American society is intrigued by image. Consider this related word: imagine. Disney is all about the customer experience, emotionally and magically transporting guests to another time or place. Speaking of place — some of the best image marketing campaigns have been tied to geographic areas. Remember “I Love New York,” “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” and “Virginia is for Lovers”?
Image is often associated with entertainment, fashion and technology markets, but all companies have a singular corporate personality that differentiates them from their rivals. Corporate image is the reputation of an organization viewed by its various stakeholders — investors, employees, customers, business partners, communities and other entities. The communication challenge? To manage and enhance your firm’s identity over time.
Components of an image
A perceived image is based on two components:
1. What the company does and says
2. What the customers/market say about the organization (Hint: This is more important.)
Companies must manage a strong integrated marketing communications program consisting of advertising, selling, sales promotion, online, social media and public relations activities. This includes customer-generated content such as Facebook posts, tweets, blogs and online communities, which can dramatically impact organizational performance.
Case in point: the YouTube viral video “United Breaks Guitars” about airline baggage mishandling has been viewed more than 12 million times to date.
Even if your company is not a global giant, image research still provides a practical guide for promotional strategy.
Let’s assume that you recently opened a trendy sports bar and café. You can assess your corporate image in the local community via a simple two-dimensional plot of customer perception. Examine familiarity and favorability scales for your firm and your direct competitors — other casual dining establishments — within your primary trade area. Next, collect data about indirect competitors such as casinos, clubs, hotels and sports sites.
A competitive edge counts
Differentiation means having a competitive edge. This advantage can be real, as in higher quality product, faster service or best price, or perceived. Take Air Around the Clock, a South Florida air conditioning and appliance service contractor. The company is differentiated based on quality of service that includes night and weekend emergency repairs, a preferred customer program, a fleet of more than 90 trucks and a “fix it right the first time” philosophy.
Then you have Amazon, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Google, Harley-Davidson, IKEA, Whole Foods and Zappos, which are often cited as “cool” companies. Many consumers aspire to have the latest and greatest and want to purchase cool products. But brand coolness is a multidimensional construct consisting of uniqueness, excitement, innovation, authenticity and self-concept reinforcement.
Coolness is also impacted by age, group influence, lifestyle, media and technology. So business leaders need to realize that coolness or “being hip” is an elusive attribute that is based around overall image but also requires that the other value proposition ingredients — service, quality and price — are satisfactory to superior.
Questions to ask
Consider these queries as you revisit your 2013 marketing communications strategy.
■ How important is image in your value proposition?
■ Should it be even more important?
■ Does your image clearly resonate with your target market?
■ How can you get your customers and the market to share more positive messages about your company?
■ What is your main point of differentiation from your competitors?
■ Should coolness be a major or minor part of your IMC strategy?
■ How can you best tell your business story to communicate value? ●
Art Weinstein, Ph.D., is chair and professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University and author of “Superior Customer Value — Strategies for Winning and Retaining Customers.” Visit his website at www.artweinstein.com, or reach him at [email protected] or (954) 262-5097.