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"Identity based views of the corporation: Insights from corporate identity, organisational identity, social identity, visual identity, corporate brand identity and corporate image",


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The author wishes to thank friends and faculty colleagues for their generosity of spirit in kindly reading through this manuscript and making a number of suggestions. He especially wishes to thank Professor Stephen Greyser (Harvard Business School) and Dr Jonathan Muir (Bradford School of Management) in this regard. He is also grateful to Alan Topalian who kindly provided details of the British Standards Institution's definitions related to identity etc., which have been cited in this article. Lastly, the author is indebted to the Co‐Editors of the EJM for their support and encouragement in writing this commentary. This commentary marshals material contained in: Balmer, J.M.T. (2006) Bradford School of Management Working Paper No. 06/48 and Balmer, J.M.T. (2007) Bradford School of Management Working Paper No. 07/07.
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European Journal of Marketing
Identity based views of the corporation: Insights from corporate identity, organisational
identity, social identity, visual identity, corporate brand identity and corporate image
John M.T. Balmer
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John M.T. Balmer, (2008),"Identity based views of the corporation", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 42
Iss 9/10 pp. 879 - 906
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Identity based views of the
Insights from corporate identity, organisational
identity, social identity, visual identity, corporate
brand identity and corporate image
John M.T. Balmer
Brunel University, London, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to consider advances in corporate identity scholarship on the
occasion of the tenth anniversary of the first special edition of corporate identity to appear in the
European Journal of Marketing in 1997.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper takes the form of a literature review.
Findings – The notion of, what can be termed, “identity-based views of the corporation” is
introduced. Each of the ten identity based perspectives that inform the above are underpinned by a
critically important question which is believed to be of considerable saliency to marketing scholars
and policy advisors alike. As a precursor to an exposition of these ten perspectives, the paper discusses
five principal schools of thought relating to identity and identification ((the quindrivium) which can be
characterised as: corporate identity (the identity of the organisation); communicated corporate
identification (identification from the organisation); stakeholder corporate identification (an individual,
or stakeholder group’s, identification with the organisation); stakeholder cultural identification (an
individual, or stakeholder group’s, identification to a corporate culture); and envisioned identities and
identifications (this is a broad category and relates to how an organisation, or group, envisions how
another corporation or group characterises their identity or mode of identification.))
Practical implications – Each of the ten identity-based views of the corporation outlined here is
underpinned by a question of critical importance which aims to be of assistance to senior executives in
comprehending and managing identity-related concerns of the corporation.
Originality/value The introduction of notions relating to identity based views of the
corporation/corporation brands represents, perhaps, a natural denouement for the “schools of
thought” approach which has long-characterised the British School of scholarship vis-a
`-vis corporate
identity scholarship since the early 1990s.
Keywords Corporate identity, Corporate branding
Paper type Research paper
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
The author wishes to thank friends and faculty colleagues for their generosity of spirit in kindly
reading through this manuscript and making a number of suggestions. He especially wishes to
thank Professor Stephen Greyser (Harvard Business School) and Dr Jonathan Muir (Bradford
School of Management) in this regard. He is also grateful to Alan Topalian who kindly provided
details of the British Standards Institution’s definitions related to identity etc., which have been
cited in this article. Lastly, the author is indebted to the Co-Editors of the EJM for their support
and encouragement in writing this commentary. This commentary marshals material contained
in: Balmer, J.M.T. (2006) Bradford School of Management Working Paper No. 06/48 and Balmer,
J.M.T. (2007) Bradford School of Management Working Paper No. 07/07.
