MANILA, MARCH 29, 2007 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - In an age of pervasive sensationalized reportage, celebrity flash, tight competition, and expanding media forms, the issue of style over substance has never been more pronounced. Substance is great, but style is what sells. The steak is sumptuous, but the sizzle is what attracts. Purchasing decisions, viewing decisions, and voting decisions are all demonstrating a distinctive emphasis on image and image making. Nike is freedom. Apple is friendliness. BMW is the ultimate driving experience.

In politics, imaging plays a stellar role. Joker Arroyo is a dragon, a brave and straight-shooting legislator. Sonia Roco is Inang Guro, a mentor and nurturing mom. Ralph Recto is Korekto, an upright and forthright leader. Noynoy Aquino is a Dugong Bayani, Pusong Bayani, borrowing interest from a heroic lineage as he offers a stout heart for public service. Manny Villar sings the value of Sipag at Tiyaga and champions entrepreneurship, where success can be had with industry and determination. Butch Pichay presses on Pichay, Itanim sa Senado — obviously a play on his surname which to many sounds like a spoof. John Osmeña and Jun Magsaysay take pride in their political pedigree.

Projecting a palatable public persona has always been important in business, and political campaigning has always recognized the value of a clear image and unassailable reputation. You and I live in an era where image takes on an additional and critical importance. It covers how a person looks (youngish, athletic, respectable, housewifely, authoritative or palaban), and how he or she is seen (veteran, neophyte, accomplished or promising) and is being sold (Tol, Tito or Tao).

Media-savvy and public opinion-sensitive personalities know what an effective image-marketing program can deliver. To them, it makes an obscure name famous (Kiram, et al), it builds reputation (Loren’s No, 1 sa Senado), and it creates public perceptions that bring heightened awareness and a larger audience share (Kiko’s ‘K na). Some communications analysts compare a positive, high-profile campaign to a lot of flash — all bark and no bite — where porma (style) takes precedence over halaga or katuturan (substance). And of course, sometimes that’s all it is.

Those who deliberately tend and nurture a good image are often regarded as ominous or at the very least deserving of distrust from a suspecting public. But image marketing can be looked at differently. You can assume that a good image is the reflection of a good product, a good company, or good work. You can maintain that goodness only if you are able to put together an integrated plan of action that will continually protect your positive equities, reverse negative associations, and develop new offerings that match your public’s cravings.

Managing Perceptions

The job of image making is anchored on three principles. The first principle largely depends on how you manage perceptions. You create it if there is none. If there is a positive one, maintain it. And if haunted by a downbeat and a disapproving one, change it. People’s perceptions are based on what they know — or what they think they know. Thus, it is critical to determine public insights, and make available a steady flow of information to raise levels of public recognition. From these insights and information, a strategic communications plan can be developed. Once a plan is agreed on between the parties involved, you must stick to it. Evaluate, tweak, calibrate or change if you may, but only for good reasons.

Imaging Tools

The second principle rests on your effective use of available imaging tools. The challenge is how to harness the avenues of awareness, how to efficiently utilize the identified touch points, how to evaluate your synchronized approach, and how to execute and deliver the defined key messages. Reaching your targets and making your presence felt take time, financial backing, and a formidable plan. And from a communications message and execution perspective, your program must carry the elements of simplicity, imagery, repetition and sentiment.

Simplicity requires crafting key messages that connect with, or are readily understood by the masses, while imagery needs clear pictorial or descriptive images that can evoke emotions and provoke action. Repetition, on the other hand, entails the continuous propagation of selling propositions to push for collective consciousness, while sentiment calls for emotion-led communications that exert a pull on a desired feeling: empathy, sympathy or support. A successful interplay of these fundamentals supports what a political consultant says: that "to win every campaign, decide what you are going to say, decide how you are going to say it, and say it.

Think “Emotions”

Image marketing must aim to deliver a feel-good quality that triggers emotions. That’s the third principle. You may work on any or a combination of these emotions to make the appropriate linkage: approachability, trust, empowerment, familiarity, identification, curiosity, warmth, pride or relevance. It will likewise be helpful to recognize your desired poignancy transmitted through a smile, a hug, a handshake, a warm or sentimental feeling as you kiss a baby or give an elderly person a tight embrace.

Getting a critical mass of people to consume a product, or to put a political candidate’s name on their ballots, is difficult, but with the pertinent use of emotions, buyability or winnability comes much easier.

Long after an image campaign has ended, the package has been thrown away, and the image marketing tools and resources have been put down to a minimum, perceptions and images stay. You must protect these communications assets, and when a protection program is consistently in place, these chattels can prove beneficial.

Image marketing is seemingly a flash presentation. It can be just that if you allow it to be. But the more relevant and valuable practice is to go beyond the façade, and project the brand or the person’s inner and deeper qualities with more vigor. Style is good, and when combined with substance, it becomes better. Sizzle invites, but the real fun is in the steak

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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