Managing Corporate Identity
Identity: What is it?
In order to be effective every organisation needs a clear sense of purpose that people within it understand. They also need a strong sense of belonging.
Purpose and belonging are the two facets of identity.
Every organisation is unique, and the identity must spring from the organisation’s own roots, its personality, its strengths and its weaknesses. This is as true of the modern global corporation as it has been of any other institution in history, from the church to the nation state.
The identity of the corporation must be so clear that it becomes the yardstick against which its products (goods and services) , behaviour and actions are measured.
This means that the identity cannot simply be a slogan, a collection of phrases: it must be visible, tangible and all-embracing.
Everything that the organisation does must be an affirmation of its identity. The products that the organisation makes or sells must project its standards and its values. The buildings in which it makes things and trades, its offices, factories and showpieces – their location, how they are furnished and maintained – are all manifestations of identity.
The organisation’s communication material, from its advertising to its instruction manuals, must have a consistent quality and character that accurately and honestly reflect the whole organisation and its aims.
All these are palpable, they are visible; they are designed – and that is why design is a significant component in the identity mix.
A further component, which is just as significant although it is not visible, is how the organisation behaves: to its own staff and to everybody with whom it comes into contact, including customers, suppliers and its host communities. This is especially true in service firms that have trouble identifying their products. Here, too, consistency in attitude, action and style underlines the organisation’s identity.
In small organisations and in young organisations the management of identity is intuitive. It is a direct reflection of the founder’s obsessions and interests. The organisation is what he or she makes it.
In the sprawling, complex organisations , where innumerable interests – each supported by individuals – conflict and compete for power and influence, the company’s long-term purpose, its values, its identity must be managed consciously and clearly, or they ‘II be overwhelmed and disregarded in sectional infighting. The organisation will simply become an inert victim of the various factions that seek to control it.
When organisations lose sight of their individuality, their real purpose and strengths, they get deflected often through peer pressure – into making mistakes. They make inappropriate acquisitions, diversify into blind alleys, make inferior copies of other organisations products.
Identity is expressed in the names, symbols, logos, colours and rites of passage which the organisation uses to distinguish itself, its brands and its constituent organisations . At one level, these serve the same purpose as religious symbolism, chivalric heraldry or national flags and symbols: they encapsulate and make vivid a collective sense of belonging and purpose. At another level, they represent consistent standards of quality and therefore encourage consumer loyalty.
Names and symbols need to be created. Traditions and rites of passage have to be invented and re-invented for organisations , in the same way as they have always been for different regimes in different countries.