Identity based
European Journal of Marketing
Vol. 42 No. 9/10, 2008
pp. 879-906
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/03090560810891055
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“Where do we come from? Where are we? Where are we going to?” is the evocative title
of what is, arguably, Paul Gauguin’s most celebrated painting. Executed on a large
canvas, Gauguin’s magnum opus shares certain similarities with corporate identity
scholarship. Both demand that we step back in order to discern their geography,
content, and significance. Both have multiple levels of meaning. Both are a great deal
more than the sum of their parts. Both demand considerable contemplation and
reflection. The allegorical title of Gauguin’s painting has another purpose in that it
provides me with a ready made route map for this article. As such, in reflecting on the
extant literature ( Where do we come from?), I note the centrali ty of identity studies
across a range of disciplines. In scrutinising the contemporary corporate identity
scholarship (Where are we?) I outline five principal schools of thought that currently
characterises corporate identity scholarship (the quindrivium). Musing on the future
(Where are we going to?), I conclude that the identity spectrum will witness an
exponential growth in importance as reflected in what I call “identity based views of
the corporation” and “identity based views of corporate branding”.
Adopting a panoptic view of corporate identity at this juncture seems apposite since
this general review appears on, what is for me, a momentous occasion: the first ever
special edition of an academic journal (the EJM) devoted to corporate identity (Balmer
and Van Riel, 1997).
In broader identity contexts we should also note that there has been a “veritable
discursive explosion” around the concept of identity from scholars from a variety of
disciplinary backgrounds (Hall, 1996). du Gay (2007), for instance, has observed how
management scholars have accorded increasing importance to the concept of identity.
He notes that its value as a management concept is derived from its practical and
descriptive functions rather than in terms of its theoretical utility.
Ten years on from the EJM special edition, our comprehension of corporate identity
canvas is qualitatively different to what it was in 1997. For instance, increasing
emphasis is accorded to deeper notions of corporate identity (ci) in terms of a
corporation’s traits and less importance is afforded to corporate visual
identification/symbolism. In addition, the marketing literature has been enriched by
a repertoire of insights from identity studies generally, especially those drawn from
scholarship relating to organisational identity (oi) undertaken by organisational
behaviourists. It also should be added that both identity traditions (ci and oi)
increasingly draw on social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979, Cornelissen et al.,
2007, He and Balmer, 2007).
What is clearly evident is that marshalling marketing (corporate identity)
organisational behaviour (organisational identity) and other identity perspectives
(social identity theory, national identity etc) enables both scholars and policy makers to
more fully discern what have been identified as ‘the multiple identities of the
corporation’ (Balmer and Greyser, 2002).
Within the management literature the two dominant disciplinary traditions and
literatures have informed our comprehension of identity in institutional contexts
.marketing; and
.organisational behaviour.
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Although it can be argued that one or other disciplinary perspective negates the other
it would appear that a consensus is gradually emerging that both traditions (including
reference to the concepts of corporate identity and organisational identity) are
complementary and, therefore, are mutually enriching.
However, we should note that, in very broad terms, their respective foci tends to be
For instance, corporate identity (ci) has a more overt external, customer/stakeholder
and enjoys a hegemonic profile/usage in marketing scholarship and in management (as
well as in general) parlance. Also, the literature on corporate identity tends to accord
importance to practical and managerial perspectives. Its provenance is considerably
older than that of organisational identity: reference to the concept dates at least as far
back as 1964 (Balmer and Greyser, 2003, p. 67).
Among organisational behaviourists the concept of organisational identity (oi)
enjoys a hegemonic status in their scholarly discourse (Albert and Whetten, 1985,
Hatch and Schultz, 2002). In contrast to corporate identity it has, traditionally, had an
internal, employee foci. Whereas corporate identity is underpinned by a strong
practical and managerial inheritance, organisational identity is chacterised by having
a richer theoretical foundation.
For a brief discussion of the effects (both positive and negative) of the increased
reference to organisational identity by marketing scholars see the Appendix.
Returning to the marketing perspective it seems logical to view corporate identity as
one (albeit fundamental) element of a corporate gestalt which, for me, forms a key
dimension of what I term corporate marketing. The family of concepts that underpin
the nascent area of corporate marketing include corporate brand identity, corporate
reputation, corporate image, corporate communications etc.
