Corporate Image, We All Have One, But Few Work to Protect, Project it
In nutritional circles, it's said that "you are what you eat." As a corporate entity, you are what people think you are.
According to a recent report from the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), corporate image is a major part of what sells a company and its products. In the study, 97 percent of the responding senior and middle managers acknowledged that image accounts for a significant measure of the successes and failures of their organizations.
This study reflects the acknowledgment in the corporate community 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 its ability to attract quality employees.
Corporate image is defined as the perceived sum of the entire organization, its objectives and plans. It encompasses the company's products, services, management style, communications activities and actions around the world.
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
Products have lives.
According to A.C. Nielson, 30 brands that are currently leaders in their respective categories will lose their positions in less than two years. A strong corporate image can extend product lives and can also buoy a firm through the inevitable sales valleys by providing:
Influences on Image
Advertising and publicity are only two aspects in the establishing a firm's image. Everything a company is, says and does is a component of its corporate image:
Launching an Image
There are certain steps which must be followed in launching a corporate image communications program. They are:
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the company's current image. Define the factors which determine that image and assess the underlying emotion attributed to these factors. Negative images dictate the need for basic changes in corporate policies and practices. Neutral images require that a choice 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 firm wants to project. Every firm wants to be perceived as profitable, well-managed, forward-looking, research-oriented, rapidly growing and rapidly diversifying as well as kind and beneficial to its employees, stockholders and customers. Carve out a niche which 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 and in line with the overall image theme.
- Coordinate every channel of communications to build the desired image. This includes advertising, sales people, letterhead, shipping labels, invoices, employee training manuals, brochures, posters, business cards, samples, trademarks, product labels, articles, news releases, trade booth displays and other internal and external promotional vehicles.
The way to launch an effective image development and/or reinforcement campaign is to define your target publics. Most companies seek to influence:
- Consumers--Utilize every resource to research and define your consumers. Then find the most effective method to present your firm to this crucial group.
- Shareholders--By knowing your shareholders, their degree of involvement in the company and their interests, you can develop a communication program that will create a strong net work extension of your sales force.
- The Investment Community--Management has a new and vital job in keeping security analysts, brokers and bankers aware of the company, its management, its plans and its successes.
- Employees--By working with this influential group, management can instill a sense of involvement in common goals which will increase productivity, curb turnover and create a working environment which will make it easier to attract the types of people necessary to ensure future corporate success.
- Communities--When an understanding of one anothers' goals is achieved between a company and the community in which it operates, the result is usually a solid working relationship.
- Suppliers--These people can have a strong influence on the success or failure of your corporate image campaign and your firm. Cultivate a feeling of trust and interdependence. Both sides should feel that they are an integral part of the other's success.
- The Media--Establish, maintain, and constantly reinforce your relationship with members of the media at all levels nationally and locally. A good relationship can assist in communicating or amplifying your firm's position.
Once you've identified and prioritized your various audiences, you are ready to develop and execute specific programs and plans to reach and influence these audiences:
- Shareholder Relations--Use management and public relations to develop and maintain your image with shareholders via a carefully planned and executed program of communications, annual reports, quarterlies, special reports and shareholder meetings.
- Financial Community Relations--Senior management should be responsible for regularly contacting financial analysts, brokers and bankers. Provide them with company "white papers" and regular mailings to keep them well informed.
- Employee Relations--Make certain that employees understand that their skills, attitudes and dedication are a large part of what makes up the company's image and helps ensure the firm's future success.
- Customer Relations--Let present and prospective customers know that the firm realizes that its success is closely tied to its customers' initial and repeated acceptance of the company, its products and its services.
- Industry and Trade Relations--Every company is part of an industry which includes customers, suppliers and competitors. Each of these groups influence the company's image. Management should regularly communicate its image within the industry by:
- Keeping the press informed
- Participating in trade associations
- Participating in trade councils
- Becoming spokespersons for industry needs and goals
- 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 on the various aspects of the image program, management is ready to move forward.
Keep in mind that a good image deserves a proper presentation. You are trying to inspire, motivate and either change or reinforce thought patterns and associations evoked by your organization. This is an art. It can only be accomplished through fastidious application. Your program must be directed to the right people at the right time. It must be presented in the most beneficial atmosphere.
Generally, the molding of a corporate image is not a program that can focus on near-term results. An undesirable corporate identity is a lot like obesity. It takes a long time to develop the symptoms, and it will probably take just as long, if not longer, to achieve significant improvement. It is a multifaceted activity that includes everyone in the organization.
A sound corporate image is no substitute for fair dealings and quality products. However, first impressions have a lasting effect. A company's ability to communicate a favorable and progressive image to its many publics places it ahead of its competition, and subsequently has a profound effect on the bottom line.
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