Have You Created an Identity for Your Business?

If someone asked you what your business’ identity is, would you be able to give them a clear answer?  If not, now is definitely the time to give some thought to how you can create an identity and an image for your business that will work for you around the clock.  Why is this important?  Because, as Jeff Davidson, author of Marketing on a Shoestring says, “The age of the image is here.  From corporations to individuals, the imapact of image is irrefutable . . . the success of your business, whether large or small, often depends on how you position yourself and what you project.”BusinessIdentityQuestion

Positioning can help you create an identity and maintain a secure spot in the minds of those you wish to serve, and I believe the first step to positioning your business is deciding:

  • What you’re going to be
  • What you’re going to offer
  • To whom you’re going to offer it

The concept of positioning was actually popularized decades ago in the early 1980s by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  They observed, “In our over-communicated society, very little communication takes place.”  A company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, recognizing that the most effective communication occurs when optimally placed and timed.

Being the “first” remains one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain a position in someone’s mind.  Who was the first person to walk on the moon?  If you said Neil Armstrong, you are correct.  Now, name any of the astronauts who walked on the moon’s surface on the other NASA moon missions.  Not so easy, is it?  If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea.

When you are properly positioned, you save time because others quickly understand what your company represents and offers.  With positioning, each networking encounter, advertisement, message, employee, and every square inch of floor or office space contributes to the delivery of a consistent theme to the target market.

The identity you develop may be right only for you and for no one else.  You may become the leader in an emerging industry, or a highly successful alternative to the leading company.  You may be the only store open for twenty-four hours or the most exclusive shop in town, exhibiting wares by appointment only.  In the highly competitive, swiftly changing environment which we exist in today, creating an identity that sticks in the mind of others is no longer optional but essential.  

So, challenge yourself this week to do some research on creating an identity for your business.  Start by answering the three bullet point questions above, and then carve out time each day to spend time reading books on the subject or Googling articles on how to create a business identity, brand, and image.  There is an endless array of  helpful business articles available on the internet surrounding this topic.  If you simply spend the time to do the research, I’m willing to bet you’ll come up with a clear answer for people on what your business identity is within a week!

If you have already created an identity for your business, I’d love for you to share about it in the comment forum below.  Let us know what your business identity is and how you went about creating it–I’m very interested to hear your story.  Thanks! 

Leverage Your Smallest Billboard

With your business card, you have an opportunity to hook yourself into the minds of people you meet while networking.  Sure it’s a lot smaller than a roadside sign, but it can be as effective as a catchy billboard nonetheless.

Business Cards

(Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

For its size and cost, the business card is probably the most powerful marketing tool you own.  Take one of your cards out right now and look at it.  Does your current card accurately reflect your business’ personality–and your own?  What kind of first impression does it make?  Is it memorable?  If  not, it will probably get tossed into a drawer full of ancient, bent, forgotten cards or dropped into the nearest circular file.

Of course, you can’t expect your business card to do all the heavy lifting by itself.  It can’ t tell the whole story about your company.  It’s not a brochure or a catalog.  It has limited space, so you have to choose your words and images carefully.  Nevertheless, your card should present a professional image that people will remember.  A business card can make or break a client’s first impression of your company.  In fact, this little billboard makes as much of an impression as your personal appearance.

Choose a card style that’s appropriate for your business, industry, and personal style.  If you’re a funeral director, you don’t want to be caught handing out Day-Glo cards with cartoon figures on them.  If you’re a mechanic whose specialty is converting old VW Beetles into dune buggies, a formal, black-on-white engraved card will probably be thrown out.  Start with the style that best supports the business image you wish to project.  Regardless of the style you choose, make sure the impact remains consistent.

Here are five different card styles for you to consider:

  • Basic Cards–This is a good card style when utility is all you need.  It’s a no-nonsense approach that can appeal to clients and prospects who would not be impressed by fancy design features.  The design is simple and the information is clear and concise.  A basic card is usually printed in black ink on plain white or cream stock.
  • Picture Cards–Having your face on a card–whether it’s a photograph, a drawing, or a caricature–helps a contact remember you.  Images representing a product, service, or benefit your business provides, can help you communicate your business better than dozens of words.
  • Tactile Cards–Some cards are distinguished not so much by how they look as by how they feel.  They may use nonstandard materials, such as metal or wood, or have unusual shapes, edges, folds, or embossing.  Tactile cards tend to be considerably more expensive but, for some businesses, this unusual card may be worth the investment.
  • Multipurpose Cards–A card can do more than promote your name and business–it can also serve as a discount coupon, an appointment reminder, or some other function.  It may also provide valuable information that the average person might need.  For example, a hotel may include a map on the back of its card for any guests who are walking around the vicinity.
  • Outside-the-Box Cards–A wildly original, fanciful, or extravagant presentation can draw extra attention.  Creativity knows no bounds–except the amount of money you wish to spend.  Some examples are cards made of chocolate, cards fashioned into a deck of playing cards, or cards that fold out into a miniature box that holds small items.

In closing, I have one last, very important task for you.  Look closely at your business card again and after ensuring that it truly and positively represents you and your business, check for the essentials–your name, title, company name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and website.  If someone wants to contact you after receiving your card, you sure as heck want them to be able to reach you.