Few, today, would refute the strategic importance of corporate identity to modern
corporations and organisations. Typically, problems of corporate identity come to the
fore when organisations reach a strategic fork in the road as a consequence of events
associated with institutional change (mergers), changes in the business environment
(such as deregulation) and with misperceptions held of the corporation (such as an
outdated corporate images) among many others (Balmer and Greyser, 2002). It is at
these junctures that corporate identity management is accorded particular importance
by policy makers.
du Gay (1996) cogently remarked that since identities are basically relational in
terms of their existence and any change in terms of the latter is bound to affect the
former. This is as true for corporate identity as it is for other identity types: a change of
strategic direction by one corporation may cause another to alter its identity traits in
response so as to maintain its competitive position.
Two additional, and powerful, reminders of the saliency of the corporate identity
construct relates to its utility to contemporary corporations and to senior managers
generally. The existence of British Standards Institute definition of corporate identity
(BSI 7000 Part 10)[1] and the issuance in 1995 of the “Strathclyde Statement” on
corporate identity management by the International Corporate Identity Group
(ICIG)[2]: are illustrative of the above and may also be seen to reflect the strategic
nature of corporate identity.
A good deal of the early literature on corporate identity was penned by leading UK,
US and German identity and graphic design consultants and this literature was, and
Identity based
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remains, pervasive and influential (Pilditch, 1970; Margulies, 1977; Olins, 1978;
Topalian, 1984; Birkigt and Stadler, 1986). We should note that later academic writing
on corporate identity by marketing scholars was influenced by this practitioner
literature and as such adopts an overtly managerial perspective (Abratt, 1989; Balmer
and Greyser, 2002; Marwick and Fill, 1997; Simoes et al., 2005; Van Riel and Balmer,
1997; Westcott Alessandri, 2001.)
Scrutinising the marketing literature on corporate identity over the last three
decades it is possible to detect several significant shifts in emphasis. At first, scholars
looked up the corporate marketing telescope and focused on the management of
corporate image and examined the importance of corporate identity (especially
corporate visual identity) in corporate image formation (Abratt, 1989). Then marketing
scholars looked down the corporate marketing telescope and focused on deeper notions
of corporate identity (in relation to an institution’s defining traits). This led to a
corollary concern with corporate identity management and formation per se (Balmer,
2002; Bick et al., 2003; Melewar and Karaosmanoglou, 2006.)
More recently, the literature has begun to stress the centrality of corporate identity
to our comprehension of a variety of corporate level concepts such as corporate brand
identity and, importantly, to the nascent area of corporate marketing (Badot and Cova,
19950; Balmer and Greyser, 2006). As such, it can be deduced that a broader,
interdisciplinary perspective increasingly informs the literature on the area (Balmer
and Greyser, 2002; Brown et al., 2006; Cornelissen et al., 2007, He and Balmer, 2006)
which is very much in the British tradition of corporate identity scholarship. It is this
tradition that informs my examination of identity based views of the corporation
outlined here.
Identity: the big picture
Where Do We Come From? Since time immemorial many of the great themes of
intellectual inquiry are related to identity. Identities are powerful and are impossible
to ignore. Wars, alliances, and revolutions frequently have issues of identity at their
core. The primordial nature of identity is such that questions of identity and
identification have been accorded a good deal of importance by scholars from a
variety of disciplines. Its intellectual roots are broad and deep. The nature of identity
is a common leit motiv in philosophical discourse; the so called “identity-theory”
enjoying a prominent place within the literature as the work of Armstrong, Feigl and
Place attests.
Moving beyond philosophy, Meyerson went so far as to claim that scientific inquiry
is fundamentally concerned with the discovery and investigation of identities
(Passmore, 1968, p. 329). What is clear is that without recourse to identity, our
comprehension of gender, personality, religion, nationalism, and, of course,
corporations are rendered difficult if not impossible. Moreover, identities are
complicated, multidimensional and can be protean in character. Although identities are
not always seen or fully understood their power can, all the same, be felt: their
importance is irrefutable.
