Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Think about what your target audience sees when they look at your company, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
They say you shouldn’t worry about what people think but, in business, you have to.
While it’s true that the sooner in life we realise that we should worry less about people’s opinions the better, we can’t disregard what our customers understand to be true. If existing and prospective clients all thought a company was overcharging for a poor service, they wouldn’t be trading for much longer.
It means that we’ve constantly got to be aware of how our actions are perceived on the outside. Reality is, even if we open the door widely on our work, audiences typically only peer through windows. By that I mean that they take snapshots in passing.
The busier our marketplaces become and the more technology and social media there is, the more this is true. In the political world, they call it ‘optics’, which is the understanding of events after seeing a media portrayal, and how that vision might influence future voting habits.
In a way, placing an order is a bit like casting a vote. I like this. I want this. I trust the person offering it. So, we’ve all got an electorate to impress.
There are windows everywhere these days, so you’ve got to position the furniture accordingly.
I don’t mean, create a false impression, whereby only the rooms with windows are neat and tidy, but more that we shouldn’t let ourselves down by neglecting important details. I know of good companies that are perceived poorly because they don’t talk about or reveal the right things; instead, they do good work, but present it badly, or highlight the boring or self-serving components of their success. Then there are weak firms that market themselves weakly. Forget about those.
Company logos and signage are good examples.
It’s important to make them synonymous with all the good things about a business and what it does. But, too often, I see posts with a standalone logo and a post about how great that entity is. That means little to a target audience. Worse, it puts them off engaging, and buying (voting), especially when they’ve seen something similar, posted by multiple companies, on Twitter (X), Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok, all before morning coffee. It’s bad optics.
I was reminded of the importance of what a target audience sees when two opportunities presented themselves recently to address ours with announcements:
First, was to share news that we have sponsored Briton Ferry Llansawel AFC Under 19’s development team, extending a four-year association with the local club.
Second, was when two people who know a thing or two about optics came to visit us.
Briton Ferry is at the heart of its community. It fields sides in a number of other age divisions and disciplines, from Academy Under 8’s to Under 16’s; three girls’ teams, senior women’s, and reserves; a men’s first team and reserves; plus, veterans’ and walking football sides. The men’s first team play in the JD Cymru South Division, which is the second tier in Welsh football.
Equally at the centre of their local areas, are two UK Members of Parliament (MPs) that stopped by to see our work.
First, we hosted Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, at our Minworth, West Midlands depot; before Pyle, South Wales headquarters opened its doors to Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East.
The visits were facilitated by the HS2 high-speed railway project, which is showcasing companies around the UK that are playing a vital role in the construction of the major infrastructure project.
Neither the commercial partnership with a local sports club, or the political visits, were about telling trade media or social media followers how great we think we are, or how good our products are. They weren’t an opportunity to talk about our breadth of offering.
At no point did we go into detail about radio-frequency identification (RFID)-chipped shackles, hooks, slings, harnesses or periodic Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) inspections and other services.
Yes, on all occasions we positioned certain people in front of our RSS and Gemmak logos (actually, we’ve chosen to give our fab shop, Gemmak, greater prominence at Briton Ferry), but the stories were about community and something bigger than what we’re doing at a single company. As it happened, we welcomed a lot of interest as a result, but that was a by-product.
The lesson: people will react positively and give a business their time, if they can buy into a concept, a story, or a purpose. Those who might not have seen our content before, now associate our logo with something interesting.
I’d encourage all businesses to look at partnering with local clubs or sports teams. It doesn’t have to be leisure groups; there are many other associations and organisations besides that would welcome commercial backing. And it’s a great way to give back. We’ve even got three Briton Ferry players that have taken roles with us; we’ve never published a job advertisement on the noticeboard in the clubhouse, but a welder / fabricator and two other trainees became part of our 101-strong team, regardless. In speaking to them since joining, they all said they found the opportunity more compelling than they would have, had they seen a, ‘We Need You’ poster featuring a photo of Alan Varney wearing an RSS polo shirt. Again, think about the optics.
Decision makers can expect too much, too soon, of these partnerships. It’s not about paying a certain amount and expecting three times that in return on investment over the course of a year or football season. Enter them with an open mind. Give, give, give, give… and give again before expecting anything back. In most cases, the club needs the business more than the other way round. Over time, interest in a brand, industry, products, etc. all follows, as does an abundance of goodwill.
As exhibitors plan their stands for this year’s LiftEx, they can think about optics in a different way.
We decided a long time ago to sponsor the lanyards and on-site water bottles. This way—and we’ve done it before—we get to interact with every attendee and exhibitor across the two days of the show. Of course, we’ll take an exhibit too, but the investment and visual impression has a much bigger impact than simply pitching up with the same wares as a neighbour, pretending to be twice as good and half the price. I’m backing us to squeeze six months’ worth of quality networking into 48 hours.
See you (wearing our lanyard and drinking our water) at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool on 21-22 November.
I couldn’t finish this blog without referencing some particularly bad optics: the UK Government’s decision to extend CE mark recognition for businesses. The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) announced earlier this month (August) its intention to indefinitely extend the use of CE marking for businesses, applying to 18 regulations owned by DBT. There is intent to extend recognition of the CE marking for placing most goods on the market in Great Britain beyond December 2024.
It’s a bad look because diligent, forward-thinking businesses, like ours, had already gone through the painstaking, costly process of getting up to speed with UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking. Ok, customers appreciated our willingness to get ahead of the curve (good optics) but it’s somewhat frustrating given that we’d be no worse off now had we not bothered.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd