“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” Aside from being basic existentialist questions and a nod to the painting by French post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, these are questions that every business, at some point, must ask itself. Larger in scope than just a logo, yet less in scope than a brand image, today’s word, corporate identity, deals with how a business presents and, indeed, differentiates itself from its competition in the eyes of the employees, investors, and customers.
For the term itself, corporate identity is a compound word consisting of corporate, from the Latin corporatus, meaning ‘to make or fashion (form) into a (singular) body’, and identity, from the Middle French identité, meaning ‘sameness or state of being the same’.
Though the definition of identity may seem misleading, since we often think of it in our own individualised terms, the term is actually identifying what particular groups with which we associate or share a commonality.
While the term achieved widespread acceptance in the 1960s, the idea of a shared visual identity – aside from simple branding or a maker’s mark – to denote a certain group can be traced back to at least Medieval times, if not further, depending on the criteria used.
The first recorded usage of the term to define a company’s public image comes from a 1830s United States Circuit Court Report, to fast forward to the mid 50s when, as reported by The New York Times, companies shifted their approach towards the concept that a company’s corporate identity should be managed, preserved and extended with the same care given to other assets.
Essentially, what gives a business its personality, and what makes people understand a specific company as being different, aside from just a logo? Below are some examples:
- The Times (UK), wishing for their paper to stand apart from others, commissioned a new font to be used in printing their publication in 1931, the result was, of course, Times New Roman.
- When dealing with a courier service – even if you don’t see a logo or even their truck – it’s easy to know you’re dealing with UPS from their all-brown uniforms.
- If you see a visual advertisement for a tech product that incorporates minimalist design and a lowercase “i” in from of the name, there’s a safe assumption that it’s an Apple
Although corporate identity doesn’t extend into brand reputation, which is where the actual interaction with consumers and investors occurs, a well-thought-out and implemented corporate identity can be the cohesive and unifying force that establishes a company’s reputation before there’s ever any interaction with the marketplace.