In the following section I detail some of most important strands of thought relating
to identity studies and place them in the context of corporate identity
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Individual identity
Individual identity is (along with gender) the most fundamental of all identity types. It
surfaces in the work of both Plato and Socrates and is the key theme of Sophocles
tragedy Oedipus Tryannos (Oedipus the King). We should not forget that individual
identities can shape institutional (corporate) identities. Consider, for instance, the
abiding influence of Lord Reith at the BBC (Balmer, 1994). Scholars such as Sarup
(1996) have noted that individual identities are, in part, determined by institutional
(corporate) identities. Scholars of identity in exploring this link have a rich palette of
theories to draw upon such as those relating to ideology and socialisation (role theory).
Foucault’s early work relating to discourse theory and his latter writing on the
technologies of the self (see Martin et al., 1988) have been highly influential in relation
to our comprehension of individual identity. Not surprisingly, Foucault’s theories have
been marshalled by marketing scholars in broad corporate identity contexts (Motion
and Leitch, 2002.)
Collective identity
Informed by insights from the literatures on social psychology, nationality, and history
it has been shown that an individual’s membership of a collective (group) identity, as
well as non membership of a group, helps to define the self and influences an
individual’s behaviours and cognitions. Scholarship on collective identity has been
informed by the work of social psychologists especially in relation to their articulation
of social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979). Similar perspectives can be found in
the work of historians (Colley, 1996) along with scholars of nationality (Mayo, 1974;
Sahlins, 1989). Within marketing, notions of brand communities (Muniz and O’Guinn,
2001) and brand tribes (Cova and Cova, 2002) draw a good deal from the literature on
collective identity/social identity theory.
Juridical identities
Although we may not always know it, it would seem clear that juridical insights both
from Canon Law and the Law of Heraldry have, from the middle-ages onwards,
materially shaped/shed light on our comprehension of the modern firm and, especially,
our comprehension of corporate identity and identification. In Canon Law, the notion
that the church’s identity exists in perpetuity and its (corporate) identity is distinct
from the collective identity of its members has, in centuries past, informed jurists of
Constitutional and Commercial Law. In juridical terms, corporations are regarded as
legal persons with rights and responsibilities that are distinct from organisational
members. Noteworthy too, although seemingly abstruse, the Laws of Heraldry have for
many centuries recognised that a corporation’s defining symbol (Coat of
Arms/Armorial Bearings) was inheritable property and should be afforded
protection in law (Slater, 2005). By inference, this came with a realisation that an
organisation’s symbols its visual identity - were invested with commercial, economic
and emotional value. Today, Heraldic Law still remains an integral, and purposeful,
part of Scotland’s judicial system (both civil and criminal) as embodied in the Court of
the Lord Lyon (Bruce et al., 1999). The enduring influence of the laws of Canon and
Heraldic law often finds a distinct and prominent voice, for instance, in the Royal
Charters granted to British and Commonwealth Universities for instance[3].
Identity based
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National and ethnic identities: questions of polity and community
The literature on ethnicity and nationality makes a clear distinction between the
identity derived from a nation’s polity and the identity grounded in an ethnic
community (Smith, 1991). Meinecke (1908), for instance, distinguished between the
Staatsnation and the Kulturnation. As such, although it is frequently assumed that
nationality and ethnicity are tightly coupled this is not invariably so: whereas the
United Kingdom is manifestly a Staatsnation England and Wales are indubitably
“Kulturnations”. On reflection, we can observe that juridical and cultural identities can
inform our comprehension of contemporary organisations: both identity types are
perennial and universal in character. As such, in corporate contexts, I make a
distinction between, what I call, legal and cultural identities. The former broadly
informs our understanding of corporate identity (as viewed as a legal construct) in the
same way that the latter underpins a good deal of the literature on organisational
identity (as viewed as a cultural construct). For instance, The Universities of London
and Wales (both being large, federal, institutions) are both, indubitably, legal identities
but do not appear to have such a clearly identifiable and strong University-wide
cultural identity. However their constituent colleges and institutes do seem to have
more clearly identifiable cultural identities (compare and consider London Business
School, the London School of Economics, Imperial College and Royal Holloway College
at London University in relation to their “parent”: the University of London).
