4 March, 2014, by Paul Yeomans

Dress to impress!

I spoke at an event this morning entitled Dress to Impress. The mismatch between me and the title of the session caused much hilarity for my wife who continually asked me, “so why are YOU speaking at this event again?” To be clear for anyone that knows or has ever met me, I wasn’t giving the keynote speech, I was giving a brief pitch afterwards on the KTP scheme I run.

Prior to the event I was a bit concerned that the whole topic was rather superficial, and not hugely important but as the presentations went on I was reminded of many instances where I had changed my own ‘brand’ to better suit a particular audience which makes me realise that I think much more about this kind of stuff than I might like to admit.

When I worked for a worked for a Danish company one of the first changes we made for trade fairs was the way our sales staff dressed, we moved away from the standard business suits and adopted a slightly more US friendly button down poplin blue shirt and black chino, that aped the majority of the US based businesses around us.

Similarly if I find myself addressing an audience of academics from say the Arts or Humanities I might choose dark jeans and a tweed jacket, rather than a pinstripe suit and tie, simply because I imagine that the audience might feel a pinstripe looks too corporate and commercial. Likewise when myself and colleagues from the Business Engagement Team were asked to give a presentation to one particular school in the faculty of science we agonised over what we should wear, based on what pre-conceptions of out department they might have. Smart or casual? Ties or no ties?

My natural inclination is to match my audience, either in presentations or meetings but perhaps I ought to think a little bit more about what they audience wants from me first. If I stand in front of a bunch of academics who don’t have much commercial experience, maybe it’s ok to look corporate and commercial, because maybe that’s what they want from me. They know their own domains incredibly well, and they might see that I can provide the corporate and commercial input they lack?

Another interesting point for those of us that might instinctively shy away from the notion of ‘dress to impress’ is the extent to which a lack of attention to detail can undermine your own pitch to a potential client. Whilst there is a time and a place for simply letting your product or service take centre stage (Steve Jobs product launches were cited: jeans, black top, sneakers rather than a flash suit) If you turn up at a meeting with dirty fingernails and pitch your excellent reputation for attention to detail your clients may start to have doubts.
Looking at it this way, the way you dress becomes another function of marketing, alongside your website and you promotional material. Even for those of us that might instinctively shy away from form and favour function, the packaging and branding of the ‘product’ does matter to customers, take for example the Aston Martin Cygnet, essentially a Toyota iQ with a posh frock, it sold for £30,000, three times the Toyota. For which you get 3 horsepower more and a nicer interior, and a much larger hole in the bank balance.

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