Write down what you would like your business identity to be:
B. CREATE YOUR IDENTITY
In order to project the identity that’s right for your type of business and target market, you must create it. You do this by establishing a consistent look and feel to all your communications. A carefully crafted identity begins with a logo. While there are many important elements that will help you establish your identity, none is more critical than your logo. Your logo appears on all of your correspondence, your business card, and in your advertisements. The purpose of a logo is to instantly convey the essence of your company’s identity. One of the most serious mistakes you can make is not to have your logo professionally designed. If you think you can’t afford professional help, think again. An inappropriate logo will cost you far more in the long run in terms of sales. If your budget prohibits hiring a design firm there are many talented freelance designers you can hire to work with you. As you work with a professional designer, here are some basic guidelines:
Make a point to notice other company’s logos. Take a stack of magazines and do some easy research. Look at them critically and ask yourself what kind of image they convey and why.
Avoid Graphics. Graphic emblems or complex geometric patterns usually don’t work for logos. In fact, the simpler and more understated your logo, the more impact it will have. Graphics and patterns will complicate your logo when its purpose is to quickly make a statement about your company or product.
Color is a significant element of a logo. Bright colors are strong attention getters and excite people. Blue and gray are conservative colors. If you want to convey an image that your company is hot, trendy, and on the cutting-edge, use red, yellow, and orange. You can use the same color as your competitor uses but vary the shade to differentiate your business. American Express for example, uses a consistent typestyle in all of their communications. They employ the same shade of the color green throughout all of their marketing communications involving their basic credit card. The color green is a significant, inseparable aspect of their logo.
Typestyle. Bold blocks of text invoke the image that the company is strong and large. Italic type can convey a classic or upscale image. Whatever typestyle you choose, it should be simple to read.
Once you have a successful combination of color and type, you may then consider embellishing your name with a single, simple graphic element such as a line, border, or box. The Gap, for example, uses a dark box to great affect in their logo. Or, you may alter or manipulate one letter to communicate the idea that your company is like your competition’s, established and trustworthy, but that there’s something different and exciting going on. Intel employs this technique effectively by dropping the letter e in their name below the rest of the letters. It’s eye catching and makes a powerful statement.
Tagline. The short and snappy sentence or words that appear underneath a logo is the tagline. Taglines are considered to be an intrinsic part of the logo offering a brief explanation of a company’s philosophy. While you want to adopt an effective logo and stick with it permanently, taglines can change as the company grows, evolves, and expands their product line.
Here’s some examples of taglines:
General Electric: “We Bring Good Things To Life.”
Hyatt Hotels: “We’ve Thought of Everything.”
Lexus: “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”
British Airways: “The World’s Favorite Airline.”
Each of the above taglines doesn’t merely suggest an identity, it explicitly tells people what the identity is. If a company is successful in creating the right logo and tagline, the consumer will believe it. When writing your tagline, first isolate two key words you want associated with your identity. Quality, Perfection, Favorite, Innovative, Luxury, Solutions, Affordable, Inventing, Think…
Choose the word that you want to sum up your business. Now write a short sentence–no more than six words–to encompass or explain your key word. If you isolated the word “Solution” your tagline might be: “Financial Solutions For Small Businesses.” It’s very clear from this tagline who this company’s market is and what they’re doing for them.
C. PROJECT YOUR IDENTITY
Now that you’ve created your logo, it must appear on all of your communication vehicles including letterhead, your invoices, envelopes, business cards, and packaging. The “look” you establish in your logo in terms of color and stylistic elements must then be integrated to all of your communications. If you use the color red in your logo, your stationary should too. If you use a typestyle, your sales brochures and company literature you must use a compatible typestyle. Consistency and repetition are how you will firmly root your image into the minds of your target market and the public at large.
2. Communication Tools.
Integrating your logo into your communications is the first step, next you must also employ your marketing tools carefully and correctly:
Sales Brochure. If a prospective customer called you today and asked you to send information about your product or service what would you do? Send them a letter and three product sheets stapled together explaining your business and product offering? Even if your material is well-written, you will convey an image that you’re a small, possibly not well-established organization. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not, the point is in the eyes of your prospective customer it’s a possibility. You should have a sales brochure to communicate the following:
Who you are.
