Individuals and businesses acquire an image even though they may do nothing to create one. People with whom you deal-friends, customers, clients and shoppers-will always form some kind of mental picture of you and your store.
Your image is what these people imagine. It's a perception, whether right or wrong, formed by your appearance, behavior and communications. For a business, factors such as location, exterior design, interior arrangement, signage, employee attitude and prices also help build this inner visualization.
YOUR IMAGE PROBLEMS
How do you get and keep the image you want? First, you must decide what you want it to be. That can be difficult when you sell a variety of products at different price levels-and when your products are much the same as those of a competitor down the street or elsewhere in the mall. It's also difficult when your target markets consist of diverse income, education and fashion-conscious groups.
A decorating specialty store owner usually desires to establish a fashion image based on quality products, intelligent service and affordable prices. Some carry the image a step further by cultivating a high-style reputation for designer and name brands plus customized service. Discount chains and similar outlets feature low prices and little service. Department stores may attempt to maintain a mixture of impressions; a fashion emphasis in one department, a low price appeal in another.
INSTINCTIVE FOR MOST
As a rule, small retailers establish an image based on their specialized services. They combine good product knowledge with smart and friendly customer assistance. Word-of-mouth referrals then bring them a satisfactory flow of regular and new customers. Helpful suppliers and well-trained employees also contribute to keeping satisfied customers.
The owners' chief concern then is to continue doing all the right things that bring in business. They nurture and expand all the varied activities for which they are responsible:
1. They keep up on fashions and product developments.
2. They maintain good store appearances. (They know even loyal customers can be turned off by dated merchandise and tacky-looking displays.)
3. They constantly monitor service. (Sloppy, unconcerned and slow service drives customers away to stay.)
4. In a world of fast-changing technology, they do their best to keep up with ideas to help them serve their customers better.
5. They supplement word-of-mouth referrals with a program of customer communications, either with a regular advertising schedule or by alternate methods (direct mail, publicity, networking etc.).
CHANGE YOUR IMAGE?
What can you do when you are not happy with your image? It is always possible to attract prospects with an unusual event, a special promotion or a major sale. Usually though, such events only bring a temporary increase in shoppers looking for low prices. Your long-range customer base does not change.
Too often, a merchant offering custom products and services decides to discount prices to increase traffic. He or she hopes to control costs by reducing services and markup.
Price discounting to reduce inventory on a temporary basis is used occasionally by every retailer. But to do so on a regular basis can bring real problems. Every merchandiser knows the risks involved in becoming just another low price outlet. Competitive price disasters cause more small business failures than any other reason. In today's economy, some other outlet will always have a lower price.
COMMUNICATIONS CONVEY IMAGE, TOO
Many owners and store managers work hard to cultivate a favorable in-store image. Then, they neglect to maintain this image in their advertisements and promotions. It's difficult to have separate images; one for in-store appearances, another for outside communications and activities. Most commonly this happens when a custom specialty store or studio attempts to compete with a low-price competitor. The result may lead to customer confusion and mistrust.
Your outside communications are based on your advertising and printed materials. Your store image should be reflected in all these materials, even if it involves only a small directory ad.
Every time you prepare an ad or other communication piece, think image. Your desired look should be conveyed by the look, tone and copy in your materials. Ideally, people should recognize your materials without looking for your store name. Your print materials should enhance the same favorable impression as your other image builders, from service to smiles.
WHAT KIND OF AD TO RUN?
Every day, myriad ads and commercials run in thousands of newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. The mixture of sizes, styles, designs and ideas may seem endless. But most of them can be placed in rather loose categories, regardless of looks.
1. Announcement Ads-Usually all type and balanced in design. The ads state the who, what, when, where, why and how about a new or changed product, event or service. They announce sales, relocations, expansions, promotions and changes of all kinds.
These original kinds of ads date back to the "Notice" announcements found in ancient newspapers. They still receive good attention and readership in today's print materials.
Headline words, like "Attention," "Announcing" and "Important Notice" catch reader's eyes. The copy is usually brief, just the facts about the event. Sometimes, borders, arrows and other graphics will help capture attention, too.
2. Reminder Ads-Used to tie-in products or services with a seasonal sale, a community occasion or an annual store observance. Facts about the upcoming event set the theme for copy and illustrations.
3. Bargain Ads-Everyone, regardless of income, loves a bargain. It can be a price reduction, a free offer, an added service, anything that might provide a worthwhile excuse for prospects to visit your store. Even the most prestigious merchandisers occasionally run bargains during special sales.
In such ads, be sure to make comparisons between regular and sales prices. Customers want to make certain they are getting a real bargain, not just a simulated savings. The long-range effect of deceiving customers with phony price reductions can devastate a store's image and any future bargain offerings.
4. Introductory Ads-Used to promote a new or changed product or service. No tricks should be used. State clearly what you're introducing. Describe the benefits to be derived from the use of your offer.
You can easily overdo this kind of ad. Any ad can be repeated effectively for a number of times, but prospects grow weary of repetitive ads. Experts warn of negative reactions to continuous claims of "wonderful new products" or "amazing benefits."
Over the years, numerous research has concluded that four to seven times is the maximum number to repeat a newspaper ad or broadcast commercials. But, as you have often observed, many advertisers never follow these studies. They prefer to repeat the same ad or commercial over and over ad nauseam until the theme and advertiser's name become part of our subconscious.
So, apparently no one study can report for certain how often a commercial message can be repeated. It's another one of the many mysteries of advertising.
5. Institutional Ads-Used to develop community goodwill and store prestige. Actually, all of your ads are institutional in the sense that they help create an overall image for your store. Institutional ads can help develop an aura of valued service and fashion leadership. Brand names can be emphasized. Use copy, headlines and illustrations to point out the special features that make your store a desirable place to shop.
Institutional ad results cannot be measured on the next day's or monthly sales sheets. Results only can be indicated by the continuing acceptance and respect for your store by customers, suppliers and employees, along with store growth and long-range profits.
6. Educational Ads-Usually consist of ads containing decorating tips and product use or how-to suggestions. Their purpose is to help prospects make purchase decisions at your store. Such helpful ads offer a good way for you to gain recognition as the knowledgeable leader in your product and market areas.
Specialty stores may use an educational approach to help develop a designer image. The ads will contain decorating tips, product use ideas, color and accessories coordination. The intent is to gain an aura of professional service for your store and staff.
For added impact, use your photo and handwritten signature. Or, design ads to resemble a newspaper editorial or feature article, even though the publication may carry a disclaimer noting that your article is really an advertisement.
Testimonials from satisfied customers become very effective educational and image ads. Design such ads using customer and room setting photos for maximum impact. Decorating studios and individuals often run such ads as part of a regular campaign.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.
Image Checkup Decide what you want your image to be. Then establish store and communications policies to convey this image to your customers, prospects and the public. Take an occasional look at your overall look:
• Review all the newspaper ads you've run
during the past year. Study them and see
how consistent you've been. Look at such
Logos Photos and illustrations
Typefaces Copy style
Borders Theme of ads
• Do the same thing with your direct mail
and other print materials used during the
past year. Now ask yourself:
Are my ads similar in their style?
Does the printed image match the
personality I want for my business?
• If possible do the same thing with your radio and TV commercials.