Images operate on a nonverbal, emotional level. They immediately pre-sell or undermine your message. They create a negative impression or positive feeling in your customer's eyes and mind in a matter of seconds. Therefore, carefully building your image will communicate your professionalism and attention to detail as well as numerous other characteristics of your business.
Nonverbal messages can work against businesses as well, tearing down customers' interest or confidence. No doubt at some time in the past you've visited a store or office and felt so ill at ease that you didn't stay long. Perhaps you observed other customers leaving quickly, often without buying anything.
On the other hand, you probably have also experienced a business in which you felt good from the moment you entered. You noticed that customers seemed to linger and enjoy themselves, and they carried purchases home with them when they left.
Just as you have an opinion about these two businesses, everyone who does business with you has an impression of your business. They have a feeling about your professionalism, your products and inventory, your marketing and sales approach, and your service. These impressions may be conscious or subconscious, but they equally affect how your customers use your business.
CREATING A POSITIVE MOOD
Business today isn't just about buying. It's about stimulating the senses, taking people on adventures, involving them in exciting experiences. Your business's image—sights, sounds, smells, etc.—create a mood that encourages clients to either shop and recommend your business to friends, or to run screaming for the door.
Think about a business that you love to visit. What prompts you to go there? And not only go there, but also drop some hard-earned cash there? Chances are this store appeals to many of your senses. If you take a second, you will realize that you enjoy not only how it looks, but how it sounds and smells as well. This mood setting is what keeps customers in the store for longer.
Joel Weldon, a professional speaker, taught me the importance of the little things in business. He asks his audience, "How many of you have ever been bitten by an elephant?" No one raises a hand. Then he asks, "How many of you have ever been bitten by a mosquito or an gnat?" Everyone raises a hand. The point is, it is not the big things that hurt. It's a lot of little things that hurt our business. This is so true when it comes to all of the details that make up the impression of your business. Many successful businesses are just ordinary businesses that know how to use details to market extraordinarily.
Consumers are no longer comfortable shopping for products and services from businesses that appear stuck in the past. Their standards are higher, and they have too many other options. If your business isn't attractive, well lit, welcoming and unique, you don't stand a chance.
At the same time, retail competition is fierce and coming from every direction. Now there are big box corporate retail stores, large discounters becoming smarter at niche marketing, airport shopping malls and the Internet. There is so much out there that customers are in retail overload.
For retailers and other businesses to survive in this competitive market, they must change or die. This may be a strong message, but small businesses are dying across the nation every day. They are becoming the Jurassic Park of our business future. Businesses that have been around for years are closing their doors. Business was good for so many years that they got used to doing business the same old way. But for a business to survive it must change with the times. If you are not focusing on your core customer base and embracing the latest technology you are headed down a dead-end street!
You communicate much of your business image through visual marketing. Exciting displays and unique marketing are like eye candy. A great display will demand you customers' attention and get them reaching for their wallets.
But not just any display can do that; it must be creative and displayed with form and style to attract the quick moving eye of the customer. The display may show motion, strong color or an overall accessorized package, but it must compel your customers to part with some of their hard-earned cash.
Here is an example. Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite things to do; yet a unique store can make me change my mind. In Arizona there is a wonderful chain called AJ's Fine Foods. This company took a basic grocery store and turned it into a visual and culinary delight. The stores are beautifully designed throughout, have incredible floral departments and display the fruits and vegetables like pieces of art. Grocery shopping is suddenly an adventure and a delight.
This example shows that no matter what type of business you are in, you can make it a visual treat for your customers, whether inside a store or through a marketing campaign.
CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
Many business owners become complacent with a certain level of success. They accept things the way they are and don't consider examining things so that they can change for the better. If you are thinking like this, you could be threatening your business.
The big guys aren't all that smart. It amazes me how some very large corporate stores don't have a clue about what they are doing wrong in their customers' eyes. Many large corporations that have been in business for years are losing ground and losing millions. The problem is, these corporations didn't change, they just stayed the same. They got along well for years without a strong brand identity, but now times have changed. New competition moved in with a fresh approach and an image that was focused on their customer base, which makes them stand out in the crowd. Now those old department stores, hardware stores, bookstores and travel agencies are scrambling to stay alive. They are closing locations and cutting back on staff, which is only making matters worse. They should have opened their eyes and ears to their customers years ago.
A good example of a corporation that woke up and changed for the better is Gap/Banana Republic. Back in the '80s their customer focus was much different than it is today. They made a concerted effort to rediscover their customer core. Then they made changes that reflect a different mood inside the stores. Banana Republic, for example, originally used old jeeps in their stores to create a safari theme. Although interesting and unique for a while, this focus made their niche and market too small. Banana Republic recently revamped, eliminating the safari accouterments and bringing in a more sophisticated appearance and product line.
Banana Republic and Gap both updated their images to capture a whole new generation of buyers. The Gap now sells to a much larger audience of customers, including the offspring of current customers with BabyGap and GapKids. The same corporation owns Old Navy. This store has a strong focus on servicing their customers and has keyed into their wants, needs and concerns in a big way. Companies such as this are clearly on the cutting edge of the retail market today.
As these stores illustrate, the driving force in business today is that customers are demanding to have it their way. They may not be getting the same personal service they once got, but they have taught smart businesses to offer a way to let the customers serve themselves. For example, customers are shopping on the Internet, having packages delivered to their homes. Customers are not walking into banks and service stations as often, now that they can use ATM machines and self-service gas pumps. Credit cards use is at an all time high because they make it easy to just swipe and go.
SELF-SCRUTINY IS THE KEY
Is your business at a stand still, not moving to the next level of success? Have you lost loyal customers over the past year? Do customers walk through your business without making a purchase? Don't blame it on the weather, the location or the economy. Take a look at your business from the outside-in. Strive to see it with new eyes—your customers' eyes. Re-evaluate all the details that create your overall image. Open your eyes and be honest with yourself. It may be that your business needs a serious mood makeover. It may take some drastic and painful changes to turn your business around. Sometimes we have to plow into that brick wall before we can see what is right in front of our noses.
Business is just not that easy today; you must try harder. Business is changing by the speed of light. You must make changes faster and work smarter than ever before to survive in the growing competitive marketplace.
Research shows that more than 70 percent of all buying decisions in mass merchandise outlets are made at the point-of-purchase. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Debbie Allen is an international professional speaker and author of Confessions of Shameless Self Promoters. This article is a sampling from this book. You may download a free chapter of the book and sign up for your free electronic newsletter at www.confessionsofshamelessselfpromoters.com, or contact Allen at (800) 359-4544.