My husband and I recently had a meeting with a member of staff from an established bank. We sat in a private office as we discussed the different savings plans we might consider opposite a financial advisor who wore a short-sleeved, frilly blouse displaying plenty of cleavage. While my husband was very pleased that our bank was “here for us” I was doubtful that this was the image the marketing department had spent a large part of their budget trying to create.
However, perhaps they had used so much money conveying an image to the public that they did not have the funds to ensure that the clothes worn by frontline staff echoed their principles.
While large companies can design a uniform that communicates their brand essence, small companies and individual professionals are often bewildered as to how their appearance can be used to impact customer relations.
I recently worked with a successful accountant who has decided to use her expertise in business development to create her own company. She looked to me for help as she recognised that when she met prospective clients her appearance would have an immediate impact on the credibility of her new business. We began the consultation by considering the USP of her company and went on to discuss how that would look in sartorial form. Her company will inspire the development of better practices but it also had to convey the structure and expertise that her staff will bring to prospective customers. We then looked at my client’s current wardrobe and put a few outfits together that will now always be available for initial meetings with potential customers. These outfits consisted of neutral colours in fabrics and styles that conveyed structure and competence. We then introduced small aspects of accent colours in tones that worked with the client so that these flashes of colour hinted at her creative approach to business and were not simply bright colours that took the attention away from my client. This approach to the clothes that we wear in business reflects the common belief that, “You are the brand”. As many small companies compete for contractual work the visual shorthand of appearance is one tool that prospective contractors will often use to decide who they can relate to and who they trust to do the job well.
So how can you ensure that your staff are reflecting your company ethos through their appearance?
- Communication of the company business plan and how it will develop is vital. Nick Price, CEO of IT recruitment company Bright Purple, once proudly told me of a member of front desk staff independently choosing to wear purple. He was impressed that this member of staff recognised the importance of her part in conveying the Bright Purple brand. However, Nick’s own communication skills alongside his personal energy and creative attitude towards work were clearly infective. Would your staff know your company ethos through your approach to work and personal communication?
- Ask your staff what they think of the company ethos and how it is communicated to clients and prospective customers. By involving them in the discussion staff can offer suggestions of how to use their appearance effectively.
- Use the expertise of consultants to raise awareness of the value of a professional appearance. Personal appearance is personal. The intervention of an outside expert can often ease this discussion, bringing an objective view to the topic.