“Business image” is a vague term to most people. If I had a nickel for every time I’d been asked some variation of the title question... well, I’d be doing a lot of nickel-stacking. But put away those nickels; let’s move on from last time by defining exactly what makes up a “business image” and why it’s important.
Business image is everything your customers see in and about your business.
That’s pretty simple, right? (Feel free to substitute “clients,” “patients” or another term if “customers” doesn’t fit your business model.)
Business image is the complete portrait of your business. It’s no one thing, but a mosaic of pieces, some of which you supply, some of which are provided from outside, and a few of which are inherent in the business type. Elements of your business image that you provide include:
- The business name.
- The business location, from the state on down to the street address.
- The business logo, if you have one, and colors, if you use a fixed set.
- Your signage, both appearance and locations.
- The business’s “curb appeal,” if it has a storefront or outdoor presence.
- The “walk-up appeal,” for businesses with interior office locations. This includes the path to the office door, the entryway itself, and whatever customers see immediately on entry, such as a waiting area or lobby.
- The business area, be it an office, conference room, consulting room, sales floor, or service area.
- For businesses that work on location, the way the business is represented on site, from the vehicle or vehicles that arrive, to the tools and equipment used, to how the work is managed.
- Advertising and other promotional efforts.
- For businesses strongly identified with an individual, that person’s name, appearance, quirks and reputation form an integral part of the business image.
- Yellow Pages listings, and other listings (both paper and online) that are under your control as to content and placement.
- Specialty businesses such as restaurants will have other elements – menus, table dressing, ambience, etc.
Elements of your business image that come from outside, and may be mostly beyond your control, include:
- Newspaper, magazine and online reviews, both by professional reviewers and individuals.
- News coverage of your industry, location or business. (Hopefully not of the “Mike Wallace is here to see you” variety!)
- Building and co-tenant issues.
- Local, regional or general perceptions of your business type.
There are many more elements – it would take a book to list them for all business types and conditions – but that should be enough to give you a sense of what makes up a business image and why it matters. The way customers see your business is critical to its success.
It’s important to understand that business image is only loosely tied to the actual quality or reputation of the business. Many a snazzy exterior hides a second-rate establishment, and unfortunately, the reverse is even more commonly true. A lot of first-rate businesses are hidden behind poor public images, and are failing to reach their potential as a result. Every business can profit from careful attention to its image, and that includes the oldest, most respected and well-established trade in town. Marketing history is filled with businesses that vanished because they believed their reputation alone would keep customers coming. It won’t. Businesses have to stay engaged with their customer base to survive, and part of that engagement is a continually freshened business image.
For new businesses, a carefully crafted image may be the single most important asset they can acquire. With no track record, comfortable base of customers, list of reviews or word of mouth, it can be difficult to get customers to consider a new establishment. An appealing image that sends exactly the right message to potential customers, and invites them to check you out, is essential.
In an earlier era, a business image was simpler and easier both to construct and to maintain. In our fast-moving, complex world, though, with competition from every corner of the globe and an online whirl – I mean, world – to deal with, it’s not surprising that most businesses have lost their grip on their image.
Starting with the next installment, we’ll get down to the business of your business image. Roll up your sleeves.
James Gifford is the creative director of NitroPress Creative Services in Tolland.