The double entendre and triple entendre of identification
The literatures on identity amply demonstrate that considerable circumspection is
required on the part of marketing scholars when referring to identification owing to its
duality in usage in the literatures on identity. For instance, I have found that the
literature on ethnicity and nationalism ascribes two, distinct, meanings to the term. At
one level, identification refers to use of symbols such as ceremonies, flags, coinage to
project the national/ethnic self and celebrate a state’s/ethnic grouping’s success and
durability. It also refers to an individual’s or group’s identification with a nation or
ethnic community (Smith, 1991).
To me, there are strong parallels here to the corporate identity literature where a
similar duality in usage of identification characterises its use as applied to
corporations, institutional brands and corporate culture/s. As such, corporate
identification variously refers to:
.the, largely, outward-bound symbolic presentation of the
corporation/institutional brand/corporate culture/s using a variety of
communications conduits; and
.an individual’s (or group’s) identification with a corporation/institutional
brand/corporate culture/s.
Developing the above, it would seem necessary that a tripartite distinction may be
made between identification from, to and with a troika of identity types that are of
seminal importance to marketing scholars (e.g. corporations, institutional brands and
corporate culture/s). Identification from refers to outward bound symbolic projection;
identification with refers to an affiliation with a corporation or institutional brand and
identification to refers to an affiliation with a corporate cultural grouping (such as a
corporate brand community or tribe).
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Identity and multiplicity
An important sub text within the identity literature is the view that there is a good deal
of interpenetration between different identity types. A similar characteristic informs
our comprehension of individual corporate identities with regard to:
.national identities (the USA traits of Coca-Cola);
.identities of class (the working class traits of the Co-op Movement);
.identities of gender (the male identity traits of the Japan’s Imperial Throne); and
.religious identity (the Protestant traits of Glasgow Rangers Football Club).
Of course, a nation’s psyche and identity can equally be informed by corporate
identities/brands, e.g. Nokia vis-a
`-vis Finland/the All Blacks Rugby Team vis-a
`-vis New
Zealand/the Crown vis-a
`-vis Great Britain). In historical contexts it is also clear that
nations and states have been materially shaped by the corporate identities of the
business corporation: consider Canada vis-a
`-vis The Hudson Bay Company and the
State of Sabah in Borneo (Malaysia) vis-a
`-vis The British North Borneo Company in
this regard. Importantly, too, is the fact that within, and between, institutions different
corporate identities also interpenetrate. The corporate identity of Bentley
interpenetrates with the identity of Volkswagen:its’parentcorporation.A
“platform” corporation (focusing on branding, marketing and design rather than
production) such as Nike is also materially influenced by the actions of a Partner
Corporation upon whom it is reliant (consider the child labour controversy that
embroiled Nike). Increasingly, the modern corporation is reliant upon outsourcing
companies and, again, illustrates how corporate identities interpenetrate: we may not
be familiar with the names of these outsourcing companies but this is not to deny their
growing importance. Among the more prominent of these organisations are France’s
Sodexho Alliance, India’s Infosys, China’s Neusoft as well as the ubiquitous IBM of the
The corporate identity quindrivium
From my short, general, exegesis of the identity concept it will be apparent that
identity and identification are portmanteau expressions which have a variety of
meanings. Uncovering these various strands of thought may, at first sight, appear to be
akin to untying the Gordian knot (Balmer and Greyser, 2003, p. 33). As a means of
untying this knot (and as a prelude to introducing my broader conceptualisation of
identity based views of the corporation) I begin by introducing five characterisations of
identity and identification (the quindrivium). The literal meaning of quindrivium is:
“the place where five roads meet”. As you may recall, in centuries past, a foundational
course for university students consisted of four parts (the quadrivium). It is hoped that
the five-fold way to learning outlined here (the quindrivium) will serve a similar
purpose for students, teachers and practitioners of today. The quindrivium serves
another purpose in that it helps us to map out where we are ten years on after the first
special edition on corporate identity. In outlining the five approaches to identity and
identification I provide the following parsimonious descriptions of the various identity
characterisations, e.g. (see Figure 1).
