Building the right company image is vital – Opinion – Column
John R. Graham
Was Chrysler’s image damaged by its announcement that the latch on the rear door of millions of its minivans had a tendency to pop open during rear-end crashes? Why did renowned attorney F. Lee Bailey fare so poorly when he cross-examined a witness in the O.J. Simpson trial? Whether he knew it or not, he presented the image of a “has been,” not the brilliant, daring, provocative lawyer of the Boston Strangler days of 30 years ago.
Why does the Hard Rock Cafe attract crowds when the food is virtually identical with the fare served in 20 other far-less-popular restaurants in the same city? Without question, it is all in the image. Even the reason why one company can charge higher prices than does a comparable firm may have more to do with image than anything else.
The way a business is perceived by its customers, competitors, prospects, the general public, the government and the press has a profound effect on the success of the enterprise.
Even though image can play a key role in the life of a business, not everyone believes that it is a critical issue, one that is worthy of serious attention. It is common for those in the professional services field, such as lawyers and accountants, to proclaim that they are content to let the quality of their work speak for itself and, therefore,to rely on word-of-mouth to communicate their stores. Others feel the same.
Such views may have gone unchallenged. decades ago, but much of the negative public attitude toward those professions is the result of failing to care for image.
Even as companies take great pains in presenting themselves in the best possible light to their bankers, it is even more important to manage actively a firm’s image with its various constituencies.
Ironically, image-making is often viewed with great cynicism as a “smoke and mirrors” enterprise. Certainly, there are those who are willing and sometimes even eager to fabricate a new image although it rarely ever succeeds for any length of time.
Image-making for most businesses should be a matter of telling the truth, of communicating their mission and the way they serve their customers. Far from twisting, distorting or fabricating facts, the image-making function is simply opening the doors for others to see what is going on.
There is another side of the coin, however. There are business owners and managers who harbor a company image that is far removed from reality. Far too often, what they are looking for is a reaffirmation of some personal, ultraparochial view of the company. For example, we were brazen enough to question a prospective client’s logo. It was a conglomeration of disassociated elements, a graphic disaster. It was, however, a success at depicting a company lacking in purpose and direction. One of the owners made it clear that there was “a story behind every element in the logo.” Translated, that meant that the owners would not tolerate any discussion of changing the logo. Later it was discovered that others had tried but failed to move the owners even to talk about the company’s corporate identity. Needless to say, we did not get the account. But by being open and honest before going to work for the company, we learned an important lesson: Candor was not a quality cherished by the firm.
The best company image is one that portrays an enterprise in a way that makes good sense and has the right feel to it. Exaggeration is as inappropriate as failing to capture a company’s strength and vitality.
When it comes to image, many firms–no matter their relative size–want to be viewed as bigger and better than they are. They want to present themselves as they would like to be if they had the brains and resources. The best way to succeed with the task of image-making is to present a company just as it is. More times than not, the results are spectacular.
John R. Graham is the president of Graham Communications in Quincy, Mass.
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