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What is Corporate or Brand Identity?

Posted by Roy Sinclair on 31 August 2018 at 12:13pm

Corporate Identity is a blanket-term that refers to the individual way that a company or organisation presents itself and interacts with its staff and public. An organisation’s identity is the sum total of its history, beliefs, environment, language and visual appearance (website, stationery, architecture, uniforms, signage, livery, brochures etc.) and is shaped by the nature of its technology, its ownership, its people, its ethical and cultural values and its strategies. The principle can be clarified with the help of an analogy... The way that you walk; the clothes that you wear; the style of your hair; the car you drive; your outlook on life; the language you use and the manner in which you greet and deal with people are all expressions of your personality. Collectively, they are your identity. Apply this principle to a company or organisation and all should become clear.

Not so long ago, a 'brand' referred to a specific product like Heinz Baked Beanz, or a service such as Apple iTunes. However, more recently it has become fashionable in the marketing sector to refer to entire companies as 'brands'. Consequently, the term 'brand identity' can now be used more-or-less synonymously with the term 'corporate identity'.

Why is an organisation's identity important?

Thomas Peters & Robert Waterman, in their definitive study of America’s best run companies, ‘In Search of Excellence’, conclude that every ‘excellent’ company that they analysed is guided by a clear sense of identity and shared values. They all have a strong sense of purpose and direction beyond mere commercial survival. T J Watson, another author of works considered to be essential reading for students of management studies, believes that technological and economic resources, organisational structure, innovation and timing, all contribute towards corporate success, but that the most important single factor in such success, is faithful adherence to a sound set of beliefs on which an organisation can base its policies and actions.

When a company is new or small, or both, its identity spontaneously emerges as a direct extension of the founder’s personality, but as an organisation grows and becomes more complex, the corporate personality — its ‘identity’ — can easily become uncoordinated, confusing and weak under the conflicting influences of the various factions that control its growth. It is the task of an identity consultant to identify and define the organisation’s spirit and drive, and then give substance to it by embodiment into a visible system of identification that is in keeping with the marketing and positioning objectives of the corporate strategy. Thus everyone — public, customers and staff alike — see a unified picture of purpose, direction and belief in a mission.

The scope and aims of an identity project

Corporate identity projects, by their multifaceted nature, involve a multitude of business disciplines. These include graphic, website, product, architectural and interior design; marketing; advertising; public relations; social media; organisational behaviour; and human resource development. An effective identity consultant must have a sound understanding of all these subjects, plus the most important by far: graphic communication. It is for this reason that most identity consultancies (also known as communications or visual management consultancies) are design-based concerns.

A well designed, strategically implemented and fully supported corporate identity programme fulfils three primary aims:

1. It enables an organisation to present itself and its goals clearly and comprehensibly.

2. It embodies the organisation’s character, ethos and attitudes. This encourages staff to act as a team, to share the same spirit, and to communicate that spirit to the outside world.

3. It is a means of ensuring that the organisation can be differentiated from others operating within the same field or market place. Emphasis can be put on any unique properties of the organisation and its positioning can be precisely controlled.

Author: Roy Sinclair trained as a graphic designer in 1982. He started Sinclair Design in 1987, initially as a design consultancy but then as a strategic communications consultancy.

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