Image management, managing customers’ impressions of you, is perhaps one of the most important parts of public relations. An image is the foundation for a business, upon which its success or failure is built. In customer-service businesses, based on the image you give off, people will either be flooding through the doors or running for the exit (usually not to return). It takes communication and active management to maintain image and it can be fatal if it’s mismanaged or strays too far from common association. One type of image management is store identity.
Take the fledgling world of big box department stores for example http://ti.me/ZjATZe. Once renowned anchor tenants with sturdy reputations, big box department stores now crumble as they scramble to find a foothold in a vastly different marketplace. Their current method of defense? Boutique “store within a store” concepts. At the beginning of April, Best Buy introduced its Samsung Experience Shop. JCPenney has mini shops, sections within its stores that each focus on a specific brand. Target, for a while, had “The Shops at Target,” mini collections from boutiques around the country. When successful, this concept provides an increase in foot traffic and sales, sometimes even outselling the main store. When it goes wrong, stores lose their identity. It’s too soon to tell for Best Buy, but it has affected JCPenney and Target. Loyal JCPenney customers have already started to drop off. Target’s boutique offerings were so obscure, and under-publicized, that the entire concept died a quick, quiet death last month (you were wondering where those went right?). It would be nothing short of ironic if the very concept invented to save the big box store ended up being the final nail in the coffin instead. My thoughts? If you need other stores to sell your store, than you need to better manage your original store image. Stores within a store are simply a band-aid, and a distraction from the main problem.
Another type of image management is customer service, and for this there are two examples. Target recently made a large blunder (pardon my unintentional pun) when its separate ”missy” and “plus-size” teams failed to collaborate on color names for a dress on its website http://onforb.es/10VWjdb. The “missy” size colors all said “Dark Heather Gray” while the plus sizes all said “Manatee Gray.” Although the latter is a color name found across a variety of product lines on Target’s site, this is no excuse for what happened. They did manage to save face though, communicating via Twitter with an apology and promptly fixing the problem. Proofreading and better communication in the first place between groups, known as teamwork, could have prevented this from happening in the first place. The second example is McDonald’s, whose slow decline in friendliness and fast service has alienated customers http://on.wsj.com/ZUVOOe. Part of the problem is that the McDonald’s franchise is a large one, and there is poor communication of standards to each franchise owner. Failure to maintain standards is the surest way to get customers up in arms, and the barrage of complaints related to these issues is proof. McDonald’s is placing a greater emphasis on service, boosting staffing at peak hours, and launching a “dual point” ordering system nationwide. Will it be enough? Efforts that come earlier stand a better chance at fixing a problem and saving face, and tackling problems as they’re happening is always better than waiting till it’s too late, but the effects remain to be seen.
Collectively, these companies face a weaker image for various reasons. What they all have in common is their poor image management. Strong store identity and customer service are of utmost importance, never has it been more important to maintain an image than it is in an economy like this one. The important thing to remember, is that image really is everything.