Give Your Brand "Curb Appeal"

Your business collateral and presentation style speak volumes. Here are five ways to improve your first impression

There are two homes for sale in my neighborhood. One has curb appeal, the other does not. Both are the same four-bedroom model. Which one do you think will command a higher price—the one with new sod, new fixtures, granite counters, and hardwood floors, or the one with stained carpets, damaged fixtures, and old cabinets?

In real estate, especially during a soft market, it's all about curb appeal. Real estate agents tell me that prospective homebuyers make up their minds within 30 seconds of entering a house and that a few upgrades can add thousands of dollars to the price of a home (see, 4/7/06, "Going Through a Stage").

Just as some owners and agents hire professional staging experts to add value to a home, consider adding curb appeal to your personal brand. Everything from your wardrobe to Web site should speak volumes about who you are and what you represent. Here are five areas related to your business collateral and presentation style where cutting corners could damage the impression you make.

1. Photos. Everyone with a digital camera seems to fancy himself a professional photographer. I have news for you—great portrait photography is far more complicated than standing in front of a white wall and getting someone to snap your picture. Photographers who know their stuff are experts in positioning their subjects to enhance their best features. They also pay careful attention to lighting. Glance through full portraits or head shots of business professionals on Web sites, brochures, and business cards, and you will find that some really pop while most look plain. Spend the money on a good photograph that makes you look your best.

2. Web Site. Just because your son or daughter enjoys uploading images of themselves to their MySpace page doesn't mean they should design your Web site. You want to hire a professional to do it, but first check out the sites they have created to see if they are clean, visually appealing, and easy to navigate. I realize a number of Web hosting companies allow you to build your own Web site using their tools. Some of these sites are very well done. But if you use such a service, spend time reviewing the sites they choose to feature and use those as your models.

3. Business Cards. I know there are lot of services that entice customers with "big savings" on business cards. But a big saving can leave a small impression. Make your business card stand out by using an eye-catching design, printing it on high-quality stock, and adding something unique. I created a business card that opens like a book, which sets it apart. I hand that card out after speeches or workshops. The cover of the card is an image of my book, it's on high-quality stock, and most important, it's memorable. Think creatively about the service you provide and what your business card says about that service. For instance, I was recently handed a card in the shape of a trash container by someone who works for a recycling center.

4. Presentations. Sales professionals typically have a standard template for business presentations that they can customize for each prospect. Unfortunately, far too many presentations are plain, boring, and confusing. Leave a strong impression by creating slides that use images, photographs, charts, or graphics instead of slide after slide of bullet points. If you're design-challenged, spend some money to hire an expert in PowerPoint creation. I read several books on PowerPoint and thought my presentation was pretty good. But when I hired a professional PowerPoint designer, she created a presentation that made my creation look like a fifth-grade school project. I learned my lesson: Hire an expert when it counts.

5. Wardrobe. The best piece of advice I ever received about dressing like a leader came from a military hero named Matt Eversmann who I met at a business conference. He led troops into battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Eversmann told me that one of the keys to leadership is to "dress better than everybody else." I never forgot that. Dress appropriately for the culture, of course, but always appear a little more polished than everyone else. Dress like a leader people want to follow (see, 1/19/06, "Leaders Must Look the Part").

All of this attention to detail regarding your collateral and the way you present yourself is important. So is knowing when to invest a bit of time putting together something extra for a business contact or colleague. In the last year, I have received exactly two handwritten notes of thanks. Of course, I get a ton of e-mail and voice messages, but those notes were so unusual in this digital age that they left me with a highly favorable impression of the two executives who sent them. It's a classy thing to do.

What special touches do you offer your clients or customers? Handwritten notes, small gifts, reminders, cards for special events? Think of something unique to your business that will make a memorable impression on your clients or prospects.

You represent the most important brand of all: Yourself. Every point of contact with your personal brand should reflect the impression you want to make on your customers, colleagues, and clients. It's a buyer's market. Give your brand some curb appeal!

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