How to manage corporate identity
John Lloyd, 1985

This and the preceding 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.

Last issue, John Lloyd argued that a company's true corporate identity was the sum total of all the impressions it conveyed to all its audiences; and that only when a company had an overall policy which embraced the design of its products, environments and communications, and had the appropriate organisation to carry out that policy, would it be in control of its corporate image. But the question – which he now discusses – is, what is the appropriate organisation?

First we should look at the way design is managed now in a large company. Most design projects are handled in isolation within organisations – a product design here, a brochure design there, an office design somewhere else.

Products may originate in the marketing department or the engineering department. The product itself may be designed by an in-house designer or by a consultant. Marketing and engineering people work together to produce the product. Marketing people are preoccupied with the marketplace, engineering people with practical factors. Rarely does either group see what the product has to do with corporate identity. But if the product carries the company's name it is undeniably an expression of the company's image.

Reception areas, offices, meeting rooms, canteens are the preserve of the property or estates department whose preoccupation is with maintenance, safety, refurbishment and development. These people do not see the connection between their work and corporate identity, because the connection has probably never been explained to them. But physical environments are a direct projection of the company's personality.

The advertising or publicity department usually comes under the wing of the marketing department and concerns itself mainly with individual promotional and publicity campaigns. The nearest these people get to corporate identity is to put the company's logo on the publicity material they produce.

The public affairs department communicates with the media, investors, government and employees. It is the one department concerned about the company's overall reputation and image, but rarely does its influence extend beyond the production of the annual report, corporate brochures, press relations, corporate advertising and employee communications.

If a company is serious about its corporate identity it must realise that everything it makes, owns, says and does must be controlled to a common goal. If a corporate identity is to succeed it must therefore have the full commitment of top management who are the only people with the authority to make it happen.

Someone at board level, preferably the chief executive, must champion corporate identity and must be seen to do so. And a senior executive should be appointed to the task of managing the corporate identity exercise on a day-to-day basis across all departments.

Before embarking on a corporate identity design programme it is essential that all parties are consulted. In the first instance it is a good idea for the consultant, the board director who has taken on the responsibility of corporate identity and the executive design manager to explain the aims of the exercise to all concerned. Marketing people, engineers, advertising and publicity people, the estates department and the public affairs people should be brought together and told at the outset about the far reaching nature of the project, why it is important and what the benefits of a consistent image will be. It will be explained that design is a corporate not only a departmental resource, just as financial reporting structures and personnel policy apply across all departments and divisions of a company.

It is common for enlightened companies to adopt global personnel development and training schemes in striving for excellence in all departments. Honeywell for instance, operates a "quality through people" scheme in which everyone in the company irrespective of department or division is trained in the company aim of offering better and better service to customers. Design should be seen in the same way. From the outset all departments should be made to feel part of the corporate identity exercise.

After this initial briefing the consultant will embark on his detailed investigation into the company. He will talk at length with all relevant departments so as to understand fully their specific problems and requirements and to identify corporate design opportunities. He will enlist the advice and help of each department. The consultant will then prepare his recommendations.

Once the corporate identity strategy and design proposals have been presented to the board and agreed in principle, a presentation of the creative solution should be made by the consultant, the board director responsible for design, and the executive design manager to all the relevant departments. The proposals will be explained and questions answered.

So far so good. The company now has its corporate identity plan and has agreement to it by all parties concerned. The plan now has to be put into practice.

Precisely how the implementation stage should be managed will depend upon the management of individual companies. But in all cases a senior executive, whether he be a special appointment or someone already within the organisation, must be charged with the responsibility of managing the implementation of the scheme in collaboration with the consultant. Sometimes the public affairs director is given this task, but this is often not ideal because he is identified too closely with one specific department, the running of which claims most of his time. The same goes for the head of marketing.

It is much better if the executive responsible for corporate identity is a special appointment with no vested interest in any one department. He will report directly to the board director responsible for corporate identity and will be seen to have authority and the support of the board. This executive will plan the implementation of the scheme, monitor its development, control expenditure and meet regularly with representatives from each relevant department. From time to time he will hold group discussions with members from each department who will discuss progress together. In all this, internal communication is vital. The board must make it known that it is serious about corporate identity and expects the co-operation of all concerned. The design executive will communicate with each department. The head of each department will explain the aims of the programme to his staff.

Companies embarking on a corporate identity programme for the first time will need to set up a structure along the lines suggested here. Other companies may already have design management structures. Philips, for example, has a massive department called the "Concern Industrial Design Centre" in the Netherlands, which is responsible for all industrial design, packaging and corporate identification standards worldwide. The centre is headed by the eminent American designer and design manager, Robert Blaich who joined Philips from Hermann Miller where he was also head of design. Blaich reports directly to the Philips board of management. The board is regularly invited to see the work of the centre; the centre publishes its own newsletter about its activities, and by having the full support of the board, Blaich is beginning to harness design across a wide range of disciplines to improve the image of Philips. Olivetti's head of design, Paolo Vitti, also reports to top management but uses outside design consultants rather than employing his own designers. The same is true at IBM. Companies like Olivetti, IBM and Sony are often given as examples of companies who really understand design and appreciate its value. In such a company design is the passion of the chief executive and naturally permeates the whole organisation. Most companies are less fortunate and have to introduce new management structures and personnel in order to manage corporate design.

If a company is to succeed in controlling its identity it must therefore have a chief executive who wants the exercise to succeed; appoint a manager at senior level to manage the programme; be willing to set up a new reporting structures; communicate with everyone concerned within the Organisation; commit sufficient funds to the exercise; and continually monitor progress. The last point is particularly important. A corporate identity programme is not a short-lived project. Once corporate design standards have been set they to be constantly managed and monitored. New products need to be developed; premises updated or improved; marketing and corporate communications produced. The executive design manager and his team and representatives from each relevant department must continue their regular design management meetings. A continual striving for design excellence should become a natural part of the company's culture.

Many corporate identity programmes fail because they are handled piecemeal. We can all think of companies with good graphics but poor products or good products but poor environments. Few are getting it right in all departments, but it can be done.

At Austin Rover, for example, new company strategy gives design a leading role. The company has spent £6m recreating design strength in the form of a 130 strong central design team equipped with the latest computer-aided design systems. Customer information, showroom design and after-sales communications are also being tackled and Austin Rover is beginning to change and improve its image, and consequently its performance in a highly competitive market.


John David Lloyd: