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Corporate image management
By Morten Müller

Corporate portals
Advice for communications people

Look them in the eye
   Include portraits in statementss

Emotional usability
   Definition, quantification, design

Corporate image management
   Concepts and literature overview

Organisational overviews
   Organograms work on web sites?

Quick ones
Collected advice boxes




A look into the concepts, and an overview of the literature:

Corporate identity and corporate image
       What do the two concepts mean?
       Abratt, Bernstein, Ind, Kennedy, Olins
Holistic views
       Being concerned with all of an organisation´s stakeholders
       Kennedy, Martineau, Olins, Selame & Selame
The importance of corporate communication
       Factors that determine corporate image
       Bernstein, Ellis et al., Garbett, van Riel
Communication audits
       Analysing organisations´communication philosophies
       Cortez & Bunge, Dowling, Ellis et al., Garbett, Kennedy, Olins, ...
Management and audiences
       Mission statements versus individuals´value systems
       Abratt, Dowling, Ries & Trout
Shifts in debate focus
       From visual to multidisciplinary focus
       Ind, van Riel & Balmer
Consistency is not uniformity
       The need for organisational flexibility
       Hooley & Lynch, van Riel
The importance of organisational culture and subordinate images
       Cultures as variables or contexts?
       Barich & Kotler, Carrol, Dowling, Hatch & Schultz
The corporate image management pattern
       The characteristics summed up
Corporate identity and corporate image in the service sector
       Are services different from tangibles?
       Bitner, Brookes, Cowell, Gorchels, Hall, Kinnell & MacDougall, ...

Corporate identity and corporate image
The notion that the way an organisation — or indeed an individual — presents itself can have an effect on how it is perceived by various audiences is hardly new. In virtually all literature on the subject of corporate image it is stressed that all organisations, now as well as historically, have images whether they are aware of them or not, whether they agree with them or not, and whether they are controlling their images or are being controlled by them.

The notion that the projection of a clear picture of what an organisation stands for can be of tremendous value in the strategic planning of the organisation is, however, linked with the marketing era from the 1950s onwards, as comprehensively described by Kennedy (1977) and Abratt (1989). Only, however, from the 1970s onwards is a truly holistic view, linking an organisation´s corporate image with the organisation´s reality, taken, notably by Olins (1978, 1984, 1989), Bernstein (1986) and Ind (1992).

In order to assess the literature of this subject, one must be aware of two concepts: corporate image and corporate identity. Their meanings are quite distinct, but unfortunately they are used somewhat interchangeably in parts of the literature.

Most often, however, corporate identity is used meaning the sum of what is projected by an organisation, and corporate image meaning the sum of the perceptions invoked by what the organisation projects, as shall also be the case in this overview.
A broad, controlled approach to the projection and its desired outcomes is frequently termed corporate image management.

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Holistic views
The late 1970s mark a break in corporate image thinking, away from image mainly based on attributes that can be linked to a company´s products or a particular brand, towards being concerned with all of an organisation´s stakeholders. As early as in 1958 Martineau (1958), in a pioneering article, points to the fact that publics perceive whole organisations on an emotional as well as a functional level, and that consequently organisations are well advised to project clear pictures of themselves in all of their actions. Martineau´s views are, however, still closely linked to building on brand images.

Kennedy (1977), in an article that also takes a thorough retrospective view, is among the first to link an organisation´s image with the circumstances of its employees, by analysing organisations´communication patterns, and Olins (1978) popularises a concept which has since influenced much literature: the corporate personality. In his later works, Olins (1984, 1989) builds on his views of corporate image as a result of everything an organisation does, reflected in three areas: products/services, environments and communication.
Olins does so with a firm emphasis on corporate identity, and especially its visual elements, rather than on perceptions. However, Olins´underlying thinking has been highly influential, and his works are among those most frequently cited in the current literature, not least his famous remark that corporate identity is “…corporate strategy made visible” (Olins IN Corporate Image, 1991). Olins´statement The fundamental idea encapsulates his views:

“The fundamental idea behind a corporate identity programme is that in everything the company does, everything it owns, everything it produces, the company should project a clear idea of what it is and what its aims are. This can best be achieved through the development of an appropriate visual system through products/services, environments and communications.” (Olins, 1984, p. 15)

Influential and equally profoundly concerned with the importance of corporate identity´s visual elements, without altogether sacrificing the holistic approach, are Selame and Selame (1988). Olins and Selame and Selame, incidentally all design consultants, share a particular view, however, when making recommendations as to the implementations of corporate identity programmes: this is best done through graphic design, it is claimed.

