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How To...Create Your Company's Identity

[by Susan MaGee]

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

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

V. Resources


I. WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GETTING STARTED

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.

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.

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:

Here's some examples of taglines:

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

1. Integrate.
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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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
___ Competition

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
___ Dress
___ Phone Manner
___ Employees


V. RESOURCES

Books

  1. Baker, Kim and Sunny. How To Promote, Publicize, and Advertise Your Growing Business. Wiley Publishers. 1992.
  2. Edwards, Paul and Sarah. Working From Home. Tarchr/Putnam. 1994.
  3. Harris, Thomas L. Marketers Guide to PR: How America's Top Companies Are Using the New PR. John Wiley and Sons. 1991.
  4. Bly, Robert. The Copywriter's Handbook. Henry Holt & Co. 1990.

Professional Associations

  1. International Association of Business Communicators, 1 Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94102
  2. Public Relations Society of America, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003


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