We commonly talk about corporate identity as the way which an organisation portrays itself to the public. For most people the first thing that comes to mind, when they hear the words ‘corporate identity’, is a logo or some sort of marketing collateral like a business card or signage. When we talk of human beings ,we treat the subject of identity differently. We treat identity as what defines who that person is. When they live their life in a way that is inconsistent with who we know them to be we talk of them having some sort of an identity crisis. We give them space to “find themselves” or to “discover their identity”. We know how crucial identity is to people and how devastating the effects can be when there is something wrong with it.
So why do we treat our companies differently? Why do we take a superficial approach to the issue of identity? Why do we look so much at outward appearances? Do we miss something of the power of identity when we do so? Yes, I think so. You and I both know that identity begins long before outward appearance and that it runs much deeper than looks. We also know how appearances can be used to hide a lot of rot, sadness and confusion. We all know that when you deal with the real person, everything else follows out of what is essential.
I would like to submit to you that this is the way we ought to deal with our companies and organisations. Corporate Identity ought to refer first and foremost to the essence of what the company is and what they stand for long before we talk about logos, letterheads and business cards. Every company has an identity. The thing is, not every company realises that they have an identity, let along knowing it and being able to articulate aspects of it.
Looking deeper –
If you have any experience dealing with personal identity issues, you will know that it was necessary to look beneath the surface and to deal with “real” issues. It is necessary for companies to look beneath the surface and to explore essential issues that define them. A client that we were taking through the process of clarifying and articulating their identity referred to us as “Corporate Therapists”. That got us thinking at the time and we quickly adopted that as part of who we are. Our therapy sessions involve, among others, the exploration of 3 issues that every company should consider when branding or establishing their corporate identity.
It is important for a company to clarify and articulate matters pertaining to their purpose, their raison d’être. Why does your company exist? What would be missing if it didn’t exist? Is your vision clear? What about your mission? As part of our corporate therapy sessions, one of the outcomes is a well-crafted brand promise. What is it exactly that you are offering the world? What promise are you making them? You need to realise that long before you have a logo, you already have a brand. You would do well to clarify and articulate it. At Charisma, we exist to offer innovative marketing solutions that add real value. We took time to come up with that. We had to sit ourselves on the couch and undertake some corporate therapy before we came up with that. But in the end, we knew that this purpose statement summarised who we were and what we exist to deliver. When we approach a client to offer them marketing, we consider innovation and are not limited to what is conventional. We also consider the issue of value, how to measure the value we bring to the party and how it impacts their bottom line. Dealing with purpose issues allows your company to portray itself accordingly and to conduct business on purpose as it were.
What are your values? And how did you come up with them? More importantly, if we ask somebody who has not read any of your literature what your values are, would they likely come up with the same set of values or at least something close? Many companies fall into the trap of adopting buzz words because they are exactly that and because they think that people will be impressed by them. I was recently standing in a queue for a certain department and a few of us had enough time to read and appreciate the charts they had on the wall. Having dealt with this department for years, I and many others knew full well that our experience in dealing with them did not match what the said of themselves. What many organisational leaders don’t realise is that long before you come up with your list, there are already qualities that characterise you. There are already some things that you value and exude. If these are bought to the fore and clarified then the list you come up with will be representative of your company and who you are. It is also necessary to ask if what you are portraying in reality is good for the image and reputation of the company. Remember in the end your brand is your reputation. You can only fake it for so long before everyone knows your true colours, so best get it right at the start.
I have been in business for 10 years and by far the clients who bring you the most interesting and stimulating work are those who are passionate about the subject matter of their business. It is a lot of fun to build a website for a client who understands his chicken business thoroughly, who knows everything there is to know about chickens and who lives and breathes chickens. Some people find themselves in the chicken business simply because they think that will be a good way to make money, but you quickly realise that their passion for it is nowhere close to what it should be. So people are good entrepreneurs and get by without the necessary passion for the subject matter, but by far the best are those who are passionate. You need to remember that passion is contagious and is quickly “caught” by your service providers or anyone that you have contracted to do work for you. Issues pertaining to leadership and team characteristics are crucial because passionate people will propel your company forward and with represent your brand well.
Clarify and articulate –
Identity is not something to discover, it is something to clarify and articulate. Identity exists already, whether you are aware of it or not. It is important that you bring to the fore what is good and would like to passionately carry forward. The process of establishing a brand strategy allows you to do that and to then strategically articulate your identity and the way it will be carried by all aspects of your brand. This is who you are. You need to know exactly who you are, be clear about it and be able to communicate in a way that is consistent with that.
Your brand becomes powerful when you now execute all its elements out of the essence of who you are as a company. Your logo is most powerful when it is developed out of a brand strategy. Business cards, social media pages and all other communicative elements are also most powerful when they are aligned with your identity. In the end, your company is most successful when what all your stakeholders say of you is consistent with what you have always said of yourselves. When you reputation matches your promise then you have done well.
Don’t treat your corporate identity as a superficial issue. Dig deep and explore the organisation beneath the surface to establish a brand that is unique to you. This will ultimately help you to be successful in business.