Learn what corporate identity is and how to deliver on three key components: corporate design, communication and behavior.
One common misconception in marketing is that corporate identity is the same as visual identity. But it is much more than custom letterheads and your selected color scheme.
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.
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?
- What are the key elements of corporate identity?
- How to use your visual identity as an asset to your overall strategy
Corporate identity vs brand identity
Although the two terms are quite similar (in fact, you cannot have a corporate identity without a brand identity), there is a slight difference between corporate and brand identity.
Brand identity is how you want your customers to perceive you: from your brand promise to your logo and the color palette you use in marketing. It’s a strategy you create to position your brand on the target market (including technical stuff like SEO keyword research).
Corporate identity relates to the activities inside your organization that shape both internal and external perceptions of your brand. Simply put, corporate identity covers all the aspects of brand identity plus:
- The people you work with;
- The impact you make outside of the company;
- The tone of voice in your messaging;
- The feeling you invoke in customers;
- How successful you are in implementing your brand promise.
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The elements of corporate identity
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 assets.
However, in order to create a good corporate identity, you must start from inside of your organization, in order to move outward. The three key elements of corporate identity are:
- Corporate communication: the value proposition you offer your customer;
- Corporate behavior: the actions inside the company that define its values and strategy.
- Corporate design: the design of products and services that help the company deliver against their 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.
We will use Google’s story and corporate identity evolution as a model that will help you strategize your own identity.
Google communicates through every aspect of its identity. 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 the way they nurture the perception of the company with target audiences and employees.
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.
Google is 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’s corporate design is what makes it so well known today.
Visible in every individual asset they have in their portfolio, from its logotype to the design, to extremely user-friendly product design, all the way to the interior design of their offices. Their design is colorful, inspiring, and playful, but most of all, it’s intuitive.
How to define your corporate identity
The starting point of your corporate identity strategy is to begin from within the organization.
As a CEO you should have an idea of what your unique value proposition is and what the key values and brand promise are. But you should also make sure to look into how your own employees perceive you and see what stands out for them. You might not think much about tweaking a tagline, but if it comes from the right source, it could become an integral part of your corporate identity. Just think of Nike’s “Just do it”!
Next, you 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.
Finally, it’s 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.
How to use your visual identity as an asset to your overall strategy
Finally, we have to make a few closing remarks on visual identity and how you can use it in your corporate identity 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.
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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.
We hope this short guide gave you some useful pointers on how to build a corporate identity, from the inside out.
Make sure you take into account the three key elements of corporate identity and give each one ample attention. Remember that creating a corporate identity must include your employees as well as your target audiences in the process.
Finally, while we may not be able to do market research for you, or pinpoint your greatest capabilities, don’t forget that when it comes to designing corporate visual assets, our strong team of designers can help. From a company logo to business cards, we’ve got you covered!