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The importance of corporate communication
Bernstein (1986) firmly distinguishes between, and covers both, corporate identity and corporate image. He highlights the importance of corporate communication, and argues that since an organisation has a personality (cf. Olins, 1978), its should strive to communicate with its audiences as a person: on a face-to-face level.
Concerned with learning which attributes to work on in the management of a corporate image, Bernstein identifies an organisation´s nine audiences and nine communication channels, that, however, relate closely to a for-profit environment. He also introduces the so-called spiderweb method that can provide management with an idea of their organisation´s image without the need for extensive surveys. The method ranks a number of attributes according to (management´s views of) the organisations reality and its publics´perceptions, and is able to highlight matches and mismatches.

The role of corporate communication in building corporate identity, and through that corporate image, is also the theme in Garbett´s and van Riel´s works. Garbett (1988) lists six factors that determine corporate image in Garbett´s equation:

  • an organisation´s reality
  • its newsworthiness
  • its diversity (lack of cohesion)
  • its communications effort
  • time
  • memory decay

Garbett furthermore presents a comprehensive model for conducting a communication audit that should address content and media as well as graphics, and complement market research. This, Garbett argues, will help identify where in an organisation the conceptual (planning) stages and the implementation stages of various communication efforts belong; something which according to Ellis et al. (1993) is becoming increasingly important as organisational communication becomes increasingly affected by technological change.
van Riel (1995) in detail describes communication-related instruments for measuring corporate identity and corporate image, but concludes that due to the ambiguity of the concepts they cannot be measured in their entirety.

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Communication audits
Garbett (1988), Olins (1989), Dowling (1995) and van Riel (1995) prove the need for conducting communication audits, not least because such audits are able to also cover audiences that are otherwise frequently overlooked: organisations´internal audiences.

Very good overviews of the principles behind a communication audit are provided in articles by Cortez and Bunge (1987) and Ellis et. al. (1993). Both sources point to the effects of organisational communication on staff attitudes and performance. Ellis et al. (1993) sum up the motivating role of effective communication — and the internal benefits of a controlled corporate image:

“If people receive adequate information to do their jobs, are informed about their role in the organization´s overall mission and where the organization stands in the outside environment, their contribution to that mission is likely to be more effective.” (Ellis et al., 1993, p. 142)

This is the theme which became so highly evident in Kennedy´s work (Kennedy, 1977), and which also forms a vital ingredient in the works of Garbett (1988), Olins (1989), Dowling (1995) and van Riel (1995).

Cortez and Bunge (1987) define the communication audit as “…a fact-finding analysis, interpretation, and reporting process that studies the communication philosophy of an organization” (p. 43). This is frequently done against a background of desirable criteria (Ellis et al., 1993). Cortez and Bunge see the communication audit as a vital management tool, and list three reasons for this:

  • the requirements of today´s emphasis on planning
  • the increasing importance of management systems with adequate information flow to support decision making
  • the need for motivating factors in order to avoid staff stress

Cortez and Bunge name the following phases of a communication audit, which do not differ fundamentally, whether a communication audit is performed in a for-profit organisation or in a not-for-profit organisation, or whether the organisation deals in tangible products or intangible services:

  • Planning (scope, budget, time, etc.)
  • Obtaining overview of communication items
  • Gathering information from top and middle-management
  • Gathering information from rank and file staff
  • Analysing communication items
  • Interpreting data
  • Reporting, and informing staff
  • Follow-up, monitoring

    (After Cortez and Bunge, 1987)

Cortez and Bunge´s approach is more closely related to organisational effectiveness than to the management of corporate identity and corporate image. Nevertheless, they see consistency in communication as the key to improved internal understanding of the organisation´s structures, aims and values — something which, according to Garbett (1988) or van Riel (1995), relates strongly to the formation of an organisation´s corporate identity and corporate image.

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Management and audiences
Focussing less on the communication process and more on the ability of management to formulate the corporate mission that is then conveyed, Abratt (1989) presents a conceptual model that links the development of a set of management systems with the perceptions of each of an organisation´s stakeholders.
Although essentially outlining the fundamental principles of corporate image management, the article by Abratt is fairly unique in its approach, in that it is concerned with targeting the individual minds of members of internal and external audiences directly at strategic management level, with relatively little regard for the projection of an identity at various tactical levels.
The article furthermore questions the validity of the arguments used by authors advocating a focus on visual corporate identity elements, when some of the very same authors themselves manage graphic design consultancies; a problem that becomes evident when assessing the literature, but one that is seldom commented upon.

