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Create Your Own Company ID

Your company identity is the visible and emotional badge that represents
your business.

This extract examines the importance of your company's identity and explains how you can create and project an image that will help you to sell your products and services.

There are specific characteristics that establish your business identity: your product or service, logo and advertisements are the most obvious. However, there are many additional elements that contribute to your image including your office location, the paper you use for correspondence and even how you speak over the telephone. In essence, your identity is affected by everything you do that your customers and potential customers might become aware of.

Why is your business identity so important?
There may be a temptation on the part of some business owners to think "If my product or service is good, that's all that counts." While a quality product is essential to a quality image, the reality is that in today's business environment, image sells.

If you're a financial planner and extremely adept at investing other people's money, you need to communicate that you're not only financially smart, but that you're reliable and trustworthy. You wouldn't visit a client's office dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. You would probably wear a conservative suit because that attire conveys a dependable, reliable image. People don't want to give their money to someone who conveys via their dress, that they aren't serious in a business situation.

For this type of business you wouldn't have a business card printed in neon colours either. A white card with a traditional typeface would be a more appropriate choice.

The process of creating your company's identity
There are usually 3 steps to creating your company's identity:
• Determine your business identity
• Design your business identity
• Communicate your business identity

Step 1 - Determine your business identity
Ask yourself this question: What do I want my customers to say and think about my product and company? Answering this question will help you to determine what kind of identity you want to establish. For example, do you want your image to be that of a pioneer, innovative, high tech, reliable, full of status, conservative?

When determining your identity, you must also evaluate and consider three important factors:

The type of business and product:
If your business is providing entertainment to children's parties your identity is likely to be fun and light-hearted. Your logo would incorporate bright colours and it would be highly appropriate to have balloons and streamers in your office.

If you sell expensive custom watches, your image must communicate status and elegance, but a tyre wholesaler has to convince his customers his product is reliable and durable. In general, professions dealing with finances project conservative images, companies dealing with advanced technologies project modern images and advertising agencies and design firms reflect artistic identities.

Target market:
A rough rule of thumb when developing your identity is to match the identity of your customers and potential customers. If you own a corporate cleaning service and are targeting London's Square Mile firms, you should project the conservative image of your potential customers. You might be tempted to think, "I'm not handling the money, I'm just cleaning their offices," but that would be a mistake.

People like to deal with people who reflect their own image. It makes them more comfortable because they are dealing with a known entity, someone they can relate to and understand. It's important to remember that there is always a subtle, yet pervasive psychology operating as a potential customer makes a decision to buy. Although the quality of your product and service is a major factor in the outcome of the process, they judge your company by its image.

Your competitors:
There are two schools of thought on this issue. One says your own business identity should come close to your competitor's and the other says that you should stand out from your competition. For an identity with the greatest impact, you want an appropriate blend of the two. If you're a new pharmaceutical company and your competition has been in been in business for several years and has an excellent reputation, you will not be able to match their image in terms of consistency and reliability. You shouldn't try. Certainly, you'll want to project an image similar to them, such as having smart and trustworthy people working for you. But you would also need an image to give you a competitive advantage.

In this situation you would want to construct your identity to suggest that you're an "innovator." You would turn the fact that you're a new, fresh company with a different approach to research and development to your advantage. Your advertisements would stress that because you don't have to deal with a tangled bureaucracy, you can spend more time coming up with cutting-edge products.

Step 2 - Design your identity
In order to project the identity that's right for your type of business and target market, you must create it. You do this by establishing a consistent look and feel to all your communications. While there are many important elements that will help you to establish your identity, none is more critical than your logo.

Your logo appears on all of your correspondence, your business card and in your advertisements. The purpose of a logo is to instantly convey the essence of your company's identity. If you think you can't afford professional help, think again. An inappropriate logo will cost you far more in the long run in terms of sales. As you work with a professional designer, here are some guidelines:

Make a point of noticing other company's logos
Look at them critically and ask yourself what kind of image they convey and why.

Colour is a significant element of a logo
Bright colours are strong attention grabbers and excite people. Blue and grey are conservative colours. If you want to convey an image that is hot, trendy and on the cutting edge use red, yellow and orange. You can use the same colours as your competitor uses but vary the shade to differentiate your business.

Typestyle
Bold blocks of text invoke an image that the company is strong and large. Italic type can convey a classic or upscale image. Whatever typestyle you use it should be simple to read. Once you have a successful combination of colour and typestyle, you may then consider embellishing your name with a simple graphic element such as a line, border or box. Or, you may alter or manipulate one letter to communicate the idea that your company is like your competition's, established and trustworthy, but there's something different and exciting going on.

