Author’s Note: This is the second in the Image Building series. The series walks the reader through the steps in the image-building process for family-owned business. In the first article (TBBM Volume 22 – Issue 11) we discussed a simple way to identify your current image and four major challenges of image building.
It has been said that if you don’t create and manage your business image your competitors will do it for you.
How do you go about creating an image? You simply can determine what image you want. Needless to say, such an image is the product of a subjective set of hopes, dreams and biases coupled with the reality of who and what your business is. You are creating something that may not clearly exist.
The desired approach is to define your image strategically, crafting it through the use of proven marketing principles, techniques and research and then use marketing communications principles to achieve your desired result – your image, your way.
Where does marketing fit in the image-building process? Marketing is the essential ingredient in having an image that will help make and keep your business successful. Really, what is marketing? Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, marketing is not just advertising, or public relations, or direct mail, or promotions or a variety of other activities. These are simply some of the elements of marketing. It includes these things and much more. Marketing is reflected in the overall way your business does business every day.
More specifically, it is the ongoing process of understanding and fulfilling the needs (i.e. rational expectations) and wants (i.e. emotional or experiential expectations) of your customers and prospective clients in everything you do.
Marketing is a philosophy of doing business based on your values and information derived from your prospects and clients that impact every aspect of your business and everyone who works for you. It is directed at always satisfying the customer.
Keep these basics in mind when you think about marketing:
- Marketing is not only what you say, it’s what you do and how you do it. In the marketing process, actions speak louder than words.
- Marketing means more than providing products and services to your customers. It means focusing on building relationships, trust and an overall sense among your clients that you are consistently meeting their needs.
The goal of marketing is “ownership” of defined markets. To achieve this, first you must understand the marketplace, and then determine how and where you can become a leader. To make this process work you need to know and understand these principles.
1. Understand what business you are in, as defined by your customers and prospective clients, not just by you.
This is critical as there is often a huge gulf between what a business thinks it is selling and what its customers are really buying. For example, McDonald’s originally saw itself as being in the hamburger business. Later, it redefined itself as being in the fast food business based on their customers’ needs and wants. And now it is moving toward the “healthy food” business.
For instance, jewelers must know that they are not just selling jewelry and diamond rings – they are also in the service business. Consider the services customers want. What are they willing to pay for? Which services will enhance the value of what you are already selling? Other key considerations here are the emotional expectations of your customers. Such things as how they expect to be treated during the sales process, packaging of the products, and the appearance of your store and employees are often more important than rational expectations.
So, promote your business image from your customer’s point of view. Are you in the business of selling a product or an experience?
Take a minute to complete this “purpose” statement:
Our business purpose is to ____________________________________________________
2. Meet or exceed your customer/client’s expectations.
Every customer brings a certain set of expectations concerning the products and services they may buy and receive. Do you know what your clients’ most important expectations are?
Are the expectations being met consistently by each employee? Everyone in the business, at all levels, needs to understand that the way they interact with the client has a direct impact on your ability to build loyal customers and to develop a strong positive image among prospective buyers.
3. Understand who your competitors are.
Identifying your competitors is easy: nearby offices, stores or Web stores which sell the same products or services. But also think about your indirect competitors. These are businesses, products or perhaps even circumstances that compete for your clients’ dollars. A slow economy can be a competitive factor if it is causing consumers to postpone nonessential purchases. This is especially true when it comes to discretionary purchases such as expensive gifts. Remember, you cannot do business in a vacuum.
4. Understand how you are perceived by clients and prospective customers compared to your direct competitors.
Do your customers perceive your business as just another store or service provider? Or do they see you as unique because of the support you offer, your knowledgeable sales staff, or your products and services? Understanding how you are perceived is the first step in defining your position. Being perceived the way you want to be then becomes the goal of your image-building program.
Sophisticated marketers, like automobile manufacturers, know how important it is to build a distinct brand identity for each of their products. Think of your business and those with whom you compete as branded products. Then think about the differences between you and your competitors that give each of you a distinctive image or “personality.”
To make it easier, think of these different business personalities as you would automobiles. Which are loaded with options and high performance? Which are good, no-frills, low-performance, basic transportation? Which are the high-priced status symbols? Which are highly specialized? Which are designed for a mass market?
How does your business fit into these categories? Knowing is helpful because it puts your business in perspective relative to your competitors in terms of your respective “brand identity,” or in terms of the image that customers may hold of you.