In nutritional circles, it is said that, "you are what you eat." As a corporate entity, you are what people think you are. According to a report from the Opinion Research Corp., corporate image is a major part of what sells a company and its products. In the study, 97% of the responding senior and middle managers said image accounts for a significant measure of a company's successes and failures.
This study reflects that people do business with a given firm or buy its products for more than the quality of the goods or services. The collective knowledge of customers, stockholders, bankers, brokerage houses, dealers, distributors and the media regarding a company can affect its sales, earnings, valuation, ability to obtain loans and ability to attract quality employees.
Company image is the perceived sum of the entire organization, objectives and plans. It encompasses its products, services, management style, communications activities and actions. Many firms focus little attention on their corporate image until it has been severely damaged. Often, this recognition comes too late to remedy the situation.
Building a positive corporate image requires skillful long-term planning. Management cannot limit its focus to the next few weeks or months. Plans to ensure a positive corporate image should create an impression that will last for years.
Benefits of a Strong Image
According to A.C. Nielson, 30 brands that are currently leaders in their markets will lose their positions in less than two years. A strong corporate image can extend product lives and can buoy a firm through inevitable sales valleys by providing:
- An awareness among managers of the firm's long-range goals
- More clearly defined corporate objectives and direction
- Improved insights into competitive positions and market conditions
- Improved internal and external communications
- A positive account to customers of the company's marketplace position
- Better understanding of the company, its objectives and direction by employees suppliers, directors and the media
Influences on Image
Advertising and publicity are only two aspects in establishing an image. Everything a company is, says and does is a component of its image. There are certain steps to follow when launching a corporate image program. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current image, and define the factors that determine the image and assess the underlying emotion attributed to these factors.
Negative images dictate the need for basic changes in policies and practices. Neutral images require that choices be made between maintaining status quo and promoting expansion and growth. Corporations with positive images should seek to perpetuate and expand on them.
Define the image that the company wants to project. Every company wants to be perceived as profitable, well managed, forward looking, rapidly growing and rapidly diversifying as well as kind and beneficial to its employees and customers. Carve out a niche that is unique to your own organization.
Determine a course of action that appeals to the largest possible number of your target audience. Create audience-specific selling themes. Make certain each selling theme is compatible with the overall image theme.
Coordinate every channel of communication. This includes advertising, salespeople, letterhead, shipping labels, invoices, employee training manuals, brochures, posters, business cards, product labels, news releases and other internal and external promotional vehicles.
The way to launch an effective image development or reinforcement campaign is to define your target publics. Most companies seek to influence consumers, employees, communities and suppliers. Once you have identified and prioritized various audiences, you are ready to develop and execute specific programs and plans to reach and influence the following audiences:
- Employees--Make employees understand that their skills, attitudes and dedication are part of what makes up the company's image and helps ensure success.
- Customers--Let present and prospective customers know that the company realizes that its success is closely tied to its customers' initial and repeated acceptance of the company, products and services.
- Industry and trade groups--Every company is a part of an industry that includes customers, suppliers and competitors. Management should regularly communicate its image within the industry by keeping the press informed, participating in trade associations and trade councils, becoming spokespersons for industry by promoting for the overall good of the industry.
Plan of Action
Once an audit of the company's image has been completed and priorities established, management is ready to move forward. Keep in mind that a good image deserves a proper presentation. You are trying to inspire, motivate and change or reinforce thought patterns and associations evoked by your organization. This is an art, and can only be accomplished through fastidious application. Your program must be directed to the right people at the right time.
Generally, the molding of a corporate image is not a program that can focus on near-term results. It is a multifaceted, long-term activity that includes everyone in the organization. A corporate image is no substitute for fair dealings and high quality products. However, first impressions have a lasting effect. A company's ability to communicate a favorable and progressive image to its many publics place it ahead of its competition, and subsequently has a profound effect on the bottom line.