Tagline
The short and snappy sentence or words that appear underneath a logo is the tagline. Taglines are considered to be an intrinsic part of the logo offering a brief explanation of a company's philosophy. While you want to adopt an effective logo and stick with it permanently, with perhaps only subtle amendments over time, taglines can change as the company grows, evolves and expands their product lines.

Step 3 - Communicate your business identity
Now that you have designed your identity, your logo must appear on all of your communication vehicles including letterheads, invoices, envelopes, business cards and packaging. The "look" you establish in your logo in terms of colour and stylistic elements must then be integrated to all of your communications. If you use the colour red in your logo, your stationery should too.

Likewise if you use a certain typestyle, your sales brochure and company literature should use a compatible typestyle. Consistency and repetition are how you will firmly root your image into the minds of your target market and the public at large. Integrating your logo into your communications is the first step; next you must also employ your marketing tools carefully and correctly:

Sales Brochure
If a prospective customer called you today and asked to see information about your product or service what would you do? Send them a letter and three product sheets stapled together explaining your business and product offering? Even if your sales brochure and company material is well written, you will convey an image that you're a small, possibly not well established company. It doesn't matter if that's true or not, the point is in the eyes of your prospective customer that it is a possibility.

You should have a sales brochure to communicate the following:
• Who you are.
• What line of business you are in.
• What your product is or the service features you offer.
• The benefits a client will yield by doing business with you.

You should hire a graphic design company to create a sales brochure for you with photographs and graphics. It is an essential component of a professional organisation's sales materials.

Media Kits.
Generating local or national media coverage, or publicity, can greatly enhance your image and impress your clients. People have a tendency to assume that if you have been featured in a magazine or appear on television that you must have something worthwhile going on in your business. You can't just call a journalist and say, "I have a great product, write about me," you have to convince them your company is worth writing about.

One of the ways you can do this is by sending them a media kit. You can create a media kit by filling a folder with relevant information about your business. The folder should have the same "look" and the logo on the outside cover.

The media kit should contain the following:
• A press release explaining what is new, different, or exciting about your product or service.
• A sales brochure.
• Product testimonials.
• A product sample or photograph.
• Related literature such as articles from newspapers,magazines or newsletters.

Publicity
Supporting a local cause, charity or another PR function will contribute to the favourable image of your company in the local community. In fact, public relation programmes can help correct an organisation's negative public image. Many companies hire public relations agencies or publicists to help them secure publicity in print and broadcast media and to manage their public image.

Content
Everything you write that's read by a customer is a window into your organisation, telling them about you and the way you handle your business. A sales brochure can be beautifully designed, but if the copy isn't effective or if it's too long and doesn't flow in a logical sequence you will damage your image.

Many businesses make the mistake of thinking they know best how to write about their products and services. You must understand the principles of sales and business writing. For example it's easy to confuse the difference between product features and product benefits. Benefits are what sell a product not its features. For example, a telephone company may offer an automatic switching line to re-route calls to another location in case of a power failure. That's a feature. The benefit to your customer is that sales won't be lost in the event of a power failure.

Another example would be that you're a manufacturer of an anti-theft device. Your product is a steering wheel lock made of a new steel alloy that cannot be cut. That's a feature. The benefit to the buyer is added security in knowing that a thief can't saw through the device to remove it. Again you must think about the consequences of not paying a professional to do a job when you are not qualified to do it yourself. Executing one ill conceived, poorly written sales letter will encourage a potential client to decide to take their business elsewhere.

Your business behaviour
Would you feel comfortable hiring a financial planner who drinks too much at social functions? Probably not.
You communicate as much about your company as your product or logos by the way you handle yourself in business situations.

Dress for success - When it's time to meet your clients or prospects, you need to encompass your company "look" as well. That's why blue business suits are associated with conservative financial institutions such as banks. However, if your identity is modern, artistic and cutting edge a blue suit isn't the right style for you.

Answering your telephone - All of your employees should answer their telephones the same way. Whether it is, "Good Morning, the Cheese Room Design Company," or "The Cheese Room, how can I help you," the approach should be professional and consistent.

Your employees
- Word gets around about a company that treats its employees poorly, or a company that has unhappy people. It makes your clients and associates wonder why. To them it signals that there might be a problem in the way the company is run. Customers want stability when they're making significant purchases or enter into long-term service agreements.

Some last thoughts about developing your image.
If you feel that you have made an error in developing your image, correct it quickly - that means starting from the beginning with a new logo, business cards and stationery. It's well worth it, because of the power of an appropriate image in helping you to sell.

It's likely that as your business grows and expands, you'll need to adjust your tagline and your identity as you go. Don't make the mistake of outgrowing your image. Anticipate changes in the market and always consider what image issues you need to address with a new target market.

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