Figure 2 illustrates the first four of the five schools of thought (the identity
quindrivium) in diagrammatic form.
Identity based
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Identity of a corporation
Foci: juridical/economic and corporate. Underlying question: What are the corporation’s
distinguishing traits?
Informed, principally, by a functionalist perspective, a corporate identity is
characterised as having traits that are substantive and, whose effects are
observable; have a self-determining capacity (the ability to change their legal status,
activities, working practices etc) and are susceptible to being managed (although not
entirely so) and moulded. As outlined earlier, they also have a separate juridical
existence as legal persons. For many institutions, legal incorporation is a (if not the)
defining act of corporate identity creation: only when established can identification
with a corporation occur and that a corporate culture/s and corporate brands begin to
develop. In addition, corporate identity provides the central platform upon which
corporate communications policies are developed, corporate reputations are built and
corporate images and stakeholder identifications/associations with the corporation are
This perspective regards corporate identities to be active and evolving organisms:
their identities are always in the making and are never fully made. In institutional
contexts, it is important to recognise that the corporate identity concept is equally
apposite to subsidiaries, industries, alliances as well as to corporations and other
organisational types per se.
French scholars in making a ground-breaking contribution to corporate identity
scholarship highlighted its importance by arguing that corporate identity traits
bestows a corporation with specificity, stability and coherence (Moingeon and
Ramanantsoa, 1997, Larc¸on and Reitter, 1979). Somewhat latter, and in a strikingly
similar vein, the USA scholars Albert and Whetten (1985) in their magisterial and
highly perceptive examination of the identity concept in institutional contexts reached
a similar conclusion. They argued (albeit referring to what they termed organisational
identity) that every entity is imbued with identity anchors that are central, distinctive
and enduring. By inference, uncovering that which accords an entity specificity,
stability and coherence or that which is central, distinctive and enduring will reveal the
organisational patterns that define a corporation and differentiate one entity from
another. As with the Swedish notion of “the business concept” (Norman, 1977;
Alvesson, 1998), revealing the corporate identity is an analytical process. Once
established a corporate identity can serve as the basis for corporate-wide coordination
(unity of corporate purpose); integration (a sense of belonging among employees);
direction (guides management actions, decisions and actions); and corporate
communications and image (forms the basis for institutional communications). As
such, a corporate identity can only be meaningfully revealed by drawing on a variety
of perspectives and by making reference to, other, corporate marketing concepts.
Figure 1.
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Figure 2.
The principal schools of
thought relating to
identity and identification
(excluding envisioned
Identity based
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Of course, the traits that define a corporation’s identity are numerous (Pugh, 1973). For
instance, they encompass company ethos, activities, quality, market position, location,
geographical scope, organisational type, structure, procedures and culture. Corporate
identities are informed by history (Ramanantsoa, 1989) and will have been shaped by
past strategies (Balmer, 2002). A corporation’s relationships and degree of dependency
with other corporations and with customers, shareholders and governments will also
materially influence the corporate identity. Increasingly, scholars focus on a number of
key corporate identity traits encompassing strategy, structure, history and culture
(Balmer, 2001; Melewar and Karaosmanoglu, 2006). Mention should be made of a
narrower, but influential, articulation of identity traits articulated by the German
authors Birkigt and Stadler (1986).