Dowling (1993) draws upon the ideas of Ries and Trout (1986) of corporate image as a positioning device, links corporate vision, employee performance and customer relationship building — modelled on the achievements of a number of airlines — and underlines the vital role of market research in turning corporate image into an asset.
Dowling (1995) takes this one step further when discussing corporate reputations: the sum of perceptions (corporate image) when held against audiences´values and expectations. Only against individuals´value systems can corporate image be truly judged, and thus an organisation has multiple corporate images although it may strive to have only one, Dowling argues. In this respect Dowling is in fact echoed in most earlier and later literature, although often rather more implicitly.

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Shifts in debate focus
Spanning the 1990s, Ind (1992) has produced one of the more significant books of the early 1990s covering corporate identity, corporate image and corporate communications, with a very strong emphasis on managerial realities such as unit rivalry or political pressures, whereas van Riel and Balmer (1997) provide an end-of-the-nineties statement of affairs relating to the three paradigms of corporate identity — visual, communication and interdisciplinary — at a stage when each of the three is claimed to have begun to reach maturity.

Both sources conclude that it is an organisation´s roots and overall performance that make up its corporate image, and that the area is thus multidisciplinary. While this has been the approach since the outset of holistic corporate image thinking in the late 1970s, it is evident that in the 1980s numerous design consultants seized the opportunity to gain a high profile through the corporate image debate and literature. Some consultants, with their undisputed experience, added significantly to the debate, but their contributions switched much attention to the very tangible area of visual identity. Generally, the literature of the 1990s reflects much less of such bias.

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Consistency is not uniformity
Having investigated the corporate image literature, one may feel inclined to agree with van Riel (1995) when he states:

“There is surprisingly little evidence in the literature to support the assumption that a positive company image is of great importance. However, there is a steady increase in the number of publications containing material that could help to form a basis for this claim. Usually, this material is implicit, although sometimes it is made explicit.” (van Riel, 1995, p. 112)

There is also surprisingly little evidence in the literature as to in which types of organisational structures a controlled corporate image can most successfully be achieved. Again, the material is frequently implicit, but there are several indications that the flexibility and open internal communication needed in order to manage corporate image is best achieved in organic systems with relatively entrepreneurial management structures. The need for organisational flexibility in achieving market success is proved by Hooley and Lynch (1985). Consistency, thus, is not uniformity.
The top manager, however, remains in a central role; in order for corporate image management to succeed it requires a strong and charismatic personality with excellent communication and interpersonal skills. This is perhaps most evident in van Riel´s work (van Riel, 1995).

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The importance of organisational culture and subordinate images
Also vital to the understanding of corporate identity and corporate image is the debate about the effects of organisations´internal factors. Hatch and Schultz (1997) criticise the literature for paying too little attention to the complexity of organisational culture in descriptions of organisations´personalities, identities and images.
Dowling (1988, 1993) and Carrol (1995) have investigated this area, but, claim Hatch and Schultz, in most cases organisations´cultures have been treated as variables rather than contexts. Dowling (1988), however, did manage to highlight the importance of subordinate images, for example that of a profession, in determining corporate image.

Offering an altogether alternative view, rather than questioning the established approach to corporate image management as such, Barich and Kotler (1991) introduce the concept of a marketing image. They argue that it is certainly important for organisations to manage their corporate images, but point to the fact that audiences´perceptions of exchange value in transactions with an organisation are separable from their overall perceptions of the organisation.

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The corporate image management pattern
Even if slightly different angles of view are taken in the various texts, it is evident that there is a certain pattern:

  • All organisations have corporate identities as well as corporate images, but these can be confused or controlled (see e.g. Olins, 1978, 1984, 1989; Bernstein, 1986).

  • Corporate identity and corporate image are reality-based, and thus reflect an organisations´policy, strategy, etc. — or indeed the lack of it. However, an organisation´s corporate identity and corporate image will also influence its strategic planning (see e.g. Bernstein, 1986; Olins, 1989, Dowling, 1993; Hatch and Schultz, 1997).

  • Publics´perceptions are influenced by their backgrounds, and organisations must acknowledge this and strive to get to know their audiences closely. A knowledge of the organisation´s audiences, gained through market research, is a prerequisite for any corporate identity and corporate image planning.
    Communication audits are often mentioned as being particularly important, in that they are able to also cover audiences that are otherwise frequently overlooked: organisations´internal audiences (see e.g. Garbett, 1988; Olins, 1989, Dowling, 1995; van Riel, 1995).

