Defining Your Corporate Identity In The 21st Century

by | Sep 1, 2021 | Customer Experience, Employee Experience, User Experience

Spring has sprung. There’s an energy in the air and a fresh sense of rebirth. And it’s in the spirit of rebirth, and in recognition of our own recent brand makeover, that we wanted to take a few minutes to talk about brand and corporate identity.

Because, whether you’re flushing some new colour into an established brand, or building a new brand from the ground up, your corporate identity is as integral a part of that process as birdsong is of Spring.

The Impact Of Brand Identity

Setting the politics and conspiracies aside for a moment, there’s a reason that the early predictions that had Donald Trump winning a landslide victory in 2020 turned out to be smoke and mirrors. And it has a lot to do with Donald Trump’s brand, his corporate identity (CI).

You see, no matter Donald Trump’s financial reality, his brand was that of a billionaire tycoon with the Midas touch. And America’s record-setting economic strength at the end of 2019 tied in perfectly with that brand. Moderate voters who might have found his manner off-putting would have been very willing to hold their noses and vote for him, largely based on that consistency between the brand and its ability to deliver on the promise of its central identity.

As Politico said at the time, “President Donald Trump has a low approval rating. He is engaging in bitter Twitter wars and facing metastasizing investigations. But if the election were held today, he’d likely ride to a second term in a huge landslide…”

Whatever you think of the man himself, the truth is that a brand that could survive the drama drawn to that one from 2015 to 2019, is a powerful brand indeed. And it’s no coincidence that the eventual failure of that brand directly correlates with its inability to live up to its own identity.

It’s undeniable that a consistent and sincere brand identity is important – especially in this age of informed consumers who care strongly about the narratives they support. The question is, how does an organisation craft a CI that accurately reflects its own strengths and meets its market’s wants and needs, both known and unknown?

Qualitative And Quantitative Understanding Of The Customer Experience

There’s a consumer behaviour story from 2012 about an angry father scolding American retailer, Target, for sending his high school-aged daughter coupons for cribs and other maternity-related items. He was understandably upset because, as far as he was concerned, his daughter was far too young to be targeted by that sort of advertising.

But the retail chain was targeting its promotions based on its understanding of its customers’ behaviour. And what the father didn’t know, was that his daughter was pregnant and her purchasing behaviour reflected that.

What does this have to do with CI?

Well, according to their Purpose & History, which constitutes a part of their CI, Target’s “goal is to make every family’s Target Run convenient, relevant, affordable and packed with joyful experiences they won’t find anywhere else.”

There is little doubt that in the above anecdote, Target’s research helped to hit the mark on convenient, relevant, and affordable – its processes, services, and product all aligned to live up to most of the company’s stated overarching goal. Guided by their brand values, Target was doing exactly what they should have been doing.

The lesser-known side to that anecdote, however, is that Target would come to roll back the tactics that had accidentally unveiled the expecting mother when further market insights revealed that, from the customers’ perspective, there is a fine line between convenient and creepy. As it turns out, people don’t like their retailers announcing their pregnancies before they’ve had the chance to tell their families and friends themselves. And since the interactions were not always “packed with joyful experiences” as the brand’s identity dictates, they were adjusted.

The moral of the story

While market research and understanding your stakeholders, requires numbers and data, numbers and data alone are not enough. Humans are not always rational actors and pure data can only tell a company so much about their consumers. We all have odd little habits and quirks, cultural idiosyncrasies, personal rituals, family traditions, and more that make up the motivations that determine our behaviours.  And brands who cannot understand this will make their customers feel like they are disconnected and distant.

According to a 2017 report, a trend of faltering trust in the political establishment can have a knock-on effect on both brands and advertisers, with 38% of people seeing brands as being almost “completely establishment”. According to the same poll, 40% of people associated brands with being “pushy”, while 57% agreed that brands should be more careful where they place their advertising.

