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Don’t Take First Impressions for Granted by Nina Hershberger

by | In the Magazine, Nina Hershberger

“First, do no harm.”

That principle, attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, is just as applicable to marketing as to medicine.

The myriad ways you have of drawing attention to your business can gain you new customers and maintain customer loyalty or they can stigmatize you as a complacently ordinary operation.

Drawing attention to your business

For example, newsletters and flyers are a proven way to make your message “stick to the ribs” of the customers; but if those mailings are rife with misspellings, poor punctuation, and jumbled layouts, you will be working against yourself.

Websites

All websites should be considered a “work in progress”; but if your sparse, difficult-to-navigate homepage hasn’t shown any progress in the past six months, you’re inviting a negative reaction.  Similarly, if your Facebook page gets updated only once in a blue moon, customers can’t be blamed for concluding that you just don’t care. 

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Roadside Signage

Your roadside signage can snag the attention of passers-by; but if the colors are faded by years of sun exposure, letters are missing, and weeds are obscuring the message, most discriminating shoppers will drive farther on down the road.

Signs

Signs inside the building tell a lot about your attention to detail.  It’s admirable to host an Easter egg hunt for youngsters, but if the tattered sign is still hanging on the front door in July, that’s a red flag for customers.  One business instituted a “Manager’s Special,” written on a dry erase board in the lobby.  Fair enough.  But after a few weeks, the manager got bored with the project, and the blank board stuck out like a sore thumb for years.

Telephone Messages

Some businesses supplement their “on hold” telephone music with recorded messages about the business.  This can be an entertaining way to inform the public of underappreciated products or services, but it works to your detriment if it’s outdated.  A message to “get ready for Old Man Winter” is jarring when customers see daffodils and flip-flops all around them.

Radio and TV Commercials

Radio and TV commercials should be helpful rather than aggravating.  If you use vocal talent from inside your organization, go for someone who exudes warmth and competency, not just a stuffed shirt who needs an ego boost.  People appreciate the chance to jot down pertinent information; phone numbers and web addresses should be announced slowly, clearly, and more than once.

Discounts

Most customers understand that businesses must institute reasonable disclaimers when offering discounts, rebates, or coupons; but if the fine print is too verbose and too many strings are attached, potential customers will be turned off.  And if the disclaimers are too vague, you are inviting point-of-sale altercations.  Applying the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) motto, if an offer can’t be expressed succinctly, maybe you shouldn’t be extending it. 

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(One business – an ACE Hardware affiliate with additional suppliers – should serve as a cautionary tale.  They always generated customer consternation when they conducted an “Everything you can cram into a shopping bag, 10% off” sale.  Clerks and customers alike became stressed out when there were constant explanations of “Yes, this is an ACE item, but that one isn’t.  You can get a discount on those three products, but the other two come from a different vendor…”)

Promising more than you can deliver

Don’t promise more than you can deliver.  Also, don’t advertise “one-stop shopping” if you know customers will have to travel elsewhere for a third of the things on their list.  And don’t promise “friendly, courteous, knowledgeable service” if your employees aren’t all friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable.  Don’t boast, “We will not be undersold” if a deep-pocketed competitor with greater economy of scale has moved into town.

Don’t mislead or confuse your customers. Also, don’t advertise “Drop in today” on days you’re closed.   If your different locations and departments keep different hours, make that vital information clear.  Don’t lure customers into your business on Saturday afternoon only to tell them, “Oh, the guys in the shop always knock off at noon on Saturdays.”

Quality control

Ideally, quality control is “everybody’s business.”  Realistically, you should have one person designated to ride herd on the image you project.  That person should have a designated back-up when they are sick, on vacation, or otherwise unavailable.

The image guardian should see to it that your message is (a) pleasing to the senses, (b) accurate, (c) easy to understand, and (d) up to date.

No matter how good your prices, products, or service, if consumers get the impression that you are an amateurish operation or an over-the-hill relic, it will cost you dollars.

It doesn’t matter how many customers you get through the front door, if their experience does not match what they were led to expect, you will not win them over as repeat customers.

Do you pay attention to the image your business projects?  The public certainly does.  Take control of that image and the sky is the limit.

 About Nina Hershberger

Nina is a marketing fanatic who loves helping local businesses not only survive, but thrive. She was recognized as one of the top 6 marketers worldwide in 2009 and is the author of “30 Minute Marketing – 101 Ways to wow your customers, clients, and patients”. She hosts a national marketing mastermind group where business owners from varied niches gather to plan, strategize and share marketing ideas.

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