The view is sometimes advanced that the enormity of the task in uncovering the
identity traits of a corporation means that it is futile and utterly redundant
management and academic activity. A powerful rejoinder to the above, however, is that
it is inconceivable that contemporary institutions (no matter their size or hue) can be
adequately understood, or managed, without revealing key identity characteristics.
Considerable, if incomplete, knowledge is always preferable to complete ignorance.
Comprehending corporate identities can, in part, be informed by
bi-polar/multiple-polar notions of identity or what might be called perspectives of
the other. For instance, to me, it would seem that corporate identities are contingent (in
part draws on other identities) and relational (defined by making reference to other
identities: not simply in terms of what we are but what we are not; for instance, Airbus
`-vis Boeing, BP vis-a
`-vis Exxon Mobil, Oxford University vis-a
`-vis Cambridge
University, Sony vis-a
`-vis Samsung and Unilever vis-a
`-vis Procter and Gamble etc.).
The importance of binary/multiple oppositions in terms of relationship differences
with other corporate identities is also of importance. This, what I call comparative
corporate identity, appears to provide an effective means of articulating a corporation’s
essence. In order to know that an entity is distinct we have, of course, to know that it is
different. Figure 3 illustrates this perspective.
According to Balmer (2001a) the focus on the identity traits of the corporation
means that corporate identity is characterised by their complexity (they are
multifaceted and multidimensional in nature in that they informed by various
spatial/temporal dimensions), variability (they are immutable but evolutionary in
character) and heterogeneous (they are informed by multidisciplinary perspectives in
terms of comprehension and management). The evolutionary (variability) nature of
identity detailed above differs, somewhat, from the original perspective of Albert and
Whetten (1985) who regarded a corporation’s traits as fixed rather than flexible
(identities are central, distinctive and enduring). I have argued that Albert and
Whetten’s powerful tripartite characterisation of identity should be adapted so that an
institution’s corporate identity is characterised by its central, distinctive and evolving
nature (Balmer, 2001a).
In terms of management, and strategy formulation, it would seem logical that senior
executives should make a distinction between policies that are philosophical rather
than corporatist in foci. As used here, the former advances the view that senior
executives should demonstrate sensitivity to a corporate identity’s raison d’e
ˆtre which
might be expressed by a corporation’s founders/articles of association/charter. In
contrast, policies underpinning the latter might lead to policies where the continuance
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of a corporation is seen as an end in itself (based on the premise that to exist and
flourish as a corporation is all that matters and where little regard may be accorded to
the vision of institutional founders or the ethos as expressed in the articles of
association etc.).
Identification from a corporation
Foci: the symbolic and promotional. Underlying question: What the corporation espouses
to be/project via symbolism - especially visual identity?
For the main, identification from a corporation is predicated on the doctrine that
outward bound symbolic communication from an entity can encapsulate, as well as
communicate, the quintessence of a corporation including its, values, standards,
purpose and distinctiveness has a considerable provenance. Dormer (1998) claimed
that symbolism can, in addition, assert authority, promote beliefs and convey
Figure 3.
Comparative identity
Identity based
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ideologies. For instance, over many centuries, the catholic church has homed its
symbolism so that it underpins, projects and reinforces its central doctrines via a
plethora of symbolic forms including architecture, festivals, language, music, rituals,
and vestments: at more solemn enactments of its rites the marshalling of a variety of
symbolic forms results in a full sensory experience (Balmer, 1998). By such means, the
church’s magisterium are supported. Presumably, this means that that church is better
placed to inculcate a strong sense of identification towards it from its members owing
to its cogent symbolic identification from it as outlined above.
