The role of communication and
visual identity in modern
Brunel Business School, Brunel University, Middlesex, UK
EMI Music, London, UK, and
Minho University, Portugal, UK
Purpose – This paper attempts to shed light on a further understanding of the notion of corporate
identity especially in relation to communication and visual identity, and its relevance for the
Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents a main theoretical background reviewing
and discussing the literature in corporate identity in particular, addressing the following dimensions:
communications and visual identity. The paper also resorts to examples that illustrate how
organisations change or shape their corporate identity to face (new) market and environmental
Findings – The paper shows that corporate identity is an issue of growing importance to all
companies. Its development and management has become a key dimension within an organisation’s
strategy. The paper highlights that corporate identity extends beyond the company’s logo and name. It
covers all forms of internal and external communications of the company. It further discusses the
implications for corporate identity change or adaptation in the context of market and other
environmental alterations and how it leads to attaining competitive advantage.
Practical implications – The paper describes how practitioners applied (and may apply) corporate
identity as a strategic resource.
Originality/value – This paper contributes to a further understanding of the magnitude of corporate
identity, its strategic relevance and managerial dynamics. Moreover, by stressing communication and
visual identity dimensions, it underlines how “parts” of identity need and should be managed in a
Keywords Corporate identity, Corporate communications, Corporate branding, Corporate strategy
Paper type Research paper
Corporate identity has attracted increasing interest from scholars and practitioners
during the last decades. Environmental mutations such as growing
internationalisation, mergers and acquisitions, deregulation and privatisation of
markets (Ind, 1992; Markwick and Fill, 1997; Balmer and Soenen, 1999) and multiple
audiences demand new tools to face such dynamics. Corporate identity arises as a
potential strategic resource. Balmer (1998) highlights that the once narrow deﬁnition of
corporate identity has been broadened to include three distinguishing features. First,
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Corporate Communications: An
Vol. 11 No. 2, 2006
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
corporate identity is fundamentally concerned with reality and what an organisation is,
that is, its strategy, philosophy, history, business scope, the range and type of products
and services offered, and its formal and informal communication. Secondly, corporate
identity is a multidisciplinary ﬁeld relying on the roots of multiple disciplines. Thirdly,
corporate identity is based on the corporate personality of the organisation.
This paper attempts to shed light on a further understanding of the notion of
corporate identity especially in relation to communication and visual identity, and its
relevance for the organisation. This paper also discusses, through some of examples,
how organisations change or shape their corporate identity to face new market
The notion and importance of corporate identity
Research over the past 30 years has shown a wide variety of deﬁnitions of corporate
identity. Originally, research was directed towards deﬁnitions that mainly looked at
the logo and other forms of symbolism used by an organisation. In Selame and Selame
(1975, p. 4) deﬁned it as:
... the ﬁrm’s visual statement to the world of who and what the company is – of how the
company views itself – and therefore has a great deal to do with how the world views the
Carter (1982, p. 5) deﬁned the concept as “the logo or brand image of a company and all
other visual manifestations of the identity of a company”. The more research written,
the more comprehensive and broad the concept has become. Growing research into
corporate identity has shown that it is far more than just a logo or livery. The concept
is described as a strategic issue for management in a modern organisation which
includes an awareness of all an organisation’s stakeholders. This is supported by Olins
(1995, p. 3) who, from a practitioner’s view deﬁnes the concept as:
... the explicit management of all the ways in which the organisation presents itself through
experience and perceptions to all its audiences.
