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Marketing Interview

Many small businesses dont realize how important their company image really is. The following is a formula for low cost marketing for a small business to create or better their image. To find this formula I interviewed Evan Paull, the owner of a small sign making company based in Annapolis Maryland called Independent Sign Consortium or ISC. ISC was started in 1996 and has had a steady growth ever since. I also interviewed Allison Green, the marketing director of Revisions, Revisions is based in Baltimore Maryland and is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the mentally ill.

Many small companies believe that a corporate or company image develops all on its own. Therefore, they believe the business itself has little or no control over shaping the outcome of the image. Often a company will delay any investment in a public image because they think its an expensive luxury. It is only after some bad publicity or a negative event do they relies that some effort needs to be put into improving or defining their look. Of course if you wait until something like this happens the cost is always going to be higher.

Most successful businesses have a carefully crafted image that separates them from the competition and helps to establish a solid public presence, remarks Allison Green. A distinct corporate image benefits many aspects of any business. Public relations rely on image to attract new customers and to generate repeat business. Finance departments depend on image to impress investors and shareholders with a sense of stability. Employees feel more secure when a company has a good image. An image should always accurately reflect the substance of a company.

However, an image is only a perception, an appearance, a representative look of that substance. Subsequently, as Green says, it doesnt always have to cost an arm and a leg to accurately represent the company. Given an unlimited budget, any fat corporation can create a new image or alter an outdated or damaged one. Those of us with more modest resources, given only a camera, a copier and an ink jet printer adding some creativity can do it even better. There are some things on which you should never cut corners, safety regulations or legal issues for example.

Looking only at the surface, in this instance, is a good thing as is going for style not necessarily substance. You only get what you pay for doesnt really apply here. Remember an image should reflect the true quality of your products or services, however, as Evan Paull says any little set designer will attest, you can get great looking reflections even when you only have very little resources. First, take a look at your present image. Make note of the things you like. Decide on what components can or can not be changed (the name perhaps).

Look at the parts that you hate or the parts that need a great deal of improvement. Notice the parts of your image that are neutral. In order to develop a positive or a new and improved but inexpensive image, start identifying other businesses that have the look you want. Start with the competition. Collect their brochures and other printed materials especially business cards and annual reports. Visit their locations and take note of the signage, the dcor, furniture, and display cases.

Next study other businesses that just have a look that you like or an appearance that gives you a good first impression. Even if they are not appropriate for your particular needs, identify parts of the look that you like, a logo or sign, a color combination perhaps. Whenever possible take pictures. Go through magazines and catalogs, clip logos, ads and pictures that express an image you would like to achieve. Carefully examine fonts, letterheads and graphics. Many times things are not as they appear.

Gold lettering on a sign is not gold, wood grain is not real wood and marble floors are seldom made of marble [In these instances, a designer or architect looked at the surface of the project and chose materials to suit the needs of his design and the budget of his client. ]When putting together a company image, you need to begin seeing things on the surface the way an artist might see it. When an artist paints a tree, he doesnt take a real tree and smash it into the canvass. He looks at the tree and sees that it is just different shades of green and brown pigment. He then recreates the tree using different materials.

The end result is not a real tree but a valuable representative image. When putting together your new company image try squinting your eyes to see things differently, Paull says. Look at everything that makes up your public image in this different way, your logo, your sign, displays, letterhead, brochures, annual reports, walls, and floors. Paull says that you should try to while squinting see the colors change and shapes move. Notice that red can appear to be several colors when the shades are lightened or darkened. Notice that movement can change the color, size and shape of things [like signs].

See that an expensive die cut in the cover of an annual report doesnt look cut at all, rather it is a sharp contrast of color with a blackout line. Make note that direct sunlight is different from florescent lighting that is different from incandescent light and that lighting coming from above is different then lighting from the floor or a table lamp. Now turn these observations into cost cutting questions. Do you really need an expensive four-color processor for your brochure or annual report to get the look you want? Does your lobby furniture really need chrome accents to achieve the same image as you saw in the lobby of your competitor?

Do you hate your old display or do you just hate the colors being used? Does your sign need to be made of costly reflective or translucent materials? Is lighting being used effectively to accent or emphasize your projects? Is lighting being used at all? When a man walks into a discount department store wearing a shirt and tie, customers think he works there. If he also wears a jacket they will think he is the manager. Likewise, your customers will think what you lead them to think about your organization by the surface image that you present to them.

Again, your product or service must live up to the image to be successful but the representation itself need not be the focus of your finances. Dont pass by those resumes with degrees in art or theater. In fact have Human Resources to be on the look out for them. Every company needs a visually oriented person. A color ink jet printer is also an important tool, not necessarily the more expensive color laser printer. You will also need a graphics software package and a good copier, remember Paulls words, never buy cheap paint or shoes.

There are some things that will always cost you more in the long run if you start off too cheaply. A copier is one of them. You will definitely need a camera; there is no need to spend a great deal of money on this. However if you are going to invest in a quality camera, consider a digital one. Prints can be made instantly from your color printer. A few tips to live by would be to purchase a copy of the No Money Maker for your entire key personal but never buy retail. Whenever possible consider used. You can get better quality and more of it. Quality used office furniture can also make a new business appear more established.

It is also good to identify a small part of your logo as a trademark and make sure it appears on everything, stationary, ads, vehicles, signs, doors, etc. It can be a graphic or an initial or just a color, but it should be distinct and representative of your organization. The Nike symbol is a prime example. Print this logo and/or trademark on different size labels so you can customize folders, nonstandard envelopes, one of a kind projects, etc. Matching the ink color to the background can make an item appear custom engraved. You will need a large quantity of paper stock with your trademark in a corner or as a background shadow.

If you can afford a digital camera, have enlargements and copies made on a color copier at your local copy shop. It is much cheaper than photo enlargements and the quality is surprisingly good. It is important for your customers to see cleanliness and classiness so get a good cleaning service. Install dimmer switches to control the lighting in the lobby, the boardroom and display areas. Fluorescent lights make everything look flat and harsh including faces. Use tables and floor lamps when you can. Clearly designate your main entrance so that you can control your guests first impression. Use signage and/or landscaping to do this.

It is very important to join the local chamber of commerce and have key staff attend meetings and serve on committees so you can control how the business community perceives you. Improve your image and increase your companys public awareness and your networking by aligning yourself with a nonprofit as well. Have key staff serve as volunteers on the board of directors for one or more worthy causes. Press releases can go a long way to help out your image. News reports will jump on a dramatic news story or an important event. Realistically though, how often does that happen at most organizations.

One way to improve the odds of getting your news in the press is to do it yourself. Do the research, find the angle, and write the article. Many reporters will take the easy road rather than write their own article. If they have space and all the work is already done, chances are they will use your story. For even better odds put the article on disc in a format that they use and include a photo. Last but certainly not least never apologize on stage. Let people think you paid a lot for something. Dont volunteer information. Most times no one will know the difference unless you tell them, Green says.

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