Beyond the logo
This and the following article were written for the Industrial Marketing Digest in 1985. I have included them here because, although the examples discussed belong to a different era, the principles described are as relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago.
A logo, says John Lloyd, can help to label a company's possessions, but alone it cannot be expected to create an identity.
Many companies and organisations think that a corporate identity consists of a logotype, symbol or visual device that is used to identify all the company's visual manifestations. This visual device is normally seen as the central and most important element in a corporate design system which will also include a corporate typeface, corporate colours and design standards for stationery, signs, vehicle liveries, workwear and so on.
These visual design standards are, in most cases, collected together in the form of a design manual, and once a company has such a document on its shelves and has implemented as far as possible the design recommendations contained therein it believes that it has acquired a new corporate identity.
But a company's true corporate identity is the sum total of all the impressions it conveys to all its audiences. A corporate image will be influenced more by the way telephones are answered, the performance and reliability of products, speed of delivery, the quality of after sales service, attitudes to the environment and personnel policy than it will by the logotype on note paper and truck sides.
This is not to say that a corporate identification system is not worthwhile. A consistent and coordinated way of identifying a company can undoubtedly help it to achieve a higher profile and can influence the attitudes of all those who come into contact with it.
In the 1960s and 1970s corporate identification was discovered by many organisations. Industrial companies, retailers, banks and public utilities were keen to acquire a new logo and design manual in the belief that, once acquired, these would bring the benefits of a new improved corporate image.
In the UK, banks such as Natwest and the Royal Bank of Scotland adopted classic corporate identification systems – an abstract symbol or logotype, a colour scheme and a corporate typeface. In industry, Delta Metal, British Leyland, BOC and many others did likewise. In the public sector British Rail, the British Airports Authority and the various gas and electricity boards followed suit. Everyone put on a new set of clothes. But corporate identity does not stop at the logo on the notepaper, the badge on the product or the sign over the door.
It is impossible to separate corporate identity from the rest of a company's activities. Those operating in a single industry or product area such as computer companies, car companies and, in the financial sector, banks and insurance companies, project their corporate attitudes through everything they do and everything they produce.
The style of a product from Volvo, Sony or IBM tells you something about the company that made it. In this sense the design of the product is an expression of corporate identity
Reception areas, office interiors, showrooms, meeting rooms and staff facilities influence one's perception of the organisation. The public spaces of a retail bank are as much to do with its corporate identity as the sign on the fascia outside. Natwest has realised this and is currently undertaking an exercise to improve its corporate image without changing its logo. Design consultants have been appointed to work on bank interiors, displays, posters and brochures as part of a long-term effort to upgrade its identity.
The corporate personality of an insurance company is conveyed primarily by the quality of its communications with policyholders, agents, brokers and potential customers.
No amount of tinkering with a logo will change an insurance company's image if its printed literature remains visually uncoordinated and poorly written. The Sun Alliance Insurance Company wants to improve its image but realises that simply to change its logo and leave everything else the same will not create a new corporate identity. The solution for Sun Alliance will be to analyse all its communications requirements, to identify clearly all its audiences, to develop a policy towards the use of brand names and then to produce guidelines for the design, writing and production of all its communications. If all this is got right there will be a shift in the way it is perceived far greater than could possibly be achieved by a new logo.
In the service sector we have seen that a well-designed corporate identification system does not necessarily result in a good corporate image. British Airways, for example, meticulously implemented its first corporate identification scheme but still had a poor reputation for service. The controversial new scheme by Landor Associates will do little to change the airline's image unless the quality of service of airline staff improves, catering standards are raised and aircraft interiors and airport lounges are made more convenient and comfortable. I am pleased to see that in the new programme some of these matters are being addressed. The graphics on the aircraft are one small factor in building a new image for the airline. British Rail's image is no better today than it was before the introduction of its current logo and colour scheme.
It is becoming increasingly recognised that corporate identity exerts a significant influence on the sales and marketing performance of companies. In the automotive industry, for example, corporate image performance, how people rate the company, is seen to play an important part in the purchasing decision. No matter how well designed Austin Rover's new corporate logo might be, the company could not improve its image until its products were improved. Sticking a new name on old products does not create a good identity. On the other hand even when the new cars are well designed and reliable, the company can still suffer from a poor reputation resulting from a confused and troubled history. A priority at Austin Rover has been to change the public's perception of the company. In the case of a car company this has to be done by first making good products and providing good service at all levels from the point of sale through to after sales service.
Once this is achieved the image will begin to be improved and corporate identification can begin to play its part. A poor corporate reputation can hold back a company with good products while a good corporate reputation can add value to a company and its products.
BMW can charge a premium for its products in the UK because, as well as having excellent products, it has gone to great lengths to build the right corporate image. When you buy a BMW you buy a good name as well as a good product.
Automotive design, sales, after sales service, and product advertising, are as much to do with corporate identity as they are to do with marketing.
When discussing corporate identity we must not forget the role of internal communications. A company's workforce is often its greatest and most important interface with the outside world. Internal communications can keep employees informed about a company's products, services, aims and aspirations. Internal communications very quickly become external communications. Employees deal with customers and suppliers and talk about their company to friends and relatives. If a workforce is properly informed it will pass the right messages on.
So what does all this mean? It means that corporate identity is not simply a matter of logos and colours. It means that design consultancies advising clients on corporate identity should be capable of providing advice and design skills in the additional areas of product design and product identity, packaging, environments, corporate communications and marketing communications.
This does not mean that the design consultancy must be expected to design, as well as the corporate identification system itself, every product, interior and item of printed or audio-visual communication. It does mean, however, that design consultants should be able to provide a corporate communication policy covering all these areas and be capable of assisting the client in the management and control of his corporate identity as expressed in these many ways. When it is realised that the subject of corporate identity is as broad as this it becomes apparent that most client organisations are not capable of managing a multi-disciplinary design programme within their existing structures.
Yet only when a company has a policy for the design and control of its products, spaces and communications and has the appropriate organisation to carry out that policy, will it be in control of its corporate image.