What Makes Your Corporate Identity Unique (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)
How many logos of famous companies are you able to draw? Probably quite a few since these visual representations of the company have become a core part of our daily lives as the products themselves. We are constantly surrounded with different visual cues about businesses – videos, images and website templates are part of our lives.
But how do companies ensure their corporate identities or these visual representations of their business are correct and authentic? Let’s explore what corporate identity is, the biggest mistake you can make thinking what separates the best from the rest, and what is actually behind a strong and unique corporate identity.
WHAT IS CORPORATE IDENTITY?
Let’s first be clear what corporate identity is before we start analyzing how it can be unique. You can’t truly create something unique unless you know what you’re creating in the first place. If you look up ‘corporate identity’ in the Business Dictionary, you find the following description:
“Combination of color schemes, designs, words, etc., that a firm employs to make a visual statement about itself and to communicate its business philosophy.”
Quite simply, your corporate identity tells you and others what your business is all about – the specifics that make you different from all the other businesses out there. The dictionary definition goes on to state,
“corporate identity is ‘out there’ sensory-experience conveyed by things such as buildings, décor, logo, name, slogan, stationary, uniforms, and is largely unaffected by its financial performance and ups and downs in its fortune”
Your corporate identity can essentially be either a strong on – creating instant recognition among consumers – or a weak one. However, as the above suggest, this doesn’t necessarily always mean your business itself is doing bad or well in terms of its profit-making ability. Corporate identity is a physical expression of the essence of the company.
However, as I’ll explain later, it shouldn’t see completely separate from the other representations of the idea of the business – what the company is about should also be highlighted through the communication and behavior of the business.
Furthermore, corporate identity shouldn’t be seen as a layered structure. The internal and external representations of what the philosophy must be same – the customers have to experience the same corporate identity to the employees and other stakeholders.
The idea of corporate identity and the need for businesses to develop their own unique voices is not a recent phenomenon. It developed as a concept in the 1960s when the corporate landscape changed from individual industrial companies to multi-national corporations on a global scale. It became more important for a business to stand out from competition – there had to be identities that told consumers the kind of story or business ethos they are buying into.
By the 1970s, the concept of corporate identity was on everyone’s lips and advertising consultants became a core part of business development. The idea of a strong and unique corporate identity became central to corporate planning and successful implementation of corporate identity strategy was considered a major reason some companies succeeded while others failed.
Below is a video of how Virgin developed its corporate identity under Richard Branson. This is great for getting a grasp of what corporate identity is and prepares you well for what I’m about to say in the following chapters.
THE SINGLE REASONS YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT IT
So, why does corporate identity have such a hold on people’s imaginations? Why are businesses willing to spend money on creating a corporate identity?
There is essentially only one reason a business should care about corporate identity and that’s performance. A Strategy& survey back in 2013 peered into the world of corporate identity and made a series of interesting findings. For instance, according to the respondents, developing corporate identity strategy is problematic because most companies have too many strategic objectives. But the key finding in terms of corporate identity was how companies with a strong corporate identity outperform those without one by 25%.While your financial performance isn’t always directly linked to your corporate identity, by ensuring you have a clear identity, you create a strong base for succeeding and growing.
If you think of the biggest and most successful companies, you instantly think about their strong corporate identities – Apple, Coca-Cola and Google have all been rather good at creating a visual representation of their business philosophy and made it stick with us.
When you scratch deeper, you notice that the ability to outperform comes from the three big advantages a strong corporate identity will provide for a business. These can be divided into three key benefits:
- Enhanced consumer loyalty – A good corporate identity boosts performance because it can keep customers more engaged with your business. Customers have their own identities and a good corporate identity speaks to those in a way that aligns these two separate stories or philosophies together. The corporate’s emphasis on sustainability in a sea of other identities that are about something else can help consumers with like-minded ideas to stick with them. Customers who subscribe to your corporate identity will feel part of the story – they don’t want to conduct business elsewhere.
- Strengthened corporate experience–There is also an emphasis on the whole corporate experience when companies focus on building strong identities. You align not just the external images with the company philosophy, but also the behavior and communication of the message. The consumer doesn’t just experience the identity by looking at the logo but also feels the identity when shopping the products, contacting customer service or using the product or service. Corporate identity can help create a strong and strategic approach to conducting business.
