Your Company's Identity Crisis

By Love, Kenneth D.; Roberts, Kenneth J. | Management Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Your Company's Identity Crisis


Love, Kenneth D., Roberts, Kenneth J., Management Review


If an organization assumes that its identity is a matter of corporate logo, nice signs at headquarters and clever names for its brands, it doesn't have an identity at all.

Consider these hypothetical business communications challenges involving a company's identity. Unless carefully addressed, they clearly will send the chief communications executive right around the bend.

As the company's vice president of corporate communications, you receive a frantic weekend call from your CEO. A merger of your outfit and another of similar size is in the works. "Do we combine the two companies' names or think up something new?" your leader asks. By Monday, he wants a plan on his desk that addresses the name question, the new company's positioning and a host of related communications issues.

Your new CEO has just returned from a whirlwind worldwide tour of all company plants and offices. He is outraged because what he's just seen is a disorganized presentation of the corporation's identity. Signs are inconsistent, marketing materials are a mess and each of the seven division heads' business cards are completely different. He wants you to get right on the job--and please let him know how quickly you can pull it all together!

You are the director of marketing for a major airline that, over the past two years, has lost significant market share to several aggressive competitors. Current research suggests your carrier is being ignored by the business traveler. You also have observed that the plane's orange and brown markings are a little dated, check-in counters seem run-down, aircraft interiors look shabby and morale is plummeting. Your CEO wants a new program put into effect ASAP--refurbished planes and check-in counters in three months and definitive results by the end of the year.

As these hypothetical, but not unrealistic, situations suggest, managing an identity program is very different from running a business day to day, even though it affects all the of the organization. Why is managing a company's identity program so challenging? Identity is the keystone for all communications; depending on the size of the program, there can be thousands of details involved.

Corporate identity is an interrelated and comprehensive network of customer perceptions and corporate management of visible and invisible elements. Savvy managers understand that identity is a significant corporate asset. Identity includes:

* the image and reputation of a corporation or brand in the public mind;

* how a company maintains its mission and position to produce a unified, positive perception now and in the future; and

* how a company differentiates itself from competitors, including logos, packaging, letterheads and business cards.

A logical planning process allows a company or a brand to differentiate itself deafly from the competition by projecting the appropriate attributes and providing a framework for accurately monitoring the status of the identity over time. The most effective process creates a system in which future acquisitions, new products and services, promotions, advertising and facilities can be effectively integrated under one cohesive identity. A successful program increases employee pride and internal focus by emphasizing the company's personality and culture.

Media guidelines allow for consistent, positive presentation. The proper management of standards can create economies of time and money by simplifying the communications decision-making process. The results should be a sizable impact on advertising and promotion budgets, with greater bang for the buck. IBM, for instance--a company that produces more than 15,000 different pieces of sales promotional literature annually--addressed this issue by putting all its design standards, system templates and an interactive user's guide for its entire identity system on a CD-ROM and distributing it globally.

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