The Battle Between Corporate Identity and Brand Identity | Mansur Mirani |

The Battle Between Corporate Identity and Brand Identity

By Mansur Mirani

If you are a designer, you probably love looking at different corporate identities. When I walk the streets of Vancouver, I can’t stop myself from looking at different logos, typography and colours combinations companies have used. This weekend I was in North Vancouver and had lunch at a Persian restaurant called “Zeitoon”. Why did I decide to go to this particular restaurant you ask? Mostly because of their branding and the way it made me feel when looking at it. It was the best looking brand on Lonsdale Avenue so I went in! Luckily the food was also good! However, if the food was horrible, looking at their brand again would make me think that they had a good designer but need a new chef!

© Zeitoon Restaurant

© Zeitoon Restaurant

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about corporate and brand identities the past few days from many different points of view. The first angle I started to consider is whether a corporate identity is most important or the product identities under said corporation. For example, what is more important to push out to the public: Procter & Gamble or Crest? Did you know that Crest was made by Procter & Gamble? How about Febreze? Do you care? Perhaps most of you did know the relation but I am sure a good portion of you did not. Why is this? Has Procter & Gamble made an effort to make sure you know they are the parent company?

© Procter & Gamble

© Procter & Gamble

As explained in Don Schultz and Philip Kitchen’s paper titled “Managing the Changes in Corporate Branding and Communication: Closing and Re-opening the Corporate Umbrella”, they have not, at least they didn’t initially.

“The individual brand concept, developed and perfected by Procter & Gamble in the 1930’s through the 1950s was focused on building entirely separate product brands with seperate organizations, activities, budgets and so on. That concept reached its peak in the era of mass marketing and mass media from the 1960s through the 1980s. In this ‘product brand’ arena, the corporate organization was a detail, a non-entity. In fact, the product brands worked to keep the corporate brand out of sight. The less the connection between the various product brands, the better.” (Schultz and Kitchen)

Do you think Procter & Gamble took the right approach? Schultz and Kitchen do not think they did. They explain that when a company utilizes its product brands to highlight their corporate identity, major risks are incurred but major advantages are gained.

The risk is total marketplace disaster should things go wrong. (This happened with Firestone when the 100-year old company plummeted 50% in a span of a few weeks when their tires got related to over 100 road deaths). In our current Internet age, bad news about a brand travels very fast which makes it very hard for a tarnished brand to recuperate.

Now lets look at the advantages. The advantages, as noted by Schultz and Kitchen, are ones that should be strongly considered if you want growth, longevity and influence.

“…strong corporate brands such as Microsoft, FedEx and GE have done much to build the global value of the organization. IBM, Pfizer, Starbucks and UPS do not have to explain what they do, all the relevant stakeholders know. By the same token, a strong corporate brand such as Virgin, Kraft or Nestle allows those companies to move into new and exciting areas where the recognition of their name often paves the way for instant or near-instant success.”

To conclude the thoughts of Schultz and Kitchen, they believe that present-day corporations must move beyond the old Procter & Gamble days of the 20th century and stand for something that reflects the values of its people, its products, its management and its stakeholders.

And you know what, P&G has already realized this and is thinking differently in the 21st century:

© Procter & Gamble

© Procter & Gamble

Alright, this makes a lot of sense to me but the Firestone story really scares me! That risk portion of Schultz and Kitchen’s concept is something that corporations really need to make their best efforts to avoid far before considering to use their products to promote their corporate identity. Once the consumer starts to think that your products are crap, there is no amount of branding that you can do to change this image! Many times, trying to fix a problem by doing more branding and marketing simply strengthens the customers image that the product does not match what the brand is trying to tell them. Firestone tires sure did not feel innovative when it was said that people were dying as a result of them.

© Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC

© Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC

On the flip side, if a customer loves your product, they automatically love your brand, and usually accept some of your mistakes because they are so in love with you (sounds like a marriage doesn’t it?)

Case and point:

© Apple Inc.

© Apple Inc.

Apple is not a great brand because of their logo, but because of the way their products make you feel when you use them. Steve Jobs did not put too much thought into the name “Apple Inc.”. He simply came back from the apple farm when on one of his “fruititarian diets” and named the company. His real focus was on making great products. Regarding customers accepting problems, remember that antenna issue with the iPhone 4’s? Remember the line up’s for the iPhone 4’s? Mind you a lot of the initial users did not know about this problem before purchase but they still look at the Apple brand the same way they did before they knew about the problem. Nobody remembers (or better said, cares about) that antenna problem today. All people know is that they need an iPhone 4S with Siri (and are anxiously waiting for the next happiness enticing product to be released (iPad 3, iPhone 5, iOS 6?…).

How much focus should a corporation put on their image? Does it matter? Do the colours of a brand really take it to the next level? Is blue and yellow really better than black and yellow? Is there a hidden Jedi force with marketing and branding that alone can make you “level up”?

At the end of the day, it does not matter. At least in my opinion. What we should be focusing on is getting our services and products right. Usability and user satisfaction is critical in winning a consumers heart in this day and age. Consumers are critically thinking through their potential purchases, comparing, and contrasting before they choose a product. I myself spent weeks creating a gigantic excel matrix before making my recent vehicle purchase.

If your products do not work, is not usable, and do not make people feel happy when they use them, you should not use them to push your corporate identity. The corporate identity is only an extension of the emotion a person feels when they use your product or service. The corporate identity is an after thought for the consumer. The scary part is, this emotion could be positive or negative depending on how well your product or service is. Corporations that do not yet have their products and services completely usable should be focusing on this before they even think about pushing their corporate identity.

That’s a wrap. It’s lunch time. Perhaps I should go to Zeitoon again?

Please help me by sharing this article!