As such, deﬁnitions and work on corporate identity have evolved from partial views of
the concept into multidisciplinary perspectives (e.g. marketing, visual identity) (Hatch
and Schultz, 1997; Van Riel and Balmer, 1997). In this line of thought, several interested
parties have developed the Strathclyde Statement suggesting a holistic deﬁnition of
corporate identity (Van Riel and Balmer, 1997, p. 355):
Every organisation has an identity. It articulates the corporate ethos, aims and values and
presents the sense of individuality that can help to differentiate the organisation within its
By effectively managing its corporate identity an organisation can build
understanding and commitment among its diverse stakeholders. This can be
manifested in an ability to attract and retain customers and employees, achieve
strategic alliances, gain the support of ﬁnancial markets and generate a sense of
direction and purpose. Corporate identity is a strategic issue (for a more detailed view
of the notion of corporate identity and related concepts, see Simoes and Dibb, 2001;
Melewar and Jenkins, 2002).
Firms are becoming increasingly aware of the relevance of maintaining a strong
corporate identity. As Van Riel (1995, p. 29) explains, there are a number of ways in
which a strong corporate identity can be effective:
... raising motivation among employees, inspiring conﬁdence among the company’s external
target groups, acknowledging the vital role of customers and acknowledging the vital role of
ﬁnancial target groups.
Indeed, a strong corporate identity creates a “we-feeling” (Van Riel, 1995). Employees
will feel more motivated if they identify with the company they work for and if this
same company promotes a strong image and has a good reputation. A highly
motivated workforce is essential as it can lead to increased productivity and
proﬁtability. External target groups are equally as important as internal groups. It is
essential to provide consistent signals and communication with them so as to develop a
clear picture of the company. Companies often see customers as the most important
target group and thus acknowledgment of their role is clearly important. Like
employees, a well-deﬁned corporate identity inspires conﬁdence in customers. Forming
a relationship with the company is vital for the continuing success and future of the
company. Financial target groups also need considerable acknowledgment. The
ﬁnancial group must have conﬁdence in the company, as often there is an element of
risk involved in supplying large amounts of money. Strong corporate identity ensures
that all internal and external communication directed at the company’s stakeholders is
coherent and consistent.
There are further reasons why importance is placed on corporate identity. A strong
corporate identity can be seen as a source of competitive advantage. A company which
can create a distinct image and stand apart from its competitors allows it to be
differentiated within its competitive environment. This emphasis on the search for a
competitive advantage is highlighted when we look at the amount of money spent by
companies on re-branding and updating their image in search for distinctiveness. An
example of this is the post ofﬁce. Following the de-regulation of the mail delivery
service, the post ofﬁce wanted to improve their image. From being known as the Royal
Mail, it became Consignia. Their justiﬁcation was there’s this lovely dictionary
deﬁnition of consign which is “to entrust to the care of” (BBC News, 2002b). Their
branding consultants claimed it was “modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate”.
However, this name change led to universal condemnation which has resulted in the
return of the Royal Mail from 2004.
Similarly, British Airways attempt at changing its image by repainting its tail ﬁns
was doomed a disaster when Mrs Thatcher expressed her disapproval at the change.
British Airways changed their designs from a distinctive and well-known logo to a
diverse set of designs trying to appeal to the global market but failed. It will be
interesting to see the reactions to PriceWaterhouseCoopers decision of a complete name
change to Monday!
The corporate identity model
As we have seen the more recent deﬁnitions of corporate identity are very broad and
suggest that there are many components of the concept. This paper will now look at the
corporate identity model developed by Melewar and Jenkins (2002) (Figure 1). As can
be seen from the diagram, the model breaks down corporate identity into the following
areas: communication and visual identity, behaviour, corporate culture and market
conditions. These four areas are then further broken down into components. In light of
the differing and often complicated deﬁnitions, this model provides a clear but holistic
breakdown of the concept. However, it is evident through the use of its many
components that it too provides scope for detailed discussion. For the purposes of this
paper, we will focus on the examination of the ﬁrst section, vis-a
and visual identity (Figure 2).