What business you’re in.
Your product or service’s features.
The benefits a client will yield by doing business with you.
If your budget isn’t going to permit using an outside agency to produce your brochure, you can create a simple, yet effective piece using a laser printer and a pre-designed brochure format available with almost all desktop publishing programs. Once, you’ve established yourself however, a laser printed brochure won’t be suitable. You should hire a design agency to create one for you with photographs and graphics. It’s an essential component of a professional organization’s sales materials.
Media Kits. Generating local or national media coverage, or publicity can greatly enhance your image and impress your clients. People have a tendency to assume that if you’ve been featured in a magazine or appear on television, that you must have something worthwhile going on in your business. You can’t just call a journalist and say, “I have a great product, write about me,” you have to convince them your company is worth writing about. One of the ways you do this is by sending them a media kit. You can create a media kit by filling a folder with relevant information about your business. The folder doesn’t have to be slick, but it should be the same color you’re using for your “look.” Put your logo on the outside cover. A media kit contains the following:
A press release that explains what is new, different, or exciting about your product or service
A sales brochure.
A product sample or photograph.
Related literature such as articles from newspapers or magazines.
Publicity is just one aspect of public relations. Supporting a local cause or charity, another PR function, will contribute to the favorable image in your local community. Public relation programs can help correct an organization’s negative public image. For example, after an oil spill, a chemical company might make a large donation to a environmental agency in order to counteract the unfavorable impression that they’re ruining the environment. Many companies hire public relations agencies or publicists to help them secure publicity in print and broadcast media and manage their public image. Once, you’ve established yourself, you may want to consider consulting or hiring a professional PR person. Your local Public Relations Society can help you pinpoint an appropriate firm or freelancer.
Business Correspondence. All of your written material, whether it be a letter to a professional associate, a sales letter to a potential client, or a press release to a journalist all reflect your image.
Content. Everything you write that’s read by a customer is a window into your organization, telling them about you and the way you handle your business. A sales brochure can be beautifully designed, but if the copy isn’t effective, or if it’s too long and doesn’t follow a logical sequence, you will damage your image. Many new businesses make the mistake of thinking they know best how to write about their products and services. You must make an effort to learn the principles of sales and business writing. For example, it’s easy to confuse a product’s features with benefits. Benefits are what sell a product, not its features. For example, you would never write: “You’ll love our electronic checking account.” You would write: “The electronic checking feature means you never have to worry about getting your check in your account on time.” If you have good writing skills you can learn how to write effectively to appeal to your target market. If sales writing is not one of your strengths, or a particular strength of any of your employees, you should hire a copywriter to assist you in all of your communications. Copywriters are trained in the art of writing copy that sells. Again, you must think of the consequences of not paying a professional to do a job when you’re not qualified to do it yourself. Executing one ill-conceived, poorly written sales letter will encourage a potential client to decide to take their business elsewhere.
Editing. Even if you have excellent sales writing skills, never trust the editing process to your own eyes. It’s difficult to catch your own mistakes. Consider how it will make you look if you accidentally sent a sales brochure with typos in it. You’ll appear unprofessional and careless.
A final word about your communications: Never create any sales literature or correspondence on a dot matrix printer. To do so is to broadcast that you’re a small operation with low standards and few resources. A laser printer combined with a good word processing program will give the ability to produce attractive and professional materials. If a laser printer is an impossible purchase for you right now, you still have the option of using your local print shop.
Make sure you use high quality bond paper for all external communications and reserve the less expensive paper for in-house correspondence. Most companies use a 70-pound bond paper. Make sure to choose a color that fits with your logo and look.
3. Physical aspects of your company’s identity.
Aside from business communications, you communicate a great deal about your business in physical ways.
Your location. If you establish your business in a professional office park or building, you’re telling everyone that you’re serious about your business. If you rent office space in a shopping center however, it may be cheaper, but your potential clients won’t view you as favorably as if you were in a more professional location. You should be extremely careful about working from home if your clients and potential customers will be meeting with your there. Many businesses such as doctor’s offices are located in houses, but that’s because doctors want to be accessible to where their patients live. And they almost always have a separate entrance. Unless you have a separate room dedicated solely as office space, you should avoid professional meetings in your home. Suggest instead that you will meet at your client’s office or schedule lunch meetings at a restaurant.
