Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Identity, Image and Reputation

The first and the most critical part of the corporate communication function is the corporation’s brand identity and image. It is very important to address how a close alignment between a company’s identity and image generates a strong reputation, and also to know how to distinguish between the image, identity and reputation in the minds of consumers, shareholders, employees and other relevant constituencies.

Identity and Image:

A company’s identity is the visual manifestation of the company’s reality as conveyed through the organization’s name, logo. Motto, products, services and all other tangible pieces of evidence created by the organization and communicated to the various constituencies like customers, media, employees, etc.

An image of an organization is a reflection of that organization’s identity. It is the way the various constituencies view the organization. An organization may have different images pertaining to different constituencies depending on their perceptions.

Shaping Identity:

Identity is the only part of the reputation management which can be completely controlled by an organization. There are various things that contribute positively to a corporate identity. They are:

1. An inspirational corporate vision: A vision that encompasses the company’s core values, principles, philosophies, standards and goals is the most central part of corporate identity. It is a common thread that all the constituencies relate to.

2. Names and Logos: Branding and strategic branding management are the critical components of identity management system. Companies change their names and logos to institute structural changes because of mergers and acquisitions, to shape and enhance their identity and to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. A good name adds a lot to the image building process of an organization.

3. Consistency: A company’s vision should be consistent across all its identity elements right from name, logo to employees’ behavior.

Identity Management Process:

Step 1: Conducting an Identity Audit:

An organization has to collect various facts from various constituencies to get a better sense of their image, which provides it with a starting point of creating an identity, by conducting research with constituents. This research should be both qualitative and quantitative in nature and should try to determine how consistent the identity is across constituencies including employees, analysts, customers etc, which can be used as a basis for potential identity changes.

Step 2: Set Identity objectives:

After analyzing the Identity audit, the company’s senior management should set goals and explain how each constituency should respond to specific identity proposals. The main goal should be to make customers aware of the dramatic transformations that are going on in an organization.

Step 3: Develop Designs and Names:

Once the Identity objectives are clear, the actual design should be developed. The changes in name or logo should be made in consultation with the experts because so many names already exists that the companies need to avoid any possibilities of trademark and name infringement. The logo should reflect accurately, the company’s reality.

Step 4: Develop prototypes:

The organization should develop prototype using new name or/and logo. The new identity should be applied to everything including ties, t-shirts, packaging, business cards, and stationery to see how it works in practice.

Step 5: Launch and Communicate:

This is the phase where the new identity of the company is formally introduced to the company’s constituency and the public. The presenting of an identity, particularly for the first time is a complex process and it is easy for constituencies to wrongly interpret the changes.

Step 6: Implementing the program:

The final stage of the identity management process is the implementation of the program. In order to ensure that the identity change program is implemented successfully, the company should develop an identity standard which shows the staff and managers how to use the new identity consistently and correctly.


Reputation represents Identity and image of the corporation as a whole. It differs from image because it is built over time and is not simply a perception of the people. It also differs from identity because it is a product of both internal and external constituencies. Companies with strong and positive reputation can attract and retain the best talent as well as loyal customers and business partners. Only when image and identity are in alignment will strong reputation result.


A classic case of turning around a corporate reputation and enhancing product sales involves the Ford Motor Company. Not too many years ago the American automobile industry was reeling from imported cars from Japan and Europe that simply outclassed and outperformed their American counterparts. US automakers simply could not match either the reality or the perception of the quality of imported automobiles, especially from Japan. Ford took the issue head on and launched its corporate program, "Quality is Job One."

More than an advertising slogan, although a good one at that, Ford made narrowing the quality gap between its cars and Japanese imports the overriding positioning for the Company, its employees, shareholders and stakeholders. The company changed its culture and its behavior. Quality truly was the Number One priority for the company. It made measurable progress, narrowed the gap and was rewarded by the buying public, perhaps best exemplified by the Ford Taurus, the best selling model in the world for three years running. Ford made good on its promise and the public responded.

Personal Experience:

During my internship in an Insurance company, I was working under a manager who worked with that company for over 10 years. He knew everything about the company, his employer and the people working with him. Since he was pretty friendly with me, he talked to me about all the negative things about the senior management and the company as a whole, which ruined the company’s image from my viewpoint. I feel that the Senior management should take steps to develop good relationship with the employees so that such instances can be avoided.


“The Forgotten Brand: The Power of Corporate Reputation”, James H. Dowling Chairman Emeritus, Burson-Marsteller, Mexico City, December4, 1996

Corporate communication, 4th edition, Paul A. Argenti, The Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.

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