Feb 15, 2011

What is the relationship between corporate branding and corporate identity?

John M T Balmer(2002): Corporate Brands: Ten Years On – What’s New?

“Corporate identity provides the grit around which the pearl of a corporate brand is formed.” Balmer
The author argues that there is in many, but not in all, instances, an inextricable link between corporate
identity and corporate branding as evinced by the above quote. However, whilst both constructs can
be important to organisations, there is a tendency to see corporate identity as analogous to corporate
branding. This is wrong. As it is also erroneous to equate visual identity with corporate identity. To
identity scholars this is all very curious since the centrality of identity in comprehending
organisations is a hypothesis which has, for the last fifteen years been propounded by identity
consultants and consultancies. The rise of interest in the corporate branding construct, invariably been
accompanied by ambivalence, and, more often than not, by amnesia in relation to the identity construct.
This is particularly the case with corporate branding, aka corporate identity/graphic design consultancies.
The author, for his part, is clear that there are however key differences beetween the corporate
identity and corporate brands constructs.
One, key, difference is that corporate brands tend to encompass “ethereal” elements which are not
so prominent in the identity mix. (Balmer 2001, Birkigt and Stadler 1986) Thus, whilst corporate
identity is concerned with the question:
“What are we?”/”What we do?” and its sister concept “organisational identity” is concerned with “Who are we?”/How we behave?”
A corporate brand whilst it may be concerned with the above but may be seen to embrace
issues associated with the question:
“What do we profess?”
As such, a corporate brand may be compared to an icon, but an icon in the sense of the Eastern
Christian tradition which functions at two levels.
The first level is that of representation or as a signifier. In this case an icon (visual, verbal, oral
etc) helps to identify the corporate brand. Here there is a clear link with visual identity and its
role as an identifier. A good deal has been written about this viz.,Van Riel et al (2001).
At the second level the icons act as windows to a belief system which represent the belief systems as
encapsulated in the corporate branding covenant (the latter may be implicit or explicit). Thus, we
enter a world of faith. Something which is potentially powerful but also, for the scholar and
researcher, problematic. This might help explain why loyalty to a corporate brands as religious
overtones and explains its power. In the Orthodox tradition the creators of icons are seen to have a
distinct ministry within the church. Some have implied that in the corporate world creators of
corporate brands are also seen as a type of priesthood. There are certainly iconoclasts in the
corporate sphere.
Klein’s book “No Logo” is one example of the above. Others can be found in the letter pages of
the broadsheet newspapers such as The Financial Times. Jones (2001) provides an example of this.
The latter questions whether it was sound business practice to project an business as a way
of life (as a corporate brand). He remarked, “Branding is, in essence, the propagation of
ideology and history is littered with catastrophes stemming from practitioners being taken in by
their own ideology.”
The issues raised by corporate branding iconoclasts are worthy of reflection but fall
outside the scope of this short article. In articulating the differences between corporate
identity and corporate branding the reader is directed to Exhibit Five compares the characteristics of both constructs Exhbit Five
(a) compares the corporate identity mix with the corporate branding mix whilst Exhibit Five
(b) compares the corporate identity management mix with the corporate branding management mix.
Consider Coca-Cola. It is both a corporate and a product brand. As McQueen (2001) observes, the company has virtually one product. A product that nobody actually needs. In its sugar laden form, it is plainly bad. The Coca-Cola corporate brand is entirely dependent on marketing. The company’s logo is the most familiar in the world.
It is not so much the product but the values/system of beliefs which are attached to the brand that matter. As such, the Coca-Cola brand does not only symbolise a brown, sweet and refreshing drink but, moreover, has strong
cultural overtones pertaining to the American way of life/Americanisation. In contrast, the identity of the company owes more to the company’s confederate roots rather than to the USA per se. Its headquarters are in Atlanta, Georgia, and its first advertisements featured southern belles sipping Coca-Cola.
The use of corporate branding is, of course far from new. Jeremy (1998) noted the importance that UK railway companies placed on branding in the 1830s. There was widespread use of coats-ofarms
which not only served to distinguish one company from another but also stood for a quality of service which staff aspired to uphold and customers to expect. Corporate brands also helped to create barriers to entry and helped preserve first-mover competitive advantage.
However, in order for corporate brands to thrive the brand’s profession of faith had to be delivered
- in other words underpinned by the identity.
What is the relationship between corporate branding and corporate identity?

Sheffield’s cutlery manufacturers were a case in point. They failed to suppport their corporate brands from American and German imitators who not only copied the cutlery manufacturer’s goods but also, quite telling, their trade marks and, more importantly, the collective Sheffield brand name.
(Sheffield was synonymous with bespoke and fine cutlery ware). At the same time they embraced
mass production which, whilst led to lower quality, also resulted in lower risk. As such, there was confusion as to what the Sheffield mark stood for; confusion as to the branding covenant and, this led to a loss of faith.

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