Your office furniture. Don’t furnish your office with leftovers from home. If your budget is a problem, take care of first things first. Since it’s the first view potential customers get when they enter your office, a reception area should be decorating priority number one. There must be a few comfortable chairs and a table. Go for quality rather than quantity. Art work that reflects your identity is a consideration too.
Next concentrate on your conference room rather than your office. This is especially important if you have people who work for you that also need to meet with clients. There should be at least one private, well-furnished room everyone has access to. You can always keep prospective clients out of your offices, but you will need a comfortable, functional, and appealing area to meet with them in.
If you work from home, consider installing a separate business line that only you have access to. The phone company also provides businesses with convenient phone numbers with zeros in them. This makes a listing in the yellow pages more convenient. You should have voice mail or an answering machine installed for your business line. Voice mail is now accessible to everyone and provides better sound quality than an answering machine. Answering machines frequently encounter mechanical problems too. If you’re a one person operation, have a friend of the opposite sex with a professional phone voice record your message for you. It will give the appearance that you have employees working for you. An answering service is an even better alternative because your customers will always reach a live person and they’ll think you have a receptionist.
Office Equipment. A full-size business copier will not only give you superior quality for photocopies, but it will add a dimension of seriousness to any office environment.
Trade Shows. When you attend a trade show, your company booth says a great deal not only to potential customers, but to your professional associates as well. People tend to size up companies by the size of their space at trade shows. Therefore, small space = small company. Even if your budget affords only a small space, that doesn’t mean your booth or set-up can’t be thoughtfully designed and impressive. Invest in well-designed equipment, banners, and signs. Consult with a company specializing in this business.
4. Your Business Behavior.
Would you feel comfortable hiring a financial planner who drinks too much at social functions? Probably not. You communicate as much about your company as your product or logos by the way you handle yourself in business situations.
Dress For Success. Even if you work at home in a sweat suit, when it’s time to meet your clients or prospects, you need to encompass your company “look” as well. That’s why blue business suits are associated with conservative financial company’s such as banks. If your identity is modern, artistic, and cutting-edge a blue suit isn’t the right style for you. Brightly colored dresses, jackets, and ties are more suitable to express your company’s identity.
Answer Your Phone In A Uniform, Professional Manner. All of your employees should answer their phones the same way. Whether it be, “Good Morning, the Hayes Advertising Company,” or “Hayes Advertising, how can I help you,” the point is to be professional and consistent.
Your Employees. Word gets around about a company that treats its employees poorly, or a company that has a staff of unhappy people. It makes your associates and clients wonder why? To them it signals that there might be a problem in the way the company is run. People want stability when they’re making significant purchases or contract for long-term services
III. SOME LAST THOUGHTS ABOUT DEVELOPING YOUR IMAGE
If you feel you’ve made an error in developing your image, correct it quickly. Even if it means starting from scratch with a new logo, business cards, and stationary. It’s worth it because of the power of image to help you sell.
It’s likely that as your business grows and expands you’ll need to adjust your tagline and your identity as you go. Don’t make the mistake of outgrowing your image. Anticipate changes in the market and always consider what image issues you need to address with a new target market.
IV. TRAINING MODULE CHECKLIST
DETERMINE YOUR BUSINESS IDENTITY
___ Type of Business and Product
___ Type of Customer
CREATE YOUR IDENTITY
___ Design Your Logo
___ Choose a Typestyle
___ Choose a Color
___ Write A Tagline For Your Logo
PROJECT YOUR IDENTITY
___ Integrate Your Logo
___ Communication Tools
___ Sales Brochure
___ Media Kit
___ Sales Letters
___ Physical Image
___ Office Location
___ Office Furniture
___ Office Equipment
___ Business Telephone
___ Trade Shows
___ Your Personal Image
___ Phone Manner
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Edwards, Paul and Sarah. Working From Home. Tarchr/Putnam. 1994.
Harris, Thomas L. Marketers Guide to PR: How America’s Top Companies Are Using the New PR. John Wiley and Sons. 1991.
Bly, Robert. The Copywriter’s Handbook. Henry Holt & Co. 1990.
International Association of Business Communicators, 1 Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94102
Public Relations Society of America, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003