What’s the Payoff for Developing an Effective Word-of-Mouth Strategy?

Developing an effective word-of-mouth strategy that results in a strong referral-based business takes endless time, energy, effort and, above all, commitment. The actions and steps necessary to create a successful referral-networking campaign are simple, yet far from easy; they take tremendous dedication and drive, and results can be a long time in coming.

So why should you put forth the time and effort to develop a word-of-mouth strategy for your business?  Because, if you commit to doing it right and don’t give up, the payoff can be unbelievably high.

In fact, many businesses have become so adept at referral marketing that they get most of their sales through referrals and spend little or no money on advertising — and they never have to place cold calls. Some of these businesses hire most of their employees through referrals, manage complex financing arrangements and even procure necessary products through referral contacts they have cultivated for many years.

But a referral-based business can reward you in ways beyond those measured in dollars. Dealing with people you like and trust is a better way to live and work than sparring with strangers all day long. You may even find the relationships you form with your referral sources more important than the dollars your new customers bring you. Such relationships are central to both the referral-generation process and the satisfaction you derive from your work.

So, the next time you find yourself doubting whether your networking efforts are really worth it, remember: If you don’t give up, and you continually devote yourself to working on making your word-of-mouth strategy better and better, the payoff can be enormous both financially and in terms of happiness in business and life.

Successful Businesses Need an Edge

It’s no secret that the economy goes through cycles. Each time it takes a downturn, unfortunately, salespeople, business owners and professional service providers feel the fallout.

Data released by various sources, including the SBA and American Entrepreneurs Association, reveal that more than 50 percent of all businesses close their doors within their first seven years. During a recession, the rate of business failure rises more dramatically. Not included in the statistic cited above are the departments, plants or whole divisions closed by large corporations when times are tough. In today’s ever-changing business environment, if you want to be successful, you need to have an edge over your competition.

Most businesses rely on advertising in one or more ways to try to get an edge. However, if you offer the same products or services through the same means to the same targets as your competitors, it’s difficult to achieve an edge. This means you need to be very creative in order to be competitive in today’s marketplace. Creativity in marketing your business has become a basic tenet for today’s successful company or professional practice. Here’s a great story of how one business exemplified creativity at its finest in order to gain an edge:

Three store owners shared adjacent storefronts in the same building.  Times were tough. In hopes of picking up sales, the store owner at one end of the building put a sign over his front entrance that said, “YEAR-END CLEARANCE!!!”  At the other end of the building, a second owner responded with his own sign: “ANNUAL CLOSE-OUT.”

The store owner in the middle knew that he had to act fast or he’d lose a lot of business. After careful consideration, he hung a larger sign over his front door that read, “MAIN ENTRANCE.”

The moral of this story: You can’t control the economy. You can’t control your competition. But you can control your response to the economy. And you can control your response to your competition.

If you have a great example of how you’ve used creativity to get an edge over your competition, I invite you to share it in the comment section. Your story could be just the encouragement other business owners need to get their imaginations in gear!


The First Phase of the VCP Process–Visibility

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the VCP Process, which is a huge part of the foundation of networking. Because this process is so crucial to effective networking, I promised to write a blog entry for each of the three phases (visibility, credibility and profitability), and today I’m going to talk about why it all starts with visibility.

The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility: You and another individual become aware of each other.  In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business–perhaps because of your public relations and advertising efforts, because of your social media presence or perhaps through someone you both know. This person may observe you in the act of conducting business or relating with the people around you. The two of you begin to communicate and establish links–perhaps a question or two over the phone or via e-mail messages about product availability. You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other. A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network, a sort of de facto association based on one or more shared interests.

The visibility phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness.  The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business.  Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level, credibility.

I’ll talk more about credibility next week, but it’s important to understand that visibility brings the opportunity to build credibility, and credibility is what will get you to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your efforts. So many times people try to jump straight from visibility to profitability, and that’s not real networking; it’s just an obvious ploy to get something from your new contacts. That’s nothing more than a bad attempt at direct selling and a big waste of time.

So, how do you go about creating more visibility for your business? What are some strategies that have really worked out well for you?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Why Word of Mouth?

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that the secret to success–without a little bit of hard work–is still a secret!  Word of mouth marketing is a solid foundation for building any successful enterprise and, like anything else that brings great rewards, it takes time, effort, and dedication (a.k.a.–a “little bit of hard work” ;-)).

Developing a word-of-mouth marketing program is an effective, potentially lucrative way of generating more business.  The reason I said it takes “a little bit” of hard work is because it’s not even hard work when you consider the alternatives:

1.  Increase your advertising budget

2.  Develop an effective public-relations campaign

3.  Pick up the phone and start cold-calling

The first two alternatives can be ridiculously expensive and the third is time-consuming and frustrating.  However, a structured word-of-mouth marketing program is also personally empowering: it’s one of the few things that you, or someone who works for you, can do (other than cold-calling) that directly affects your success.  Why wait for people to walk in your door?  Why sit idly by, hoping that your existing clients or customers will refer you to others?  With a structured word-of-mouth program you don’t have to wait for the results of your last PR campaign to kick in.

A word-of-mouth program will give you control and allow you to take ownership for the business development of your company.  Such a program has worked for thousands of people in all types of businesses and will work for you as well.

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