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Company Identity - More than a Logo

Graphic designers frequently have a prominent role to play in launching or repositioning a company. When they create a look (or new look) for a company's stationery, brochure, ads and Web site, this is often called an "identity package." Don't let this convenient term mislead you into believing that a company's identity consists of nothing more than its logo and look. No, every company has an identity or image in the minds of its customers comprised of at least nine other factors besides the graphic look.

How your market perceives your company should be deliberate, calculated and coherent rather than accidental and confused. Think about how you'd like your company to be perceived along these dimensions. Then investigate whether or not actual perceptions match your intent -- and adjust your marketing to reinforce the qualities you want your customers to associate with you.


1. Values. Do you stand for stability, like Prudential insurance? Innovation, like 3M? Educational curiosity, like the Discovery Channel? Social consciousness, like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream? Child-friendliness, like McDonald's? Rugged individualism, like Marlboro cigarettes? Personal freedom, like Harley-Davidson motorcycles? Serendipity and tradition, like the local hardware store whose owner knows where everything is and has parts and tools dating back to the previous century?

Some companies make their mission statements available to customers as a way to communicate their operating values. Others embody their values in advertising symbols, slogans, signage and store design. Still others rely on media coverage to get across their message about values. Some convey what they stand for in their customer newsletter. As with all the other components of company identity, standing for something specific (not something vague like "quality") helps your company distinguish itself from the competition.

2. Personality.
A revealing exercise in putting your company's personality into words is playing the old parlor game, with yourself and with your customers: If the company were a vegetable, which one would it be? If it were a cartoon character, would it be Bugs Bunny, Wonder Woman, Road Runner or Dick Tracy? If it were someone in a high school yearbook, would it be Most Likely to Succeed, the Homecoming Queen, the Nerd or the Class Clown?

Although no personality can be popular with everybody, here are some personality traits adopted by numerous companies:
- sincere and friendly
- off-beat, fun to be with or exciting
- adventurous or artistic
- careful and finicky
- glamorous and sophisticated
- the strong, silent type
- brash and even slightly irritating
- motherly and considerate

From the company's personality can flow ad campaigns, kinds of special events to sponsor, company colors and typefaces, corporate gift selection, even the talent chosen to record company voice mail messages.

3. Behavior.
Your company's image includes not only how you promote yourselves but also how you act toward customers and the public, both on a day-to-day basis and during extraordinary circumstances. Things like how you answer the phone, how you greet shoppers, how cheerfully you correct mistakes or accept returns, how aggressively you negotiate contracts all become bound up in one composite image.

Larger companies sometimes engage "mystery shoppers" or "mystery patients" (for hospitals), who interact with the company incognito and then file a report on their experience. Many of the faults that turn up in such reports can be easily corrected once identified, leading to an improved image. You can also directly solicit feedback from clients through a survey form. Sometimes the very act of asking for feedback improves a firm's image, since it shows they care about customers' experiences.

4. Price.
How much you cost in comparison to competitors often becomes part of your image. If you're tempted to keep price out of the equation until someone expresses a desire to buy, think twice. Whether you charge high, low or reasonable prices, integrating pricing deliberately into your company image has several advantages.

When you're candid about pricing, you cut down on the number of "tire-kickers" you need to deal with. You also rope in many of the shoppers who might otherwise make incorrect assumptions. Some go away without asking your prices because they figure they couldn't afford you. Some guess that your prices are low and conclude that therefore you couldn't be very good at what you do. In the latter case, proclaiming your high prices increases business because clients willing to pay for the best now know you fall into the category of elite firms they want to patronize.
Above all, make sure your pricing fits with the other components of your image. If you charge in the low range, your stationery and logo shouldn't look classy and expensive. If you charge in the high range, you should be giving out higher quality company gifts and promotional items.

5. Range. Customers should understand the spectrum of products and services that you sell. Surprisingly often, this isn't the case, though. Companies sometimes start a painful reconsideration of their marketing when they learn about customers buying things from their competitors that they could have supplied. You can prevent this loss of business by taking these steps:
- Verbally telling customers about the range of your products or services when they first conclude business with you
- Giving out a printed brochure that underscores what you do
- Reinforcing that recital of your capabilities with a printed or e-mail newsletter that highlights the range of what you do

If you handle only, say, commercial cleaning accounts and not residential, or only, say, bookings of locally based and not nationally prominent speakers, make sure your specialty becomes part of your company image. If it's not part of your company name or company slogan, include your focus in your ads, brochures, sales letters and other promotional pieces.

6. Geographical roots.
Where did your company come from? If you're a locally owned family business competing with multinational giants, make sure people know that. If you're selling nationally but rooted in a picturesque corner of the country, you might be able to make hay out of that. The state of Vermont determined that companies linked to it were able to charge more for their products than companies headquartered elsewhere, and it took steps to make sure outsiders don't try to horn in on its brand equity.

Sometimes the region of origin becomes intertwined with the company identity through the logo, the company colors and company name. Sometimes, as with Haagen-Dasz ice cream, the regional association -- in this case with Scandinavia -- is completely fabricated but works its magic on consumers nonetheless.

7. Longevity.
Moody and Regan, a printing company in Waltham, Massachusetts, wisely and impressively uses as its tag line, "Established 1898." Whenever you've been around much longer than competitors, you can profitably incorporate that into your image. Celebrate business anniversaries -- in the computer field even ten years might count as an commendable milestone. In areas where banks are consolidating like crazy, ten years with the same name and same ownership might give you a competitive advantage with the public. On the other hand, when you're new and competing with well-established firms, you can gainfully make your "new on the block" status a positive part of your image.

8. Slogan.
Which brand "tastes good like a cigarette should"? Which car is "the ultimate driving machine"? What product are you not supposed to "leave home without it"? Even local or specialized companies can achieve this kind of awareness with their clientele.

Radio and TV may be especially useful in burning your slogan into the minds of the public because musical accompaniment aids the memorability of the slogan. Billboards can do the job well, too, as passersby can't help noticing them. Remember, though, to keep the main message short -- seven words or less -- when people are driving by a billboard at highway speeds. T-shirts, hats and umbrellas often have space for a company slogan as well as a logo.

Smart companies keep their slogans for years at a time, and even play off them when times change. In 1999, American Express twisted its longtime slogan, "Don't leave home without it," into "Don't leave homepages without it," to get across its message that AmEx cardholders would not be responsible for any unauthorized charges from shopping online.

9. Benefits. What do buyers get when they purchase from you? A classic marketing principle reminds us that people don't really buy 3/4-inch drills, they buy 3/4-inch holes. They don't buy an item or a service, but the result produced by the item or the service.

If you're a financial planner, you really deliver not financial advice but peace of mind and the ability to live well in the future or take care of one's family. If you're a rental car agency, you really deliver not a rental car but the ability to drive around freely when someone's own car is being repaired or is far away back home.

Most companies provide intangible, emotional benefits (Volvo cars: safety; Hallmark cards: friendship; Victoria's Secret: sensuality) as well as tangible, practical ones (Burger King: inexpensive, satisfying meal; Boston Pops: a fun night out; Kodak: photos with true-to-life colors). A good solution for companies bothered by price shoppers and customers seemingly without brand loyalty is to lean more heavily than before on benefits differentiating them from competitors.

When both you and those who buy from you know clearly what these benefits are, and when those benefits match the other dimensions listed above, you undoubtedly have a comprehensive, effective company image. Congratulations!

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, which affordably brainstorms creative product names and tag lines for organizations all over the world.
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