Types of corporate identity:
The identity of most companies can be divided into three general categories: corporate, endorsed or branded. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and none is necessarily superior to any of the others. Each is appropriate in specific circumstances.
Corporate: This is where the organisation uses one name and one visual system throughout all of its interactions. Because everything that the organisation does has the same name, style and character, each part supports the other. Virgin is a high profile example of this type of identity. The name and identity of Virgin is not associated so much with what it does, but what it is; how it behaves and what it seems to stand for.
Endorsed: Most companies grow (at least partly) by acquisition. The acquiring company is often eager to preserve the goodwill (equity) associated with these acquisitions. Under an endorsed identity strategy, the parent endorses its subsidiaries with the corporate name and (sometimes) visual style eg. Accor with Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure, Ibis and others.
Branded: Some companies, especially those in consumer products, separate their corporate identity from the identities of the brands they own, eg. Unilever, Diageo and LVMH. The final customer identifies with the brand and other audiences the corporation. Brands have names, reputations, life cycles, and personalities of their
own, and they may even compete with other brands from the same company.
Starting and managing a programme:
No CEO wakes up one morning and says let’s start a corporate identity programme, there’s always a reason. The CEO and Chairman must have a clear idea of what they want an identity programme to achieve in the longer term.
When a programme is initiated, a senior individual within the organisation must be appointed to monitor and manage it.
Organisations are rarely sufficiently objective, self aware or experienced to carry out all this work by themselves. They will need outside assistance from branding, identity or design consultants.
Working party and steering group:
As in every corporate activity the identity programme needs a power base, financial controls and clear lines of authority. So a working party should be formed reporting to a steering group.
The stages of work:
The basic building blocks of an identity programme are:
The organisation has to take a good, clear, objective look at how it is perceived by its various audiences, both internal and external, and how these perceptions compare with its aspirations. If the existing identity is perceived as fragmented, incoherent, unclear, old fashioned and so on, there has to be agreement on the action required to change perceptions. Stage one ends with recommendations for action.
Example – Repsol: an identity based on a vision
The Spanish oil company Repsol was formed in the 1980s from Istituto Nacional Hydrocarburos. The company was a state monopoly with low standards of service, old and badly maintained service stations and a plethora of names and identities. The central idea/vision emerged naturally from the company’s new positioning. Spain was entering the European Union (1986), and the company had to defend its position against competition from Shell, BP and other global players. INH had to be revitalised and eventually privatised.
Repsol had the opportunity to become the admired model for a revitalised dynamic and democratic Spain. Repsol could become and be seen as the new Spain’s industrial and commercial flagship. This was the vision that was presented to and agreed by the board. The naming structure and visual identity followed from this brief. The name INH was abandoned in favour of one of the brands, Repsol, and a corporate identity structure was adopted in order to give the organisation strength and coherence. A new design scheme was part of the programme of change.
Developing the identity:
Depending on the results of stage one, it may be necessary to change the identity completely including name and visual style (Acccenture), keep the same name but change the identity visually (BP) or just modulate it (Renault).
Changes of names and visual styles are expensive, time consuming and make clear signals to the market place that the organisation is making a new promise or moving in a new direction. This kind of change makes a promise of changed performance which has to be fulfilled. Never, ever, promise more than you can deliver. On the basis of the recommendations made in stage one, the consultants will develop an identity system based around either the corporate, endorsed, or branded models. The identity system will usually consist of a name (or names), mark or logo, main and subsidiary typefaces and colours. These will be shown in the form of applications in a wide variety of corporate materials – letterheads, brochures, websites, showrooms, products and so on.
The new identity has to be codified so that it can be used by everyone in the organisation who needs it, and by relevant outside suppliers. Manuals are prepared which contain all the identity elements and show a variety of applications. In addition the manual has to demonstrate the spirit that lies behind the organisation.
Identity Programme Launch and Introduction:
If the new corporate identity programme is to be implemented successfully, it has to be launched with enthusiasm and commitment. The launch is the first major opportunity for the corporation’s leaders to present the identity as a significant corporate resource and to integrate it into the organisational structure.
Never trivialise it. Explain that the new identity is the outward and visible sign of change and explain what that change means. Internal audiences want to know what, why and particularly how it will affect each of them as individuals. External audiences only want to know why and how much.
All organisations have an identity whether they control it or not. A corporate identity programme harnesses and manages this resource in the corporate interest.
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