Architecture and location
Corporate visual identity
Nature of industry
Source: Melewar and Jenkins (2002). Corporate Identity Model
Communication and visual
Organizational imagery and history
Goals, philosophies and principles
Corporate visual identity
Communication and visual identity
Many deﬁnitions have been put forward for corporate communication as it is such a
complex topic. Van Riel (1995. p. 26) argues that a deﬁnition that includes and
emphasises the target groups of the company is the most relevant. He states that:
... corporate communication is an instrument of management by means of which all
consciously used forms of internal and external communication are harmonised as effectively
and efﬁciently as possible, so as to create a favourable basis for relationships with groups
upon which the company is dependent.
It is further suggested that corporate communication is made up of three types namely,
management, marketing and organisational.
Management communication. Management communication refers to how managers
convey to their employees different information whether it is about their aims and
aspirations of the company or more basic administration issues. All levels of
management are involved in this communication. Pincus et al. (1991) believe that the
desired outcome of communication is:
developing a shared vision of the company within the organisation;
establishing and maintaining trust in the organisational leadership;
initiating and managing the change process; and
empowering and motivating employees.
The role of management communication should, thus, be highlighted. Chief executive
ofﬁcers (CEOs) must be good communicators, especially externally when the vision of
the company has to be communicated to external stakeholders. In the case of celebrities
CEOs, they gain additional press coverage and are closely scrutinised by the media.
Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin group, for example, is an excellent communicator
who conveys success and failure frankly and has achieved a very positive image for
the Virgin group. With an opposite effect, one CEO who has recently come under ﬁre is
Phil Watts, the Chairman of Shell. Leading investors and shareholders have been
quoted as saying that Mr Watts is “one of the poorest communicators running a FTSE
100 company” (BBC News, 2002a). It is very unusual for leading shareholders to
publicly criticise one of their senior executives. However, they believe that unless he
improves his communication skills, things will get worse. Already the company’s share
price has fallen and Shell is lagging behind its rivals. Part of the problem is that BP,
one of Shell’s biggest rivals is so good at communicating. In response to these
criticisms, Mr Watts has said that he would redouble their effort to get his message
across to shareholders.
The importance of a good management communication is also highlighted in the
example of Peugeot, the French car company. Peugeot is the second largest car
manufacturer in Europe and boasts very good internal communication. It places great
emphasis on interaction between management and the internal stakeholders of the
Research into the company showed that twice a month Peugeot holds a meeting
with all employees from the main functions of the company with a member of the
Peugeot family (www.peugeot.com). During these meetings, a number of issues are
raised: employees are informed about the company’s performance and market share,
new members of the company are introduced and welcomed. Workers believe that
these meetings not only create a strong family atmosphere throughout the company
but also gives employees a sense of empowerment. This constitutes an achievement
considering the size of the company (165,000 employees worldwide) (www.peugeot.
Additionally, the existence of weekly meetings emphasises their wish to maintain
good communications. Furthermore, new employees are required to spend a
compulsory period in one of Peugeot’s production plants to gain an understanding
of the true meaning and goals of the company. This highlights the importance that
management place on sharing their vision of the company.
Marketing communication. Marketing communication is where a company spends
the highest proportion of its communication budget. According to Van Riel (1995, p. 10):
... marketing communication consists primarily of those forms of communication that
support sales of particular goods or services.
This includes all forms of advertising communication, ﬁnancial data, information on
target groups and data on the advertising agencies. These communications ought to be
integrated and strategically co-ordinated (Duncan and Everett, 1993).
For example, being a multinational company, Peugeot has to sell its cars in many
countries. The company presents the same product with speciﬁc values in different
ways to meet the demands of different markets. Their advertising must always reﬂect
the strength of the Peugeot brand but also take into consideration the cultural
differences of the countries. We, therefore, see different strategies being used for the
same product. For instance, in France, advertisements emphasise the car as a natural
leader and bring in humour which appeals greatly to the French audience. In Germany,
where Peugeot is less well known, the advertisements mainly focus on informing the
audience of the features of the car (www.peugeot.com). These differences reﬂect
distinct consumer buying behaviour in both countries.