One can easily see the pregnant daughter feeling that Target was “too pushy” with its promotional materials, to say the least.  But Target’s CI, its brand, is about more than simply putting its marketing collateral in front of its audience – it’s about creating “joyful experiences”. And in this case, that meant knowing what not to do.

It’s in adding that extra value and human touch that your CI can be a major difference-maker. Because while the design elements of your CI dictate the font, logo, and general tone of your communications collateral, every aspect of your organisation should be run through the moral and quality filter of your brand’s personality, values, and mission statement.

And that’s why, as important as understanding your market is in defining your CI, an inward look can be just as insightful, if not more so.

Understanding Your Organisation

Be real

One might look at the Donald Trump example with which this article opened, and question the value of corporate identity when a braggadocious man who habitually waged social media warfare could be held up as something of a testament to branding excellence.

But whether it was by design or by accident, Trump’s unpolished and off-the-cuff manner of speaking communicated a sense of authenticity and sincerity to his audience that reflected their need for a “non-establishment” brand to follow. Every time he fired off an aggressive and decidedly unpresidential Tweet, his entire audience became a part of the brand experience of “sticking it” to “the man”.

Trump was never going to be the orator that most of his predecessors or competitors were, and so he took what he had to work with and turned it into something the market wanted. If he had tried to force himself into a more conventional role, he would likely have been sniffed out and chased off stage, as many expected him to be.

As the Ipsos report concludes in its closing remarks, brand realism must replace brand delusion. Your corporate identity should be an accurate reflection of who and what your brand is or at least what it can feasibly aspire to be. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What have you done to prove you are who you say you are?

If you are not honest, your customers may well perceive your brand as inauthentic which will push them away.

Leverage your CI to adapt and innovate effectively

There are countless examples of brand missteps from companies whose corporate identities are either non-existent, or have not been sufficiently communicated and embraced at all levels of the organisation.

It was when the pandemic hit that the Trump brand finally proved not to be quite what it claimed to be on the box. But there were a number of brands that lived up to their CIs in facing the challenges presented by 2020.

Here in South Africa, for example, Discovery turned their new and incredibly immersive and expensive Sandton headquarters into a site for vaccinations, serving both members and non-members.

During lockdowns, Mr D Food and Takealot both repurposed their organisations toward the delivery of essential goods, and they consistently communicated with their customers about their attempts to expand the services they were permitted to offer.

They understood what was needed, what their customers had come to expect of them, and what their capabilities were in the context of the situation. And they acted according to their brand identities.

The Employee Experience Of The Brand Identity

Your employees are both recipients of the brand experience and advocates for the brand. As such, their perspective on your CI is unique and important. Not only do customers care about how a company treats the people who work for it, but your employees are an important part of the feedback loop between the organisation and its market – helping you to understand the human side of the story that the numbers tell.

If the employee experience of your CI is a positive one, in that they buy into and relate to the brand’s personality and the way it lives that personality, it will be reflected not only in how they represent the organisation in their professional capacity, but also through more casual word-of-mouth.

There’s a reason that Google has long prided itself on consistently being voted Fortune Magazine’s best company to work for. Being a very accommodating and creative workplace, free from the confines of yesterday’s way of doing business contributes not only to the creative output of the company and their ability to attract top talent, but it is also a large part of their identity as a company of innovators who once included the statement “don’t be evil” in their code of conduct.

Live Up To The Promise Of Your Corporate Identity

Ultimately, defining and living up to your CI is a broad-view endeavour that, especially in the modern day, requires a company to be honest with itself and with its audience about who it is and how it lives that identity. And a balance has to be struck between that internal reality, and meeting the myriad expectations of an ever-more socially conscious and sceptical public.

At Interact RTD, we employ behavioural sciences and strong market research to craft evolving brand strategies that effectively communicate and align brand, customer, and employee experiences, helping to create and maintain consistency of identity across channels, platforms, and touchpoints.

Get in touch today, and let’s discuss how to inject the spirit of Spring and rebirth into your brand.