Are You Relevant?

Warren Shoulberg is Editor of HFN Magazine.  In an editorial in this week’s edition, he quotes Aylwin Lewis, the Chief Executive of Sears Holdings.  Reporting on second quarter results for Sears/K-Mart, Aylwin said that consumers "really don’t relate to its stores anymore."

As Shoulberg points out, that’s not particularly earth-shaking news.  What is news is that a senior executive of the company admits it. 

The point of the editorial is that retailers must be relevant to succeed.  Examples include:  "Wal-Mart: Always low prices.  Target: Cheap chic.  Kohl’s: Value for the family."  You get the idea.  According to Shoulberg, Sears and K-Mart have no identity. 

That brings us to the question of the day:  How do customers perceive your business?  Chances are you don’t have the resources to embed your identity in everybody’s subconscious mind like Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola ("The real thing"), but in your universe, your town, your niche, what do people think of when they hear your business’ name?  What’s your identity?  What’s the mental image that your brand conjures up in your customers’ and potential customers’ minds? 

If the answer is "I don’t know", then there’s work to be done.  What do you want your image to be?  Whatever it is, now is the time to start planting that image every time you make contact with anybody.  Brainstorm the question with your employees and trusted advisors.  Don’t overlook anything.  There are no bad ideas.

Once you decide what makes your business relevant, promote it for all you’re worth.  Boil it down to a simple phrase (Who said "You deserve a break today"?)  Then, put it in your ads.  Put it on your business cards.  Include it in your Yellow Pages ad and on your web site.  Include it in your answering machine message and your email signature.  You want the people who can make you successful to associate your business with the image you chose, not the image that someone else has chosen.  And, you certainly don’t want them to associate your name with nothing at all.

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