Organisational communication. Organisational communication, although initially
thought of as public relations is currently subdivided into a variety of activities: public
affairs, environmental communications, investor relations, labour market
communications and internal communications. All these forms of communication
are directed at speciﬁc target groups.
The importance of a clear communication strategy is highlighted when we look at
Peugeot Citroen. Its communication division promote the group’s and the marques’
image both internally and externally. They believe that having a positive internal and
external image is a vital part of PSA Peugeot Citroen’s long term strategy. They state
... this necessitates communicating effectively with many different groups of people,
including employees, the media, young people and the “opinion formers” in general (Peugeot
According to Markwick and Fill (1997, p. 402), uncontrollable communication is any
“unintended or emergent messages through third party reports and informal
communication on the part of employees with outsiders”. Frequently there is
information in the media reﬂecting badly on the company. There are numerous
examples of reports that have brought companies into disrepute. Nike was highly
criticised for their employment of children in their factories in third world countries.
They were accused of exploiting their workers which led to their reputation being
questioned. Despite attempts to justify their actions, the company image was
tarnished. In an extreme case, the accountancy ﬁrm Arthur Andersen’s involvement in
the Enron scandal has resulted in the fragmentation of the company. Both parts want
to drop the Andersen denomination due to its association with fraudulent accounting
and cover up.
Architecture/location and corpor ate visual identity
Olins (1995) claims that an organisation’s physical location is an important part of
corporate identity. It is suggested that having a good location is essential for a
successful organisation and ﬁrms spend a signiﬁcant amount of money to achieve key
sites to project the appropriate image. For example, Peugeot’s headquarters are to be
found just off the Champs Elysees in Paris, one of the most prestigious and expensive
streets in the world. This key location provides the company constant exposure to the
Attention is also being placed on a ﬁrm’s architecture and the inﬂuence it can have
on how their identity is perceived. In Peugeot, like in many other modern
organisations, the ofﬁces are all open plan ofﬁces. In the Peugeot headquarters in Paris,
there are no barriers and all doors are glass. It is designed to encourage interaction and
communication between members of staff at all different levels.
Related to the physical and graphic dimension of corporate identity, emerges the
notion of corporate visual identity. According to Melewar and Saunders (1998, p. 291)
“corporate visual identity consists of the corporate name, logotype and/or symbol,
typography and colour”. Companies spend a lot of money developing their logo, which
will become a symbol of their company. The golden arches or “M” of McDonalds are
recognised all over the world. The company’s policy relies on the fact that customers
can expect to eat a meal of similar quality wherever they are in the world. This leads us
to agree with Melewar et al. (2001, p. 420) who state that “it is not the symbol itself but
what the symbol represents that has value”.
When we look at the consumer goods market, there is a bewildering variety of
choice. A product’s logo that a consumer can recognise and trusts will inﬂuence buying
behaviour and ultimately the ﬁnal choice. As such, companies carefully design,
develop and communicate their symbols and logos. In fact, visual dimensions are
thoroughly re-arranged and communicated to audiences in particular when
organisations change their visual identity either to gain a higher market proﬁle or
to express new organisational forms (e.g. mergers and acquisitions).
For example, Peugeot’s logo is an outline of a lion, which is easily recognisable. It
can be likened to the idea of being the king of the jungle, the leader in its ﬁeld and also
it is associated with strength. Even when Peugeot and Citroen merged in 1976, the two
companies retained their individual logos and identities. This is not always the case. In
1991, HSBC took over Midland Bank but they continued to use Midland’s symbol of the
grifﬁn until 1997 when it was replaced by the red and white hexagon. Few people had
heard of HSBC, yet by retaining the grifﬁn symbol, audiences would transfer their trust
in the Midland Bank to the new corporation. Similarly, BP is gradually introducing a
new logo following the merger with Amoco. The company took a great care in the
choice of the new visual identity (Melewar and Wooldridge, 2001).
