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Corporate Identity and Branding – A Reality Check

Some people believe that “image is everything” when it comes to corporate identity and branding. Others think “identity” begins and ends with a logo.

The reality is, both are important, and corporate identity and image have a critical role within brand marketing strategy. Branding consultants are a great resource when designing your successful branding strategies.

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People Cannot Be Enthusiastic About What They Cannot Understand

understand your audience When establishing your corporate identity and branding platform, clarity and focus are paramount – successful corporate identity programs convey their brand messages clearly, concisely and coherently. A strategically focused brand and messaging platform helps connect your brand with its audience. Simply put, your audience cannot become or remain enthusiastic about your products or services if they don’t relate to them meaningfully (brand experience), and your internal teams and external agencies can’t build effective, engaging and cohesive brand communication programs if they don’t tie back to a clear positioning and messaging platform.

Engaging your audience
To help your audience understand and care about your brand, you must find innovative ways of engaging their time and attention. But, accomplishing this coherently across many different touch-points can be challenging. Here are four interrelated and critical areas that your corporate identity strategy should address:

1. Clear Positioning
As a company or brand, uniquely defining who you are, what you do, and why you matter to your most important audiences lays the foundation for your corporate identity strategy. It sounds rudimentary, but many lack discipline on this critical step and as a result their corporate identity is fragmented, inconsistent or undifferentiated.

2. Cohesive Visual Identity
In today’s market, success is difficult without a comprehensive visual branding program. From your name and logo through to online and offline communication programs, telling your organization’s story consistently through visual design enables your customers to recognize and find your brand, across every touchpoint and through every medium.

3. Effective Communications
Many factors come into play when developing your corporate identity and brand marketing strategy, but one of the most important remains connecting your brand to your audience. Name recognition alone is not enough for your audience to understand and relate to your product or service. Listening to and understanding your audience will help you develop clear, consistent messages and a strong foundation for compelling communications.

4. Understanding the Medium
Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time through the right medium is much more than just broadcasting the same message everywhere. Understanding the context where the conversation occurs, from corporate communications, advertising and sales materials through to social media and brand experiences, is as important as what you are saying.

Successful corporate identity and branding programs develop meaningful relationships based on mutual trust and understanding with your target audience. Marshall Strategy is a leader in developing corporate identity programs that are built to last. To learn more about how you can better engage your audience, contact us.

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Corporate Identity Guidelines: 4 Requirements For A Successful Strategy

Corporate identity guidelines in today’s fast paced world, may evolve with our changing marketplaces, yet a corporate identity strategy is simple in concept but can be challenging to deliver. Strategic brand identity is the disciplined effort to succinctly define what a company or brand does, why it matters to its critical audiences, and why it is better than the competition. Regardless of a company’s size, from start-ups to large, complex multinational corporations, its identity strategy needs to be expressed simply and compellingly, and that’s where the hard work begins.

In order to develop brand strategy, you need to first identify brand objectives. There needs to be internal alignment on the brand’s direction to ensure that all the moving parts are moving towards the same goal. Once this alignment is achieved, there can be greater clarity and relevance in communications, which ultimately leads to greater audience appeal. A company that has identified its strategic objectives will have better focus on its mission and greater impact in its market.Over the years, we’ve developed corporate identity guidelines, and found the following four key brand requirements are critical for a successful corporate identity strategy.

Differentiation. In today’s highly competitive market, brands need to have a clear differentiation or reason for being. What they represent needs to be stand apart from others in order to be noticed, make an impression, and to ultimately to be preferred.
Relevance. Brands need to connect to what people care about out in the world. To build demand, they need understand and fulfill the needs and aspirations of their intended audiences.
Coherence. To assure credibility with their audiences, brands must be coherent in what they say and do. All the messages, all the marketing communications, all the brand experiences, and all of the product delivery need to hang together and add up to something meaningful.
Esteem. A brand that is differentiated, relevant and coherent is one that valued by both its internal and external audiences. Esteem is the reputation a brand has earned by executing clearly on both its promised and delivered experience.

Delivering on these brand requirements requires discipline, insight, and a clear understanding of the company’s objectives, audience, competition, and opportunity.