  • Zoe Mullard

    Nice article and thanks for sharing the piece by Shultz and Kitchen.

    • Mansur Mirani

      Thanks Zoe! The paper by Shultz and Kitchen has some great concepts. A lot of good stuff on corporate communication that I did not mention in this article. Definitely a good read if you have not done so already. By the way, I like the comic 🙂

  • Mansur Mirani

    Thanks Zoe! The paper by Shultz and Kitchen has some great concepts. A lot of good stuff regarding organization communication that I did not touch on much when referring to it. Definitely a good read if you have not done so already. By the way, I like the comic 🙂

  • Kaiser Shlootman

    In the end, I agree… It’s the product or service that is most important… Or, more specifically, the perception the individual has on the product or service… But to me, the perception the individual has on the company who is offering the product or service is also important (i.e. if P&G was involved in animal testing to manufacture their products and services, I imagine that more than a few individuals would stop being consumers, regardless of their individual product branding – or regardless of the quality of their product or service). A company’s “image” is not only defined through design, but also through the company’s actions, “tone”, products, and service… It all is a part of the “impression mix”…

    To me, trying to shape perceptions is the most important aspect of marketing (through the “actual” actions, products, and services… and through influencing the “impressions” of the actions, products, and services). Lots of people who know little about technology, not only buy, but love Apple (because of the “impression” they have on the company, products, and services)… and lots of people who know a lot about technology, not only buy, but love Apple (because of the “actual” company, products, and services)… With impression, you may be able to fool people once… or twice… but eventually if the actual isn’t producing like the impression is selling, things will eventually go down hill… and visa versa.

    To me, logos and design play a role in helping to shape the perception part… A logo can help build awareness (stick out in the crowd), but I think a more important role a logo does is reinforce the desired perception… It doesn’t need to be “the greatest designed logo ever”, but a “good enough logo to give the perception you want to reinforce”… A logo should be “clever” if you are trying to influence an impression of cleverness… a logo should be “simple” if you are trying to influence an impression of simplicity… and a logo should be “clip art-like” if you are trying to influence an impression of small, home made, “unmanufactured” and “un-corporatized”…

    • Mansur Mirani

      Thanks for your reply Kaiser! You bring up some very good points. You hit the nail on the head when you said that a company’s image is based on many variables. As mentioned in this article, making sure your products and services are top notch is a very good start in making sure the “impression mix” (as you call it) starts off with some high grade ingredients.

      Regarding your perception concept, this is yet another angle corporations can take to persuade the receiver of their identity to think of them in a certain way. This topic can be a full article on its own! As you said, a company’s logo (a lot of the time) is the first impression someone will consume about your company. The impression you would like to communicate about yourself can be accomplished by the colours you use, typography, etc. Interestingly enough, blue and red seem to be the most dominant colours for the biggest brands in the world. Why is this so? Due to extensive research proving that these two colours will make you the most money? The fact is, the logos of the biggest company’s in the world were designed when these company’s were nothing but a few kids in a garage…. who for sure did not have budgets to do market research on what the best colour for their logo would be. Do you really think a company that wants to be perceived as clever requires a clever logo to accomplish this; or is simply being clever enough? Do you think Google would be less successful with a different logo or different colours? Do you think Google’s logo is clever? Do you think Google is clever?

      I see where you are coming from but in my opinion the logo is just the first impression. There is still much that needs to be done to make her say “I do”!

      • Kaiser Shlootman

        Hey Mansur,

        I actually read a chapter called “Hidden Meaning of Colors” in a book years ago… I just pulled it off the shelf, out of curiosity, and it says:

        “Some colors have a general tendency to please or to displease. Eysenk summarized research carried out by forty statisticians who studied some 21,000 subjects in several countries. He concludes that the preferred colors are:

        1) Blue
        2) Red
        3) Green
        4) Purple
        5) Orange
        6) Yellow

        Perhaps the biggest brands in the world use blue and red, because research suggests that they are the two most preferred colours?

        They go into the “emotional value” of each colour… and colour combinations as well… With regards to the “red-blue” combination, it says “can signify a desire for conquest and a need for intimate and erotic contact. It is suitable for packaging beauty products or for stationery for love letters”… just in case you’re thinking of using the colour combination on something for “platonic contact” 🙂 Anyways, the book is called 1001 Advertising Tips by Luc Dupont. The book is about 20 years old now, but I remember it to be a pretty good one… The price tag on the book is $28.95, and is accessible to most everyone! A large market research budget is not necessarily needed for things like this. Of course, “believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear”… but in my opinion, if you’re making a decision like this based on something that you’ve put some thought into (with at least a little bit of substance behind) then I think that’s good enough… If research suggests that Blue actually relaxes the person perceiving the colour… whereas Red makes the person tense up… I’ll take their word for it, and keep it in mind… In the end, for me, colour (and logo/graphics/design) is a “reinforcer”, not a “deal breaker”…

        My opinion is that a company that is clever will probably naturally create a clever logo… But I do think that a clever logo reinforces the image. Is it required? To me, about as required as being “clean cut” when going to a job interview… Not necessarily required, but if you have time to shave… may as well, it can’t hurt!

        I do think both Google and Google’s logo are very clever… There are a few impressions I have on Google, but with regards to the “clever logo”, to me, this is very clever: To me, Google does this with their logo not for the first impression, but to reinforce the image that they want people to perceive… I don’t think Google is being disingenuous though… I think they are just being, and reinforcing, who they are… when they play with their logo like this. They could just leave their logo alone, and probably do just as well and still take over the world, like they are! But, I don’t think they’re wasting their time either… There are core things that are good to reinforce, when “clever enough” to see the opportunity to do so…

        All in my opinion 🙂