What is Corporate Identity?
At its most basic, corporate identity is the collected and unique attributes that the world sees when they look at a corporation or other business entity. It's easier for some to think of corporate identity as a person with a name, personality, and certain qualities that set them apart from the rest. Just as no two people are the same, no two businesses have the same corporate identity. That includes everything, from visual clues like their logo and color palette to how they communicate with the public. It also includes how they treat their workers and the environment and handle their social responsibility.
Many mistakenly believe that corporate identity and brand identity are the same when in fact, they are not. A brand identity is the identity of a specific product, including its quality, images, and how it relates to customers. A great example is the iPhone and Apple. The corporate identity of Apple is similar but, at the same time, quite different than the brand identity of the iPhone.
At its core, a company's corporate identity shapes consumer perception from both the outside and inside the company. It is how the company is perceived, and as the great artist Andy Warhol once said, "Perception precedes reality." When you think of corporate identity, you need to force yourself to go beyond outward identifiers like logos, colors, and slogans. Yes, those are also important, but what the public thinks when they see those identifiers is much more important.
Take Exxon, a corporation once perceived as one that cared deeply about the planet. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, however, a new perception forever changed the company in the eyes of the public. Today, over 30 years later, many still identify Exxon as a "villain," their corporate identity forever tarnished. The name, logo, colors, and so forth haven't changed, but the perception the public has of the company has changed completely.
One last factor to note about corporate identity is that it lends itself to corporate culture. A quick look at the Top 10 companies with the happiest employees will also show you 10 companies with positive, forward-thinking, well-defined corporate identities, including Microsoft, Adobe, Peloton, Farmers Insurance, and Zoom. These companies created a corporate identity and then embraced that identity, leading to phenomenal success inside and outside their corporate doors.
Why is Corporate Identity Important?
While some will say that corporate identity is important, others will argue that it's the only thing that's important. They believe that you could successfully sell sand in the desert with the right corporate identity. Below are two reasons why creating a positive, well-perceived corporate identity is essential for success in today's marketplace.
Corporate identity sets a Business Apart from the Crowd
Depending on the products or services a company sells, it's likely they have several, if not hundreds, of competitors trying to sell the same thing. Using Apple as an example, once again, think about the perception among the public when it comes to smartphones. For most, there's the iPhone, and then there's... everything else. The iPhone is seen as a superior product in the eyes of millions of consumers, even though many brands and their smartphones give the iPhone a run for its money. The reason for this is simple; Apple's corporate identity as an innovative, creative, sleek, cutting-edge company and the standard-bearer in their industry.
Corporate identity gives your Company a Personality
Humans are social creatures. We look for visual clues about others in order to form opinions and make decisions about who to like, who to love, who to become friends with, and who to avoid. Most of these decisions are based on a person's personality, and the same goes for a business entity. The public response will undoubtedly be positive if your corporate identity is open, friendly, caring, welcoming, and kind. But be careful because one wrong move can turn a positive identity into a negative one almost overnight. (Just ask Chipotle after their E-coli outbreak in 2015 or McDonald's after the movie "Super Size Me" was released in 2004.)
Organizations that successfully create a positive corporate identity can capitalize on that identity significantly. A positive identity creates an affinity among the public, helps build a solid reputation, and elevates the presence of a company above others. Maybe most importantly, a favorable corporate identity builds customer loyalty, bringing back customers time and again. (Apple, we're looking at you.)
Types of Corporate Identity
When you talk about the types of corporate identity, most people refer to the individual pieces that make up the whole of that identity. The most important of these pieces include:
• Mission. This statement clearly defines a company's purpose, objectives, and plans. (TED's mission statement is pure gold: "Spread Ideas.")
• Vision. This is what the company strives for, the idea that guides it into the future. (Google's vision is a great example: "To provide access to the world's information in one click.”)
• Logo. A company's logo is the visual representation of the company and what it represents. (The Amazon logo is a stellar example.)
• Organizational Culture. The values, expectations, and practices that a company abides by. (Farmers Insurance is a perfect example of an inclusive organizational culture that embraces change.)
• Customer Experience. How the customer is treated when engaging with a company is incredibly important. (One of the very best is fast-food giant Chick-fil-A)
• Corporate Image. This goes back to public perception, which is critical. (Canon has had a phenomenal corporate image for many years.)
Corporate Identity Examples
There are many excellent examples of positive, well-received corporate identities. Below are two of the very best.
Considering they sell unhealthy sugar water to millions, Coca-Cola has one of the strongest corporate identities in the world. That includes their instantly-recognizable logo to their inspiring ad campaigns and bringing Santa Claus into the mainstream. When people think of Coca-Cola, they think of fun, family, good times, and laughter. (Diabetes? Not so much.)
A "baby" compared to Coke, Wix has quickly become the darling, go-to website builder. They have a clear identity, a diverse color palette, and consistent branding that's inviting and fun. (They even created their own font, MadeFor, highlighting their creativity and innovative attitude.)
As we've seen today, having a clear, concise, and positive corporate identity is crucial in today's business world. A well-crafted corporate identity instantly tells a consumer what your company is all about. It creates a positive first impression, strong affinity, and intense loyalty that empowers your business to succeed at a high level. Most importantly, corporate identity sets your business apart in a hyper-crowded marketplace. When done well, your corporate identity will take your company to the top and help it stay there.
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