Corporate Identity, Communication and Consistency

I’m using this post as an opportunity to consider the importance of corporate identity and communicating it in a consistent style across all of an organisation’s outgoing media.

It’s long been the case that a corporate identity is an essential feature of the marketing, communication and culture of a business. The corporate identity is a combination of an organisation’s perceived values, standards and overall way of doing business. Strategically, it’s the image, or brand, by which a business represents its intent to stand out from its competitors and offer something different and better.

Research as far back as 1989 in Britain, conducted by MORI (Market Opinion Research International), suggested that nearly 80% of business leaders thought the importance their firms attached to developing and promoting their corporate identity would increase in the future.  The years since then have proved that finding to have been valid. The reason for the importance of corporate identity is largely that businesses have adapted their strategies to better compete and survive in the increasingly difficult marketplace in which they find themselves.

A strong corporate identity is a great strategic asset because it establishes the business as being reliable and effective.

It also enables the business to be recognised easily via its branding and marketing.

Where does communication come in?
Given this weighty purpose and essential requirement for corporate identity, it seems logical that there needs to be consistency between the various forms of communication that reflect corporate identity.  This means formal letters, e-mails, memoranda, documents, marketing literature, etc should all present a united front in terms of style of writing and livery.  As we’re reminded by the words of the former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner:

“A brand is a living entity and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

Keeping a company’s image consistent will make the brand effective and memorable.  Every small gesture, such as what’s said by staff to customers, the style of letters, the format of e-mails, the presentation style of documents, etc will further strengthen or degrade the brand in (probably) imperceptible steps that will have a cumulative effect over time.

A style template, setting out fonts, colours, line spacing, image boxes, etc is an invaluable tool for maintaining consistency of visual material, provided it’s used uniformly across the organisation.  However, ‘style’ also means the style of writing for outgoing communication, which should be consistent across formats.  If the business prefers an informal style, and if that suits the products, services and customers, then that style should be adopted uniformly to avoid sounding, feeling and looking different between forms of communication.

If the communication within a business isn’t effective, the result can be the erosion of a positive corporate identity because there will be breaks in the communication that will leave the identity in the hands of each individual.  This will lead to a confused corporate identity because each team member will represent the business to his or her customers in a different way.  Without effective communication, people lack direction and defined goals, leaving them to make up their own minds about how to define the business and characterise its services and the associated benefits to customers.

How does the communication of corporate identity affect trade?
The communication that captures and represents an organisation’s identity will shape the market’s perception of how the organisation’s management team operates and of what it wants to achieve.

An experience in a previous business taught me the importance of corporate identity. The business was a company in its own right but was going through a change to become a division of the parent company, thereby ceasing trading as a limited company. This was for various reasons connected with increased competition in the external markets for the nature of work undertaken. The amalgamated division would now serve as a cost centre for the parent, helping to solve problems and address challenges internally, while continuing to trade externally in more focused and better-defined sectors.

The division was given a new name to reflect its internal status. The problem was that the outgoing communication – verbal and written – referred to the division by its previous name, its new internal name and the parent’s name, so three variants existed. This confused the markets and also people internally.

The negative effect, generated over a period of just six months, was significantly eroded clarity of the division’s identity in the minds of external customers, which caused a dent in sales. This was corrected over the following year and, today, sales are high and increasing due to the focus of services on legislative drivers that affect the majority of the division’s external customers, combined with excellent customer service and sales efforts.

I thought it was noteworthy that it took longer to correct the problem than to cause it in the first place.

Consistency of corporate identity through communication helps in fostering relationships between businesses.  In the procurement process, the buying organisation considers the corporate identity of the vendor providing products and services, to make sure there’s a fit in terms of mission, values, culture and broad goals.  The tendering business needs to make sure that its corporate identity reflects what’s important to the purchasing customer, and that needs to be communicated consistently across all the outgoing touch-points of the vendor business.  The same applies the other way around: the vendor may choose not to trade with a purchaser whose corporate identity represents a mismatch of interests and values.

What are your experiences of the importance of corporate identity and consistency of communication?

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