  • Organisations´visions must be clear and complement strategy and culture, and internal as well as external communication must consistently convey a clear picture of the organisation and its aims (see e.g. Bernstein, 1986; Ind, 1992; van Riel, 1995). If an organisation´s mission statement possesses such qualities, it is likely to become an important rallying point (see e.g. Abratt, 1989; Klemm et al., 1991).

  • If an organisation can present itself consistently, then the amount of familiarity that audiences have with the organisation is widely believed to correspond with how favourably audiences look upon the organisation — a strongly positive halo effect (see e.g. Bernstein, 1986; Garbett, 1988).

  • Corporate identity and corporate image management is an ongoing, long-term process, in which the monitoring of developments, with subsequent adjustments, is highly important (see e.g. Olins, 1978, 1984, 1989; van Riel, 1995).

  • The stages in the corporate image management process are typically defined (by e.g. Olins, 1978, 1984; Ind, 1992, van Riel, 1995) as:
  • Identifying audiences
  • Analysing strengths and weaknesses
  • Setting objectives
  • Planning and creating communication
  • Communicating
  • Launching planned programme
  • Implementing
  • Maintaining
  • Monitoring and adjusting
  • The outcome is not easily measured due to the ambiguity of concepts and the difficulty in quantifying perceptions (see e.g. van Riel, 1995).

  • Graphic design does play an important role, especially as it can supply many of the symbols and metaphors needed to achieve cohesion. However, visual communication is merely part of a whole (see e.g. Bernstein, 1986; Garbett, 1988; Ind, 1992).

  • Responsibilities regarding the implementation of a corporate identity programme should be clearly allocated (see e.g. Olins, 1984, 1989; Ind, 1992).

  • Although motivation and empowerment of staff is mentioned in virtually every text, indications of a need for central control are evident, and the vital role of the organsation´s top manager is often stressed.

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Corporate identity and corporate image in the service sector
A very large part of the literature on the management of corporate identity and corporate image relates to for-profit organisations, and often to organisations in product (tangibles) manufacturing.

There is thus a smaller proportion of the literature that covers corporate image management in the not-for-profit sector and the service sectors. Much of the latter literature is influenced by writers concerned with adapting the traditional marketing mix of 4 Ps — product, place, price and promotion — to suit the specific needs of the service sector. Such writers include Brookes (1988), advocating a 5th “P”, customer servicing, as well as Cowell (1984), and later Zeithaml and Bitner (1996), who recommended expanding the 4 Ps that they claim have been developed primarily for the manufacturing sector to 7 Ps, adding people, physical evidence and process.

Gorchels (1995) finds that corporate image can play an even more important role in services marketing than in product marketing. As services are intangible and often depend on personal interaction, audiences look for a wider display of the organisation´s competencies than is the case in product marketing, and the impact of the communication of management´s visions through employees on towards the customer becomes greater, Gorchels argues.
This echoes Levitt´s views (Levitt, 1981) that the less tangible a product or service is, the more the sum of other impressions count to the customer, as well as those of Schmitt et al. (1995), who describe how an organisation´s aesthetic and experiential aspects gain in importance when the organisation deals in intangibles.

Hall (1993) argues that since “…competitive advantage exists in the eyes of customers…” (p. 610) much attention should be paid to corporate image in strategic management, but also claims that this is often neglected due to the difficulty in allocating “…an orthodox valuation to [such] intangibles as they rarely have an exchange value…” (p. 607).
Corporate image management, then, can clash with the tenet that one cannot manage what one cannot measure; something which greatly concerns sources writing on corporate image in the not-for-profit sector (e.g. de Saez, 1993; Kinnell and MacDougall, 1997).

The effects of physical surroundings in the place where the service is provided have been examined by Bitner (1990, 1992), who found these so-called servicescapes to have a significant impact on both internal and external audiences´perceptions, as well as having a potential for being used as a differentiation tool. The importance of the servicescape is further underlined by LeBlanc and Nguyen (1995) in their examination of the two main components of corporate image introduced by Martineau (1958) — functional and emotional — and their meanings in the service sector today.

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This literature overview was written in 1998 and reviewed in 2003. For an up-to-date selection of corporate identity and corporate image literature, try:

Corporate identity: a guide to resources, a fine — albeit very graphic design oriented — resource run by the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.

The International Corporate Branding & Identity Center, a good source for articles and papers. Access to most resources requires membership, but free membership is offered in exchange for articles, papers and presentations.

Wolff Olins, the agency run by, amongst others, corporate identity and corporate image guru Wally Olins himself, offers some insightful articles on current themes.

