Thursday, September 30, 2010

Image Is Everything

Whether you’re a salesperson or a soldier, your image says everything about you.

At a cocktail party a few days ago, the conversation turned to the Marines situated at U.S. embassies. We were observing how they all are very tall and incredibly muscular, and carry huge guns that – without saying a word – tell anyone who is at the embassy to “not try anything stupid.” One gentleman, a former Marine, said that those soldiers are specifically selected to work at the embassies because of their intimidation factor. They resemble superheros, with tiny waists, huge chests and bulging biceps; they look as if a button on their shirts will pop if they gain a pound. We chuckled in agreement because that’s exactly what they look like.

Finally, the former Marine said what I had been thinking: image is everything.

Your image, and your company’s image, can be the reasons for your success or your failure. As you know from watching the news, a company’s image can be destroyed overnight. One bad public relations move or an inappropriate comment or action by your CEO (or even by an employee) can take your company from a leader in its industry to the bottom of the heap. And it will take a lot of digging to get out.

Therefore, it is critical to determine what you want your image to say about you and your company. There are four components of communication that drive that:

1. How You See Yourself

2. How Others See You

3. How You Communicate Your Image in Person

4. How You Communicate Your Image Online

How You See Yourself

Your self-confidence is likely the number one factor in your ability to sell yourself, your company, and your product or service. It’s visible from the moment you walk into a room. If you walk with purpose, have good posture and exhibit a sincere smile, people will approach you. Not only will others approach you; you’ll have the nerve to approach them. What’s the worst they can do? Walk away? Tell you that they don’t want to talk? Say no? These are all unlikely. What is more likely is that you will find your next customer or someone who can refer you to that person.

We hear it all the time among athletes and others who compete: it’s a mental game. The minute you lose in your head, you lose in reality.

How Others See You

The first impression is the one that matters most. If it’s negative, it will take a long time to change the other person’s opinion, assuming that that is even possible.

Take a few minutes to honestly assess how others see you and your company. Does that image go hand-in-hand with your vision? If you’re not sure, ask a colleague or a friend who will tell you the truth. It may hurt your feelings, but it can help your company.

Next, analyze how your competitors are viewed. Are they seen as more trustworthy, professional, and confident? If any of these is true, then you must evaluate how you can change your image by finding the one thing that makes you unique and then doing that better than anyone else.

If, after completing a competitive analysis, you determine that you’re at the top of your industry, then ask yourself and your employees if you have a clear idea of what your company provides. For example: Apple doesn’t just provide mobile devices and computers, it provides convenience. That’s where branding comes into play.

Without a clear idea of what it is that you do, then you can’t build a brand.

Communication is the number one factor in creating and maintaining your brand. Written, verbal and non-verbal means of communication tell your company’s story. However, there are times when you don’t know what that story is, how to convey it, and to whom it should be told.

Communications Strategy

To “brand” yourself and your company, you’ll need to follow – at the minimum – these few steps:

  1. Learn all about your product or service
  2. Discuss your process – how you do business, who your current clients are, and who you want your future clients to be
  3. Determine what makes you unique – take a good look at your specific product or service, compare yourself to the competition, and then decide what your unique selling proposition is
  4. Develop and implement a communications solution that fits the personality of your brand

Communication has many components, and you need to ensure that all those components work together to advance the image of your brand. If you’re a young and hip company with a “cool” product, make sure that that message is loud and clear. However, structure the message so that it’s written in the right “language” for the right audience.

Communicating Your Image In Person

It’s confusing to receive several marketing materials from the same company and not have a single one look like the other. Consistency is essential if you want to present a professional image. Once you know who you are, create a logo, choose some company colors, find a typeface that goes well with your brand, and use them consistently in everything. Letters, marketing materials, blogs, websites…you get the idea!

A consistent, well-written and professional message is also imperative. Check for spelling errors (and don’t rely solely on the spell check feature!), make sure that there are no obvious grammar mistakes, and write cohesively.

A professional appearance is just as important. Dress appropriately and ensure that your employees are doing the same. ALWAYS present a professional image, whether you’re at a business function or at the grocery store: clients are everywhere.

Sloppiness and laziness in your written, verbal and nonverbal communication is inevitably associated with the same qualities in your work. Consider this scenario: If Company A didn’t take time to edit the proposal it sent me, then how careful will it be with my very important project? I’ll hire Company B, whose proposal was professionally presented, well written and showed a level of competency that I’m confident will transcend into how it handles my project.

Whether those conclusions are valid or not, that’s how the client thinks. Next time you see your brochure, ad or other piece of written communication, really think about whether or not you would hire your company for the job.

Communicating Your Image Online

This is where communication gets really risky. With so many online communication channels, both personal and professional, it is difficult to monitor what is out there regarding you and your company. It’s challenging to control your image when others can affect it at any moment…without your knowledge!

The goal, of course, is to be proactive and develop a social media policy for your company. Here is a helpful article from BurrellesLuce,

However, many sole proprietors or startup companies don’t have the time or resources to develop an “official” policy. Many use common sense: don’t post pictures that can be misinterpreted, don’t include personal information, don’t slander anyone, don’t mention the competition...the list goes on. Right?

Oh, “no,” you say. You don’t follow these unwritten rules. Well, then maybe it’s time to consult with a social media brand strategist who can teach you how to develop an identity online that is consistent with the one that you have developed in the “real” world.


A social media brand strategist can help you do the following:

  1. Define your target audience(s)
  2. Decide why you or your company should have a social media presence
  3. Identify what online social media your company should use – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blog, etc.
  4. Determine what information should be included in your various social media outlets
  5. Keep your message and branding consistent throughout the various mediums

A lot to think about? You bet! However, if image is indeed, “everything,” then think of what you’ll lose if you don’t.

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