The adaptation of corporate identity
As mentioned earlier, a strong corporate identity is essential to create a distinct image
for an organisation in its competitive environment. However, in the light of changing
market conditions as well as political, economic, social and technological environment,
an organisation needs to adapt to these changes to maintain its competitive advantage.
As Melewar and Navalekar (2002, p. 96) highlight, in order to face environmental
... corporate identity and corporate image are still some of the core building blocks of an
organisation’s strategy. Competing in the new economy will not only involve rationalising the
business processes but also evaluating the attributes of the corporate identity and the
For example, the bank industry that has experienced many changes during the last two
decades. This industry has deeply depended on tradition and established methods of
operation. Nonetheless environmental mutations such as government deregulation,
which has allowed building societies to compete with banks, and changes in
technology, demanded ﬁnancial institutions to modernise their practices.
New features of supply emerged. For example, with the growing use of the internet,
online banking has revolutionised banking by offering additional convenience and
speed for consumers. Traditional banks have responded in different ways. Some, like
Barclays, treated online banking as an extension of their traditional activities. Others,
such as Abbey National, set-up a separate identity for such service (e.g. Cahoot.com).
In fact it is getting increasingly difﬁcult for banks to create a distinctive corporate
identity. Cooperative Bank attempted to face this fact by developing a unique identity
underpinned on clearly articulated ethical standards. The Cooperative Bank was
founded in the nineteenth century and was a bank that carried out traditional activities.
In 1990, they decided to engage in a consultation exercise with their customers and, as
a result, in 1992, they started their ethical policy. This policy was a “public
commitment on who the bank would and would not do business with” (www.
cooperativebank.co.uk). This meant that the bank would not invest in unethical
industries such as those involved in the production of nuclear or biological weapons.
They believed that their policy “should reﬂect the concerns of customers”. Customer
consultation exercises were repeated in 1994, 1998 and 2001. As concerns have
changed so too have the ethical policies been updated with environmental issues being
an important part.
In 2001, the bank adopted the phrase “customer led, ethically guided” as its slogan
which appears on all its literature. As Mervyn Pedelty, the CEO said, the ethical policy
was designed to:
... give the bank a distinct and cooperative difference within a crowded ﬁnancial services
marketplace, where genuine differentiation of an individual organisation is difﬁcult to
achieve and sustain (www.cooperativebank.co.uk, the CEO statement).
In fact, many customers say that their main reason for joining the bank is its ethical
policy. This adaptation of the corporate identity proved to be very successful. Proﬁts
increased from £55m in 1997 to $107.5m in 2001 (www.cooperativebank.co.uk).
This success is further reﬂected through customer satisfaction with the MORI poll in
2001 reporting 71 per cent of the customers very satisﬁed with the banks performance.
This case also depicts the relevance of corporate communications and speciﬁcally
management communication as a part of the identity concept (Melewar and Jenkins,
2002). The CEO of the Cooperative Bank placed an emphasis on his staff and people
policies. He is a very good communicator with staff, who are well aware of the policies
of the company and show enthusiasm and commitment to the company’s aims. This
indicates that there is good internal communication. In his address to shareholders, he
communicates proﬁts and people policies. His commitment to communication and his
positive relationship with stakeholders has been much praised.
Their corporate visual identity reﬂects the values and goals of the organisation with
its slogan “consumer led, ethically guided”. All correspondence and literature from the
bank is printed on “100 per cent recycled paper from post consumer waste using a
totally chlorine-free process”. Although the ethical policy was met by scepticism in the
press, after ten years the bank has won many awards. These range from “Best
company to work for” from the Sunday Times to the 2001 award for “Business
commitment to the environment” (www.cooperativebank.co.uk). It has given
Cooperative Bank, a strong and distinctive corporate identity. From this case, we
may conclude that it is possible to re-shape a corporate identity and to achieve a
competitive advantage in the light of changing market conditions.
