One of the common misconceptions in marketing is that corporate identity is the same as visual identity. But it is much more than that—corporate identity is how your brand is perceived inside and outside of your organization. So you have to hit the bullseye if you want to build a recognizable brand.
Corporate identity applies to both the outside and inside communications of the brand or corporation. It is the self-image of the company and it should reflect how we envision it and how we wish our target audience to see it.
Since there is a lot to unpack in two paragraphs, we’ll take this step by step to make sure you find the information you need and help you create a strong corporate identity fit for your image and vision.
In this article, we’ll focus on the creation and importance of a good corporate identity by answering these questions:
- How is corporate identity different from brand identity
- How to create and nurture a good corporate identity
- How to define your corporate identity
- How to use your visual identity as an asset to your overall strategy
How corporate identity is different from brand identity
Corporate identity is the pillar of corporate management and brand perception. It takes a lot of planning and pivoting as the brand organically grows and changes.
The first thing we think of when talking about corporate identity is the way the brand visually presents itself to the public, but it’s reflected through all sorts of marketing materials: ads, stationery, logo, social media presence, and even public relations and social responsibility.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the three elements of corporate identity are:
- Тhe value proposition you offer your customers
- Тhe capabilities system that allows you to create that value
- Тhe set of products and services that leverage those capabilities and deliver against your value proposition.
Balancing these three elements takes more than a visually good representation of your business. It takes good employer branding, believing in your own value propositions, and making decisions in line with your brand promise.
Brand identity, on the other hand, is a strategy you create and implement to position your brand on the market and achieve the perception you want from your core audience. It’s the name, the motto, the brand’s mission, the color palette you use in marketing, symbols you want people to associate with your company, and other elements you decide upon.
So, while brand identity is how you brand looks and how it is perceived, corporate identity is your brand identity, plus the people you work with, the impact you make outside of the company, your general tone of voice, the feeling you invoke in customers and how successful you are in implementing your brand promise.
How to create and nurture a good corporate identity
For this chapter, we will use Google’s story and corporate identity evolution as a model that will help you strategize your own identity.
When you think of Google, you immediately know that their corporation is innovative, culturally diverse, supportive of their employees and their personal growth, and an overall fun workplace.
Google managed to create and nurture this corporate identity by carefully designing and developing three key elements of identity:
- Corporate design
- Corporate communication
- Corporate behavior
Let’s dig into all of those and see what Google did up close.
Google’s corporate design is visible in every individual asset they have in their portfolio, from its logotype to the design of their offices all over the world. It has a very distinct design as a search engine, with unique gags like the Google Doodles and built-in jokes (google “do a barrel roll” for example). Their design is colorful, inspiring, and playful, but most of all, it’s intuitive.
Google is making sure they are a diverse corporation. They have offices all over the world and strive to employ people of different backgrounds, whether it’s ethnicity, race, religion, or gender. Their corporate culture is built as a tapestry of the cultures of the people who work there, and they do their best at sustaining that diversity over time.
They value openness, a hands-on approach towards work, and a small-company family rapport.
They nurture a warm work environment and encourage knowledge sharing between employees to inspire further innovation and progress.
The video below is a good example of how Google positions itself on the workforce market but also communicates its whole corporate identity strategy to the wider public at the same time.
The corporation also values knowledge and curiosity, even outside of the organization. A proof for that is their Bughunter program, i.e. a contest in which they reward hackers who’ll find vulnerabilities in their systems and report them to Google.
Google communicates through every aspect of their identity. As we’ve already established, they have a distinct visual identity and a strong company culture that evolves together with its employees. Their outward communication is based on a straight-to-the-point approach, with informative ads and educational materials about their brand and general knowledge. Google communicates in a way that builds trust and identification with users, which is very suitable for a dynamic and open corporate system for innovation.
What we can learn from Google’s corporate identity is that they decided on the way the audience is going to perceive the company, but do their best at nurturing and maintaining it as a whole, by keeping their users and employees in mind.
Most importantly, Google is a corporation that brings knowledge to its users and has a mission to make their lives easier through technology. And they respect the same values in their relationships with employees too, so they keep their brand promise and their own values.
How to define your corporate identity
The starting point of your corporate identity strategy is to begin from within the organization. Look into how your own employees perceive you, and if you’re just starting, put on paper everything that your brand signifies and what its vision is.
You also need to learn how the target audiences perceive your brand. Whether by case studies, research, or opinion polls, try to see how people view your corporate and visual identity.
It’s also important to align your corporate identity with the vision you have for your brand in the future. If you want to make big changes, your corporate identity should also reflect that. Make sure you keep your brand promise and stay true to your values.
Here is a simple analogy to help you understand: if you are a corporation who prides itself on measures it takes towards sustainability, you shouldn’t use plastic packaging, right?
Or, if you’re a bank whose main value proposition is great customer care and professionalism, you don’t want colorful offices, funny ads, and a warm color palette in your branding.
How to use your visual identity as an asset to your overall strategy
A beautifully designed and high-quality brand identity supports and elevates the brand image, it’s the most easily noticeable element of your overall strategy.
Vice versa, an inconsistent and not thoroughly thought out visual presence can hurt the company image. You shouldn’t just pick a logo, colors, and typography, decide on something trendy or pick a suggestion out of a style guide.
Research and decide on a visual identity that reflects your corporate culture and tells a cohesive brand story. From your corporate branding, logo design, marketing collateral, office décor, web design, and graphic design of social media posts, you have to make sure that everything is in line with your overall corporate image.
A company that saw the value of a consistent visual presence that is relatable to its customers is Airbnb, who introduced a new corporate identity and redesign in 2014.
The new design by Design Studio promoted belonging as a core value to the Airbnb community. They represent this value with a stylized “A” symbol known as the “bélo”. Airbnb also uses a color called “rausch” and a custom version of the circular font called Lineto in all their marketing assets.
The “bélo” symbol is described as a community mark, and it represents four things: people, places, love, and Airbnb.
The “Belong anywhere” theme of the visual identity found it’s way on the digital platform, billboards all over the world, countless ads, business cards, mugs, and keychains. It’s a consistent image with a profound message, but most importantly, it is closely knit to the Airbnb mission. To transform the way people travel and to help them feel like they belong even as tourists.
Other brands have different core values, and they relate the visual identity to the story they sell. Like how Coca Cola sells happiness, friendship, and a feeling of familiarity through consistent wording and design in campaigns. From the bright colors and messages, you immediately know they rely on their visual identity to invoke a feeling of nostalgia and belonging, and that is what people buy.
Apple successfully conveys that using its products is superior user experience. They achieve this through their product and packaging design and the look of their stores: slick, professional, clean, minimalist.
As we already mentioned, you should start from your brand story and vision to decide how you want your corporation to be perceived by the public, employees, customers, and collaborators.
Use the Harvard Business Review elements of corporate identity: decide on your core value propositions, pinpoint your greatest capabilities and assets and include them in your communication strategy, and keep in mind that there are parts of your overall corporate identity that might leverage your brand image and deliver your value proposition.
This should give you a head start into creating a blueprint for your corporate identity and helping you incorporate your visual image to elevate your brand.