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Corporate Identity & Naming Lessons From The Fortune 500

The evolution in the names of Fortune 500 corporate identity provides instructive insights for the branding of companies and for understanding identity effectiveness in our new economy.

The names of Fortune 500 companies can be defined by five categories*: Descriptive names, Family names, Image names, Coined names and Initial names – all of which have changed significantly over the past 55 years. (See footnote for definitions*)
naming lessons

From 1954 to 2009, the Fortune 500 had:
54% decrease in Descriptive
45% decrease in Family
14% increase in Initials
45% increase in Image
213% increase in Coined

There has been a significant shift away from names that emphasize the companies’ location, geographic market or specific product – toward names that convey no location, market or product. We believe this is because it is difficult for a company to grow big enough to be on the Fortune 500 if a company has a limited product or market, or if the company’s name or identity creates perceptions that the company has limited scope or reach. To illustrate this, the revenue required for a company to qualify for listing on the Fortune 500 has increased dramatically.

For example:
• Copperweld Steel was #500 on the 1954 Fortune 500 with sales of $49 Million, whereas Blockbuster was #500 on the 2009 Fortune 500 with sales of $4 Billion. Blockbuster’s 2009 sales would have made Blockbuster #3 on the 1954 Fortune 500 – after General Motors and Standard Oil of N.J. and ahead of U.S. Steel.

• General Motors was # 1 on the 1954 Fortune 500 with sales of $9.8 Billion, whereas Wal-Mart is #1 on the 2009 Fortune 500 with sales of $408 Billion.

• Wal-Mart’s 2009 sales of $408 Billion are three times the TOTAL sales of ALL the companies on the 1954 Fortune 500, i.e $137 Billion.

Although there has been a 45% decrease in family names, about 25% of the 2009 Fortune 500 still have family names that have acquired appropriate meaning over time and that have proven to be unique, effective, protectable and lasting corporate identities and brands.Almost one-half of the companies in the 1954 Fortune 500 had family names. These names gave one a clear impression of who these companies were, what they did and where they did it. Many family names from the 1954 list, that are no longer on the Fortune 500, gave a strong sense that there were real individuals who stood behind the company and were responsible for its actions.As companies grow and expand, they need corporate names that are not specifically descriptive or restrictive, that appeal to broader markets, and that are unique and protectable. This has led companies to shift to image names, coined names and initials names. Almost one-half the 2009 Fortune 500 have coined, image or initials names. Many of these names leave one wondering who these companies are, what they do and where they do it. These names convey no commitment to any community, product, service or by any individuals. While these kinds of names are hard to relate to, they avoid restricting companies and are more easily protectable. Because they lack intrinsic meaning, they require huge investments to build beneficial meaning or to achieve any emotional connection.
Insights
Descriptive names – should not limit the company product or market, unless that product has the potential for broad, long-term growth, (technology, communications, energy, finance, etc.) Identifying with a specific city or region can become a barrier to real or perceived growth and expansion.

Family names – can become distinctive and protectable corporate identities and brands, and they can acquire relevant meaning over time, but they require significant investment.

Image names – can be distinctive and protectable and are most effective when they convey qualities that benefit customers or when they are positioned advantageously vs. competitors.

Coined names – should be more than unique, protectable and meaningless. They should provide some memorable, derivative or appropriate context, e.g. FedEx, Alcoa, Xerox, Google.

Initials names – are the weakest solution to corporate naming opportunities. The best known (IBM, AT&T, GE, etc) have spent billions on marketing and communication over many decades. Without that kind of investment and time, most initials names will be relegated to obscurity.

As companies diversify and grow, they need names that don’t restrict growth or opportunity, but names that people can relate to, believe in, care about, take pride in and become loyal to.
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Definitions
• Descriptive – describe a company in terms of a specific product and/or geography
• Family – are when a family name is used as a company’s primary name
• Image – are real words that convey certain qualities, characteristics or imagery
• Coined – are made-up words, or unique combinations of real words that create a name
• Initials – are when initials are used instead of words as the primary company name

**Note: 1954 sales numbers have not been adjusted for inflation. The criteria for listing on the Fortune 500 have become more inclusive since 1954’s focus on “industrial companies” only.

Report by Marshall Strategy.

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