This paper has examined the concept of corporate identity and its relevance and
importance within organisations. With the recent ﬁnancial scandals that have occurred
over the past few years, namely Enron and Arthur Andersen, corporate identity is an
issue of growing importance to all companies. Its development and management has
become a key dimension within an organisation’s strategy.
This paper has highlighted in particular that corporate identity extends beyond the
company’s logo and name. It covers all forms of internal and external communications
of the company. Any company wishing to improve its position not only in the market
but also with its stakeholders must ensure that it gives prominence to its corporate
We have further highlighted the implications for corporate identity change or
adaptation in the context of market and other environmental alterations. By referring
to several examples, we illustrated how corporate identity has assisted management in
dealing with adversity. We have also described how practitioners applied (and may
apply) corporate identity as a strategic resource. Indeed, as previously emphasised,
corporate identity may constitute a relevant dimension to generate and maintain
Balmer, J.M.T. (1998), “Corporate identity and the advent of corporate marketing”, Journal of
Marketing Management, Vol. 14, pp. 963-96.
Balmer, J.M.T. and Soenen, G.B. (1999), “The acid test of corporate identity management”,
Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 15 Nos 1/3, pp. 69-92.
BBC News (2002a), BBC News, available at: www.bbc.co.uk (accessed 22 August 2002).
BBC News (2002b), “What happened next Monday?”, BBC News, available at: www.bbc.co.uk
(accessed 10 June 2002).
Carter, D.E. (1982), Designing Corporate Identity Programs for Small Corporations, Art Direction
Company, New York, NY.
Duncan, T.R. and Everett, S.E. (1993), “Client perceptions of integrated marketing
communications”, Journal of Advertising Research, May-June, pp. 30-9.
Hatch, M.J. and Schultz, M. (1997), “Relations between organisational culture, identity and
image”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 31 Nos 5/6, pp. 356-65.
Ind, N. (1992), The Corporate Image, Kogan Page, London.
Markwick, N. and Fill, C. (1997), “Towards a framework for managing corporate identity”,
European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 31 Nos 5/6, pp. 396-409.
Melewar, T.C. and Jenkins, E. (2002), “Deﬁning the corporate identity construct”, Corporate
Reputation Review, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 76-90.
Melewar, T.C. and Navalekar, A. (2002), “Leveraging corporate identity in the digital age”,
Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 96-103.
Melewar, T.C. and Saunders, J. (1998), “Global corporate visual identity systems: standardisation,
control and beneﬁts”, International Marketing Review, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 291-308.
Melewar, T.C. and Wooldridge, A.R. (2001), “The dynamics of corporate identity: a review of a
process model”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 327-40.
Melewar, T.C., Saunders, J. and Balmer, J.M.T. (2001), “Cause, effect and beneﬁts of a
standardised corporate visual identity system of UK companies operating in Malaysia”,
European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 35 Nos 3/4, pp. 414-27.
Olins, W. (1995), The New Guide to Identity: Wolff Olins, Gower, Aldershot.
Peugeot Citroen (2003), PSA Peugeot Citroen career document, Peugeot Citroen, Yvelines.
Pincus, J.D., Robert, A.P.R., Rayﬁeld, A.P.R. and DeBonis, J.N. (1991), “Transforming CEOs into
chief communications ofﬁcer”, Public Relations Journal, November.
Selame, E. and Selame, J. (1975), Developing a Corporate Identity: How to Stand Out in the Crowd,
Wiley, New York, NY.
Simoes, C. and Dibb, S. (2001), “Rethinking the brand concept: new brand orientation”, Corporate
Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 217-24.
Van Riel, C.B.M. (1995), Principles of Corporate Communication , Prentice-Hall, Hemel
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 Nos 5/6, pp. 433-49.
T.C. Melewar can be contacted at: email@example.com
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints