Strategic Identity and Your Corporate Image

Corporate Identity Branding and Strategy

Some people believe that “image is everything” when it comes to marketing their company. Others think ” brand identity” begins and ends with a logo.

The reality is, both are important, and identity and image have a critical relationship in telling your unique story.

We believe that a strategic identity should help you clearly articulate who you are, what you do, and why you matter to your key audiences, in ways that are ownable, believable, beneficial, sustainable, and profitable.


Repositioning a Brand: The Power of Brand Stories

Repositioning a Brand: Stories are a powerful way of organizing and sharing brand experiences. They put information in a memorable and compelling context.

Numerous psychology and neurology studies have shown that stories imprint more lastingly in human minds than facts, rationales, logic and bullet points. Stories unite ideas with emotions. Stories build and preserve the community. They align people, build connections and support a feeling of shared purpose. Stories can forge strong allegiances between brands and customers.

One of the most meaningful ways to ensure people engage with your brand is to understand the places, activities and dreams that matter to them, and then to discover where all these stories and your own brand story intersect. This can provide a sense of connection and continuity.

The North Face, a premier outdoor equipment company, was trying to grow its market beyond a narrow niche of hard-core outdoor enthusiasts and reach to a broader active lifestyle user, without alienating either.

By repositioning a brand, for example, from “Fine Alpine Equipment and Apparel” to “Never Stop Exploring,” their story changed from “we’re a company that makes stuff” to “like you, we’re a company believe in pursuing new challenges, no matter how big or small.” This aspirational repositioning helped them connect to a broader audience without losing the authentic brand elements that defined them.

Psychological, organizational, social or brand transformation is usually preceded or accompanied by a change in the story governing that system. Trying to change forms and behaviors without changing the story that holds them in place almost never succeeds. Once the story is changed, however, patterns and behaviors tend to realign rapidly.

Learn more about branding positioning at Marshall.


Successful Branding Strategies and Your Internal Audiences

Successful branding strategies incorporated with your human resources policies can have profound effects on your company’s competitiveness. In the late 1980s, the now defunct Eastern Airlines promoted the idea that they worked to “Earn its Wings Everyday.” Unfortunately, during this time, the company was undergoing significant labor union issues, and many of the employees were disgruntled. Rather than providing the superior customer service that the brand claimed, the airline lost luggage, cancelled flights and served some of the worst food in the airline industry.

By contrast, Southwest Airlines has grown and prospered over the years without compromising its brand position, due in large part to the culture, attitudes and behaviors embraced by its employees. From booking to ground staff, luggage handlers, pilots and attendants, everyone seems to understand their role as brand ambassadors, fulfilling an important promise to customers.

One of the lessons that Southwest’s success and Eastern’s demise teaches is that a branding strategy must connect to and be reinforced by staff education, internal support and company culture.

A successful company should focus on converting promises into behaviors.

Human Resources directors are the front line in hiring quality employees companywide, and should therefore be involved in major rebranding or marketing strategy decisions. If employees are not educated about and inspired by the company’s branding strategy, corporate identity and company values, they are less likely to deliver on the promise of the brand. Employees who understand, and are motivated by company objectives are more likely to promote the brand and contribute effectively to the overall corporate identity.

Employees are what bring customers back.

IKEA has built their business philosophy around providing a superior customer experience, offering service that is customer-oriented and personal. This in combination with attractive, inexpensive furniture, has made the company a consumer favorite, It is no secret that customers are more likely to keep coming back if their experience is positive. In Ikea’s case that experience begins with the in-store visit, which is made unique through a combination of innovative product, engaging displays, and helpful people. To achieve better customer loyalty, it is essential for Human Resources to recruit and train employees who are or who become advocates for your brand, and who also understand how their actions reinforce the company’s corporate identity.

Human Resources can provide internal and external alignment

By focusing on internal audiences as key stakeholders in any branding strategy, your company will promote an environment of loyalty to the brand that can help set you apart. Externally, perceptions of products, services and brands are often a direct result of employee attitudes; if those who make and sell a product, or create and provide a service believe in the branding strategy, the customer is more likely to as well. Harley-Davidson can boast an impressive 45 percent loyalty rate among current owners, and many of them say their loyalty is directly related to the connection they have with the employees at their local Harley dealer. Even among non-motorcycle owners, Harley-Davidson has a high level of loyalty – a significant percentage of revenue comes from the sale of clothing and other branded items. This type of aspirational following is a hallmark of success for any brand.

Your company brand is only as good as your people; they should be willing to live your brand, whether it is newly formed or part of a rebranding effort. For more information on what we can contribute to your branding strategy, please contact us.


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.


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.


Corporate Identity Guidelines: 4 Requirements For A Successful Strategy

Corporate brand 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.

Ask Marshall About Corporate Identity for Your Business

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 brand 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.
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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• 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.


Social Media Enhances Corporate Branding Strategies

A recent report found a correlation between brands going the extra mile to engage customers and their financial performance: The deeper the engagement, the better the results. That points to brand consultants having to consider more factors than ever regarding what impacts a company’s brand, including new technologies and trends, as well as staying on the edge of innovation. It’s more than just asking the eternal Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?”