- Structured corporate persona– Every business benefits from having a specific corporate person, which is essentially what corporate identity is about. It’s the impression we have when we hear about a business – shaped by what we’ve experienced and what we’ve heard. Just like you have an impression and persona build about your friends and family, you’ll also have corporate personas in mind when you think about your favorite brands.
It is these three building blocks that help a business compete and to stand out in the crowd. By creating a strategic approach to implementing your business ethos, you strengthen the areas that contribute to performance – you obtain and retain customers better, you streamline your services to provide better service, and you help build a reputation.
THE BIG MISTAKE TO AVOID WITH CORPORATE IDENTITY
Source: Gismodo blog post
Why is it then that businesses often fail in creating successful corporate identities? It happens when the definition of corporate identity is taken to mean purely the visual statement of the business philosophy and most importantly purely equated with the logo. Too often businesses are transfixed with the logo, with purely the visual design and feel of the logo at the core of their attempt to be unique.
What’s forgotten is the core message – the reason why your logo represents your business. If you’re doing corporate identity right, you will always align your behavior and communication, together with the visual representations, with your business philosophy. You need to have the “what we are” sorted before you can move on to “how we look visually”. By focusing on the logo, you’re not focusing on ensuring the corporate identity tells the story of your business – you’re just creating an image without a story or behavior.
Furthermore, it’s also harmful to focus purely on the logo when your business will be represented visually in so many more ways. When you visit Apple’s website, the corporate identity isn’t just evident in the logo – in fact, you don’t really even encounter the logo as a focus point on the pages. The corporate identity of Apple is much more than just a logo.
Think, for example, how TV shows sometimes need to remove logos from laptops for sponsorship reasons. When you tape out the image of the half-bitten apple, you don’t forget the computer is an Apple product. You can see it from the way the product is designed.
The same applies to most businesses with a strong corporate identity. You could remove Coca-Cola’s logos from its bottles, website and even ads, yet you’d still know it’s that specific brand and you’d know the story, the philosophy. If I put a blindfold on you and take you to a fast-food joint, you’d know we’re at McDonald’s even if the traditional logo of the golden M on a red background is removed.
Corporate identity goes wrong when people simplify it to a single image – when we compress identities into a single representation. But you can’t and you shouldn’t narrow an identity, right? Businesses are a bit like people; we couldn’t create a stamp of our identity and think it’s going to work every time.
A logo alone is insufficient in telling a story and representing our corporate ethos – identity is about how we look (not just our clothes, but also our makeup), how we talk, how we behave and how we align all of these.
The big mistake to avoid with corporate identity is treating these three things as separate and hoping to create an identity simply through a single representation: a logo.
HERE’S WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES YOUR CORPORATE IDENTITY UNIQUE
If you want to create a unique corporate identity, then you must focus on aligning the three key areas of corporate design, corporate behavior and corporate communication together – you need to essentially create a package of visual statements that are sprung from the business philosophy and which relate to the other aspects of your company. You move on from staring at the logo, to truly realizing what your identity is about.
To nail down your corporate identity and to find the authentic voice that tells and visualizes your business idea, you need to ensure the three areas are not in conflict with each other. Now, let’s look at each area closer and see how each aspect helps build your authentic voice:
Corporate design is exactly what most people mistakenly equate with corporate identity. It is about the logo – the visual images you use for your business. Corporate design deals with business cards, website templates, font colors and other such visual representations of your business. It is crucial for corporate identity because it is often the first thing people see and interact with. When you search for shoe retailers, you click on the website and the logo is often the first thing that stares back at you.
It is the immediate part of corporate identity and it does have a huge impact on how customers view your business. While the logos and other visual images are crucial in creating this first impression, they aren’t the only things that you should focus on, as the above has hopefully highlighted. Nonetheless, a corporate design is the core of your corporate identity and the starting point for creating the visual image for your business.
However, your corporate identity is also strengthened through your behavior. Corporate behavior includes things like how employees are treated and the leadership styles the management uses. These and others like that refer to the internal behaviors, but corporate behavior can also be driven by external behaviors such as how you treat customers, what is your relationship with the media and so on.
These behaviors can impact your corporate identity and help the corporate design have an impact. For example, if you maintain an open and honest relationship with the media, you can strengthen your corporate identity and create a brand based on transparency and communication.
When the stories people read about your business are highlighting this image, the actual visual representation – your logos, your colors and your fonts – becomes associated with the behaviors. Your solid corporate design links with corporate behavior, creating a unique experience of your identity.
