Company image isn’t a simple thing; it has many components and expressions, means different things to different people and can therefore be quite confusing; and whilst your company is something you own, your company image is not! How come? Here are two new ways of thinking about company image.
Firstly, your company image is formed from 3 basic components – your products or services, your people, and your processes. Glue these 3 together with a common company purpose, and you have a bundle that is uniquely yours.
Secondly, your company is like a human being – you have a personality, so should your business. You are unique, so is your business. The human personality (and your company image) has three constituent states; the you as others see you (your external “brand”), the you as you would like to be seen (your mission and values) and the you as you see yourself (how your staff see things, your internal “brand”). The better the “fit” between all 3, the stronger the person – or the company.
Now you have a template from which you can improve your company image. These two simple models are like the foundations of a house – build your business on these and you can have the roof any colour you like.
Let’s take the first one. Here are the steps I’d recommend to any small business owner:
get the glue
Glue is your common purpose, what you and your board and your staff are in business for. It might be to sell the best widgets on the market at a premium price. Great – let that focus you on your widgets range and how your staff should be putting that across and what kind of backup they need to do it well. This is a simple example, but the principle holds true however complex your business.
Consultants will use the term “alignment”. What they mean is using the glue; lining up products with staff with procedures and pointing them at customers. Bond it into place and you can begin to show those customers how your focus throughout the business is on them.Don’t set up rules and processes to make your life easier – set them up to make your customers’ lives easier when they deal with you. Every time.
If this doesn’t sound much like what you thought company image was all about, don’t worry. Think of it as “brand basics”. Once you have those, you’ll find it much easier to develop the “business personality” that I referred to in the second model. Company image is a far bigger deal than a lick of paint so here are some tips for your three states of mind:
1. the you as others see you.
This is crunch time and sometimes business owners don’t like what they hear. How on earth could my customers think that? Remember that there are countless opportunities for your customers to think good or ill of you – from reading some of your sales literature or visiting your website, to picking up the phone and calling, to buying, to complaining if things go wrong and – hopefully – to buying again. These are all “touch points” and its your job to make sure you deliver an excellent experience at every one, and every time, so try doing the following:
- draw a map of how your business interacts with customers, identifying as many points of contact as you can
- think about how you and your staff communicate at these touchpoints. If its written stuff (brochures, newsletters, web pages, newspaper advertisements) is it well written, or do typos and lack of plain English let it down? Does the visual element reinforce or undermine what you are trying to say? Are touchpoints consistent, and therefore mutually reinforcing of your message? Is the information what the customer needs and values – or is it what you want to tell them? What about phone contact – is it easy for customers to call and when they do how are they treated and greeted?
- test it out. Ask your customers for their feedback, do some market research, get friends and relatives to “mystery shop” some of your touchpoints – better still do it yourself – and put yourself in your customers’ shoes, try and think like they’ll be thinking. What impression are they likely to be forming of you and your company?
- don’t bury your head in the sand – if you see things that could be better, make them better. If you need help there are plenty of experienced and like-minded professionals out there who can provide the expertise you need. Don’t wait for customers to vote with their feet.
This is what creates your reputation, your external “brand” or company image. But don’t forget that what can be built over time can also fall apart, so I’m also a big advocate of measurement. Keep checking, keep asking, keep testing – and keep ahead.
2. the you as you would like to be seen.
If people actually see you like you want them to, then you’re doing a great job. Most businesses in my experience usually discover that it’s not a perfect fit and they must keep up with the payments! For smaller businesses, especially in their start-up or early growth phase, this is to be expected and the gap is merely indicative of your brandbuilding in progress.
There’s one critical recommendation here: make sure you have developed your mission for the firm – what you’re in business to do – and have a set of values that everyone buys into – how you conduct your business. Don’t do it like too many of the big corporations do it – play lipservice to vision and values and then wonder where it all went wrong – but instead make sure that what you truly want the business to be guides your decision making. This will help you decide about bringing in new products or services, what kind of marketing and sales messages to develop, and to which types of potential customer. It will help you see what kind of training your staff or managers might need, to help them fulfill the kind of business you want to run. You’ll find it’s a very powerful framework and your best chance at getting yourself a company image that’s the one you want.
3. the you as you see yourself.
This is an important state of mind if you have staff working for you. Your people are your greatest asset blah blah blah. But hey, guess what – it’s true. If you want a great company image, never underestimate the value of your people as your brand champions. And it’s not only those at the “sharp end”, its everyone. It’s the culture of your business, and every bit as important in building your reputation as your external brand is. There’s no point in empowering your telesales staff to sort customer issues, if they run up against a brick wall from backoffice co-workers who haven’t “signed up”. Belief in your business has to be shared – don’t keep it all to yourself. Here are a few reminders of how to do it:
- share your company mission and values – then lead by example
- never employ mushroom management (kept in the dark, fed…etc
- involve your staff in the business – you’ll be surprised at all their good ideas
- recruit to build your culture – skills alone are seldom enough
- reward results, but also reward the practice and demonstration of company values and behaviours
- ask for feedback, give staff the chance to air their thoughts, concerns and feelings – about their aspirations, environment, colleagues, managers, competitors, products; these can be through personal appraisal and staff surveys. Surveys also give you the chance to spot trends and put things right that go astray
And that’s about it. Two easy-to-remember models:
- Image build is strongest where external brand=internal brand=mission & values
The work you put into the building is a little more complex, but keep to the principles and your reputation will be in the best possible hands – yours.