Columns Opinion Your Views — 26 September 2013
The Business Plan: Developing a distinct identity 
for your business

By Bill Reagan

Bill Reagan

When talking about successful businesses, many of us think of organizations with outstanding products and services that adapt to the changing needs of their customers. However, in an increasingly competitive world, simply having great products and services is no longer enough.

It is vital for a business to establish a distinct identity. This is especially true in your positioning for customers, but it’s also an important ingredient of an organization’s internal culture.

When you look at the companies that are regarded as leaders in branding — Apple, for instance — you see how carefully all aspects of their image are stitched together. Apple publications use the same styles as the Apple website. The company’s stores all have the same look and feel. And its employees — on the phone, online or in person — all seem to have the same spirit and approach.

Few of us have the resources to replicate Apple’s blueprint, but we can strive for similar consistency and high standards.

First, let’s look at the importance of your external image — what your prospective customers see. Your external image is formed from a variety of customer contacts and experiences. Your products and services are at the core of that image.

What is it that makes your business special? Why should buyers choose your product or service? What differentiates you from your competition? These are the kinds of questions that a business owner must be able to answer, which should help shape an organization’s identity.

One way to refine your external image is to focus on your elevator pitch — the 10-second introduction that hopefully prompts further interest in your business. This is a prime opportunity to carefully and thoughtfully distinguish your organization from the competition.

What you choose to say in these few seconds should represent the core tenets of your business. If this is a challenge for you, it might be time to consider investing in consulting expertise for objective feedback and coaching.

It’s important to remember that prospective customers form an opinion based on every interaction with your business, making customer service a key component of your image. The way your employees answer the phone, handle questions or problems, and provide information to customers significantly factors into your company’s image. Every employee you hire becomes the face of your business to your customers.

This brings us to the internal culture of a company. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s recent presentation on hiring good employees highlighted the importance of making the culture and values of the business clear from the first interview.

Focusing on culture and values helps you to hire people who will be good stewards of your company’s identity. Consistently reinforcing that culture with all employees encourages outstanding customer service to continue. A strong internal culture strengthens your external brand, which allows your business to stand above the rest.

- The writer is the director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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