Similarly to the above, your corporate communication – the way you speak to customers, advertise your business and interact with the media – has a strengthening impact on corporate identity. Your advertising slogan can enhance this transparent behavior – We believe in your right to know! – and be perfectly aligned with your clear logo.
Communication will also happen in the form of your press releases or internally through things like staff meetings. If you can have these communication channels represent your business philosophy and deepen the behaviors within your organization, you have a direct impact on the identity.
Essentially, you can’t just talk the talk; you also need to walk the walk. Communication must match your behavior and both of these have to match your corporate design. By aligning these three aspects together and linking them with your business philosophy, you can enjoy from a strong and unique corporate identity.
You’re not doing something visually that you think appeals to customers, but rather representing your authentic voice as a business. You’re creating a more fulfilled representation of your business – the way it looks, behaves and communicates.
HOW TO CREATE A UNIQUE CORPORATE IDENTITY
So, when you are looking to create a unique corporate identity that will stand out from the rest, you must focus on four key steps. These will help you align the three building blocks of a strong corporate identity and they ensure your focus is on authentic and representative identity – not just a flashy logo.
Step 1: Establish your unique value proposition
The first step deals with your business’ unique value proposition. It’s the most important question any business will ever be asked about: What is your company about? If you’re not quite sure how to answer that, then you definitely need to do a lot more soul-searching. You can’t start to run a successful business or form your own unique identity if you don’t know your brand.
You definitely need to have a business plan, a mission statement and a vision for future. If these things are still lacking, you should get started by watching the below video and start finding the underlying cause and objective of your business.
The whole idea of this first step is to identify the reason you’re unique. Not just in terms of how you differ from competition, but in your story and objective. A business hardly has the same objective as another business in the same industry – there is something there in your product, your service and your objectives that separate you from the rest.
Before you can start building your corporate identity and begin the visualization of your business idea, you must be clear what this unique value proposition is about.
Step 2: Establish your unique value proposition
After you’ve cleared the basics, you must move deeper into understanding your business and the brand. You need to determine what’s your spot in the marketplace and who are the people that use your product and service.
If you can analyze the most important drivers for growth, you can start identifying the ways in which your customers currently view your business.
Knowing your brand will reveal your competitive edge – it will deepen your understanding of the current corporate identity and how it aligns with your business philosophy.
Step 3: Set the correct tone
Now that you have the building blocks for your identity, you start to visualize it – you find the voice that represents your brand and your unique value proposition. Remember the following:
Your brand’s voice must be distinctive from the competitors, it must resonate with your customers, and it has to be consistent in terms of your business values and objectives.
Since you are now focusing on the corporate design – the logos, the colors, the social media templates and so on – your focus must be on finding the design that keeps the above in mind. You want to think about your customers and consider the kind of images, colors and fonts they would find visually attractive.
These must be then considered in relation to your business philosophy – does it all fit together and create an authentic look and feel of your business?
Step 4: Be prepared to analyze and refine your identity
I was kind of lying earlier when I said there is one big mistake companies make with their corporate identity. There are actually two major issues businesses. The other, i.e. relying just on your logo, has now hopefully been solved with the tips above.
However, the second is something different. It is about the failure to change or refine your brand identity. Businesses are terrified of this mainly due to a few famous examples of re-branding that didn’t work. Nonetheless, corporate identity shouldn’t be considered something set in stone and irreplaceable. Corporate identity develops over time, just like the competition around you.
Just like you must be constantly looking to refine your products or service, you naturally also need to analyze and refine your brand. Since corporate identity is a culmination of the three elements, design, behavior and communication, changes in one of these means that there needs to be adjustments in the other two.
Remember to constantly revisit your corporate identity and its building blocks to ensure your message is still aligned, it still resonated with the consumer, and it has stayed true to your business philosophy.
As an example of small refining, look at the three logos. They have all held on to the distinct identity and feel, while still updating the look to something a bit more modern and perhaps refined in terms of what customers are looking for in today’s day and age.
Source: Brand Matters website
THE KEY TAKEAWAY
After you’re finished reading this post, you should have taken in the following information: your corporate identity does not equal to your logo. Unique corporate identity is much more basic than that – it’s the alignment of your business idea with how it behaves and communicates and represents itself visually.
It’s about putting your business’ unique value proposition at the centre of everything you do. A good corporate identity is one where the visual statements tell the same story as the way the business behaves and communicates with its customers, stakeholders and employees.