Geoff Davies argues that three key characteristics of a successful corporate identity are acquired only by meeting seven priorities.
The importance that directors and managers attach to the establishment of a strong corporate identity does not always prevent some parts of it from being neglected completely. Even though a specified house style and logo may be featured in all places where the company or organisational presence is visible, the desired effect will not be achieved without first attending to some hidden priorities.
A corporate identity can generally be described as successful when people’s perceptions of the company or organisation display three characteristics, namely: they correspond to the identity projected, they reflect reality, and they are favourable.
The checklist below identifies seven areas requiring close attention in order to reach this point. The seventh differs from the other six in being the only visible, high profile area – in which, unfortunately, the entirety of some so-called corporate identity programmes are enacted. Without the other six, however, it is mere window dressing.
1. Remember that the one critical place where the company’s real identity is developed is in the minds of its own personnel. By their attitude to the company that employs them, and by the way they deal with customers, stakeholders and each other, the true identity of the company is determined. Consequently, this is the first place that any meaningful corporate identity programme has to reach.
2. To begin the process of internal marketing and education, it is necessary to define and communicate the core elements of the identity. This task demands expertise in grasping the less apparent elements and defining them with a clarity that makes the ideas accessible to all.
3. It is additionally necessary to substantiate these ideas precisely and realistically, by citing some supportive details. These inter-related activities (shown here as items 2 and 3) crucially make the identity capable of being readily understood, widely accepted, and repeatedly communicated.
4. A key objective of all this effort must be to distinguish the company from all others, so that it is seen as having a unique blend of strengths, providing distinctive benefits.
5. The consequent definition of the corporate identity in words should identify each of the primary components of the company’s capability, including its human and physical resources, special expertise and experience, commitment, benefits provided, market strengths in named sectors and territories, range of products and / or services, quality control, objectives, and vision.
6. It is necessary to maintain consistency of presentation across different media, in different places and at different times, though this must be done without imposing an over-zealous level of control.
7. With personnel sharing a common perception of the company, management has a better base from which to initiate, monitor and agree the design of the house style and logo by which the corporate identity is to be projected to the external world. This design should, of course, reflect the identity previously defined in words.
With all seven of these preconditions met, the point is reached at which the corporate identity can be made to work for the company.
Its essentials should be repeated and reinforced in company communications including web sites, corporate literature, presentations, exhibitions, audio-visual material, media announcements, advertising and point-of-sale displays. The house style and logo should also be featured on letterheads, work-wear, vehicles and buildings.
For any company serious about its identity, all of these activities are necessary because the underlying purpose extends well beyond simply giving a good impression. If personnel do not share an agreed, defined concept of the nature of the company, they may pursue different objectives and dissipate their efforts. If, instead, they all have a common perception of the identity, the ground is prepared for everyone’s efforts to be supportive of everyone else’s efforts. The sharing of this perception internally is a prerequisite for projecting the corporate identity externally, in the wider world.
The actions listed here are real priorities because instead of being focused only on preparing a company face – one that if poorly prepared may look discouragingly like a mask – they play a central part in helping to determine the health of the whole body.
A good way to begin the process of planning and implementing a corporate identity is with a well-written profile of the company or organisation, realistically outlining its distinctive package of resources, experience, expertise etc. Though it is merely the first step in what should subsequently become an integrated communications programme, it serves as an excellent foundation stone, since it provides a firm basis from which all other communications and marketing material can be systematically developed.
Geoff Davies is a business communications writer with 45 years’ experience.