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ABRATT, R. (1989) A New Approach to the Corporate Image Management Process. Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 63-76

BARICH, H. and KOTLER, P. (1991) A Framework for Marketing Image Management. Sloan Management Review, Winter, pp. 94-104

BERNSTEIN, D. (1986) Company image and reality: A critique of corporate communications. London: Cassell

BITNER, M.J. (1990) Evaluating Service Encounters: The Effects of Physical Surroundings and Employee Responses. Journal of Marketing, vol. 54, April, pp. 69-82

BITNER, M.J. (1992) Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees. Journal of Marketing, vol. 56, April, pp. 57-71

BROOKES, R.W. (1988) The New Marketing. Aldershot: Gower

CARROL, C. (1995) Rearticulating Organizational Identity: Exploring Corporate Images and Employee Identification: Management Learning, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 463-482

CORTEZ, E.M. and BUNGE, C.A. (1987) The Communication Audit as a Library Management Tool. Journal of Library Administration, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 41-64

COWELL, D.W. (1984) The Marketing of Services. London: Heinemann

Corporate Image (1991) Video. London: PRTV

DOWLING, G.R. (1988) Measuring Corporate Images: A Review of Alternative Approaches. Journal of Business Research, vol. 17, pp. 27-34

DOWLING, G.R. (1993) Developing Your Company Image into a Corporate Asset. Long Range Planning, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 101-109

DOWLING, G.R. (1995) Corporate reputations — the company´s super brand. The Journal of Brand Management, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 377-385

ELLIS, D. et al. (1993) Information Audits, Communication Audits and Information Mapping: A Review and Survey. International Journal of Information Management, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 134-151

GARBETT, T. (1988) How to Build a Corporation´s Identity and Project Its Image. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books

GORCHELS, L.M. (1995) Trends in Marketing Services. Library Trends, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 494-509

HALL, R. (1993) A Framework Linking Intangible Resources and Capabilities to Sustainable Competitive Advantage. Strategic Management Journal, vol. 14, no. 8, pp. 607-618

HATCH, M.J. and SCHULTZ, M. (1997) Relations between organizational culture, identity and image. European Journal of Marketing, vol. 31, no. 5/6, 356-365

HOOLEY, G.J. and LYNCH, J.E. (1985) Marketing Lessons from the UK´s High-Flying Companies. Journal of Marketing Management, no. 1, pp. 66-74

IND, N. (1992) The Corporate Image: Strategies for effective identity programmes. Revised ed. London: Kogan Page

KENNEDY, S.H. (1977) Nurturing Corporate Images: total communication or ego trip? European Journal of Marketing, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 120-164

KINNELL, M. and MacDOUGALL, J. (1997) Marketing in the Not-for-Profit Sector. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann

KLEMM, M. et al. (1991) Mission Statements: Selling Corporate Values to Employees. Long Range Planning, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 73-78

LeBLANC, G. and NGUYEN, N. (1995) Cues used by customers evaluating corporate image in service firms. International Journal of Service Industry Management, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 44-56

LEVITT, T. (1981) Marketing intangible products and product intangibles. Harvard Business Review, vol. 59, May-June, pp. 94-102

MARTINEAU, P. (1958) Sharper Focus for the Corporate Image. Harvard Business Review, vol. 36, no. 6, pp. 49-58

OLINS, W. (1978) The Corporate Personality: an enquiry into the nature of corporate identity. London: Design Council

OLINS, W. (1984) The Wolff Olins guide to corporate identity. London: Wolff Olins

OLINS, W. (1984) Corporate Identity: Making business strategy visible through design. London: Thames and Hudson

van RIEL, C.B.M. (1995) Principles of Corporate Communication. English ed. of Identiteit en Imago. London: Prentice Hall

van RIEL, C.B.M. and BALMER, J.M.T. (1997) Corporate identity: the concept, its measurement and management. European Journal of Marketing, vol. 31, no. 576, pp. 340-355

RIES, A. and TROUT, J. (1986) Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Revised ed. New York: McGraw-Hill

de SAEZ, E.E. (1993) Marketing concepts for library and information services. London: Library Association

SELAME, E. and SELAME, J. (1988) The Company Image — Building Your Identity and Influence in the Marketplace. New York: Wiley

SCHMITT, B.H. et al. (1995) Managing Corporate Image and Identity. Long Range Planning, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 155-159

ZEITHAML, V.A. and BITNER, M.J. (1996) Services Marketing. New York: McGraw-Hill

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