Because your image matters as a business, how far should you go—and how much do you have to spend—to convey a positive message for your enterprise?
“Investing in image is an important part of building any business, and when done consciously, will accelerate growth, revenues and satisfaction for all parties involved,” says Judy Winslow, a coach and consultant with Bright Pointe Creative Solutions, based in Florida.
The Socially Conscious Route
Many businesses are taking the trendy route, opting for green, eco-friendly trades. Others are making social change and community involvement their angle. Are these branding concepts good for your business?
“Hopping on the green bandwagon [for example] when it hasn't been an integral part of your business is a bit like making snow. It's not the real thing, even if you can ski on it,” says Susan Harrow, the California-based author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul: A Woman's Guide to Promoting Herself, Her Business, or Her Cause with Integrity & Spirit. Basically, if you’re selling eco-friendly cleaning supplies, for example, it’s easier to go green than running a sustainable Web design business (but they are out there!)
Michael Katz of Massachusetts-based e-newsletter hub Blue Penguin Development, agrees.
“The idea of going green as a marketing tool—if it doesn't reflect what you believe—is a waste of time,” says Katz, who instead recommends entrepreneurs asses their core values, identify what makes them different and determine their style is before figuring out how to broadcast that message. He says that there’s a lot to be said for sticking to your authentic self as an image, and what your company has to offer.
No Immediate Payoff
So maybe you want to promote your company around yourself and your services (if you’re solo) instead of what you can do to make the world a better place. What should you do, and how do you get the most bang for your bucks?
- Consider Short- and Long-Term Investments. While time-sensitive advertisements may bring in a surge of customers, a direct mail campaign may recruit leads for months to come. Both image boosters can range in cost depending on how many people you want to reach and in which avenues you use.
- Become a Thought Leader. For example, Dennis O'Connor of Paradigm Shift Communications in Massachusetts says positioning clients as expert sources for media inquiries doesn’t deliver immediate ROI, but builds relationships for future news. “Over time this type of expert commentary helps to raise the profile of a company as a true thought leader in their industry.”
- Get Involved in the Community. Rich Polt, president of Louder Than Words, a boutique PR agency also in Massachusetts, says that some image tactics, such as being involved in the community, may cost more in the short term. “[But] they will create a healthy, and perhaps socially conscious, environment that appeals to all constituencies involved and will pay off in spades in the long run.”
Investing in Your Image
Polt adds that the key to investing in your image effectively is to bundle branding into marketing and public relations. He says a company doesn’t have to issue a press release stating, “Company X lauded for commitment to giving back.” Instead, it should wrap language into its boilerplate stating community involvement is a core value of the company. “Then—and this is critical—the company has to actually give back,” adds Polt.
Here are some avenues you can use to bolster your image.
- eNewsletters. They’re forwardable, achievable, trackable, interactive, and have no variable cost, says Katz, adding that the goal of this is to mostly nurture your existing relationships at least as much as you chasing strangers for new leads.
- Press Releases. These are affordable and newspapers will pick up on the work your company does. “PR seems like the most appropriate and beneficial means to communicate these socially minded strategies and image enhancements,” says Harvey Hoffenberg, president of Connecticut-based Propulsion, LLC, a marketing communications company.
- Networking. Start with the people you already know—relatives, friends and colleagues--regardless of whether you share a newsletter or send direct mail to them. “Relationships are ultimately more powerful than things like direct mail or newspaper ads, but they take time,” says Katz.
No matter how you convey your business image, it’s important to do so in a way that reflects your overall mission and personal style.
4 Tips for Going Socially Conscious—Affordably
Here are some tactics that can be implemented immediately--some at very little cost—to help your business have a socially conscious angle. “Every positive step should be publicized to customers, clients and colleagues,” says Angela Moore of Starfish PR, a California-based agency.
- Publicize the good. Identify all the things your business does for the environment, publicize it and encourage other business and customers to adopt some of their practices. This can be done on the website, with tip sheets, challenges, and branding.
- Add a side bar to the website outlining what the company does to give back, help the environment, volunteer, donations, etc.
- Create a tip sheet to educate customers and other businesses about ways they can make positive changes and make a difference.
- If you are using 100% recycled stationary, retail bags or packaging, brand it as such and make sure people know it.
- Start a campaign. Tie your operations into Earth Day or create your own promotion that ties into your industry. Make an attempt do go 50 percent paperless in celebration of Arbor Day.
- Volunteer. As the business owner you can volunteer for local/national charities and encourage your team to do so. Rather than an executive retreat at the Ritz Carlton, for example, take your team to a Habitat for Humanity build site and do some real team building that will help a deserving family live in a safe, affordable home.
- Give Sensible Corporate Gifts. Send plants rather than an engraved “whatever” or make a donation to a charity at the holidays.