Reference can be made to Walter Margulies (1977) who, in a locus classicus, defined
corporate identity in terms of the ways a company chooses to identify itself to all its
stakeholders, especially through corporate visual identity. It is this perspective that
initially informed a good deal of the literature written by practitioners (Olins, 1978;
Napoles, 1988) and by marketing scholars (Abratt, 1989; Melewar and Saunders, 1999;
Schmitt et al., 1995)and which accords importance to coordinated corporate
communications/symbolic communications. Within the marketing literature an a priori
link is often made between visual identification and customer/stakeholder perceptions
of the corporation (Abratt, 1989, Dowling, 1993, Gray and Balmer, 1998, Stuart, 1999,
Dacin and Brown, 2002).
One, very real, problem with outward bound identification is the danger of artifice;
that the corporation may be concerned with projecting the “ideal self” and thereby
project that which aspirational rather and downplaying the actual. As cogently argued
by Hobsbawn and Ranger (1983) in The Invention of Tradition that which is sometimes
portrayed to be of considerable antiquity by institutions is, quite often, bogus and of
recent origin. Of course, integration of corporate symbolism and communication is
often viewed to be of strategic importance by senior managers and AEG and London
Transport are frequently cited as 20th century exemplars of where corporations have
achieved a high degree of symbolic integration. In the 19th century railways achieved
much the same: “Brunel’s” Great Western Railway (GWR) is a case in point.
It should be noted that a variety of terms are used to capture the various dimensions
outlined above such as corporate visual identity and house style. British Standard
BS7000 Part 10 has a glossary of five terms (with definitions) relating to the above[4].
Stakeholder/s identification with the corporation
Foci: Underlying question: Who am I/who am I in relation to the corporation?
A stakeholder or stakeholder group’s identification with an entity is predicated upon
what is believed and/or known about an organisation (Cardador and Pratt, 2006;
Tagiuri, 1982; He and Balmer, 2004, 2007) and, to me, is further characterised by being
positive, negative or ambivalent. Drawing upon the British Empiricist tradition it
would also seem logical to add that knowledge and identification with an entity can
also be influenced by our experiences of the corporation. An individual’s cognition of a
corporation is important since perception effects behaviour (Martineau, 1958a, 1958b)
and also materially influences how a customer (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003) or an
employee relates to, or defines the self with a corporation (Dutton et al., 1994). The
notion that individuals can forge a unique affinity with an organisation challenges
traditional theories of marketing, and neoclassical economics which is predicated on
the view that humans are rational beings and denies, for instance, the effect of emotion.
In addition, individuals can also have identification with different corporate
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philosophies that reflect past and current organisational traits (corporate identities) as
research with the BBC has shown (Balmer and Wilson, 1998). For the main, this school
of thought (stakeholder/s identification with the corporation) is examined from the
level of the group (Brown et al., 2006) but can also be examined from the perspective of
the individual. Corporations and their managers are not passive actors in relation to the
above (Cardador and Pratt, 2006). For instance, as studies of ethnicity and nationality
have shown, corporations can also use rituals and symbols to engender positive
identification with the corporation/and or corporate brand (McAlexander et al., 2002)
and, for employees, can achieve the same via socialisation and rewards (Pratt, 1998).
Increasingly, as a consequence of the hollowing out of the corporate shell caused by the
outsourcing of production and service support, identification occurs at the level of
corporate brand rather than to the corporate identity. As such, it would increasingly
appear to be the case that stakeholder brand identification becomes more meaningful
and employee identification with the corporate identity less so. The deficit resulting
from a loss of identification with a corporation is not easily replaced, and gives rise to
the traumatic question: “What are we now?”
Stakeholder/s identification to a corporate culture
Foci: emotional/cultural and collective. Underlying question: Who am I/Who are we (in
relation to a corporate culture)?
This aspect of identification has as its focus the identification with a corporate culture
rather than with the corporation per se.
Having its origins in social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) it can be
argued that stakeholder identification encompassing customer identification
(Bhattacharya et al., 1995; Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003) and employee identification -
relates to how individuals and groups define themselves by their relationships with an
organisational culture. The recent literature has embraced both customer and
employee perspectives on the area and has argued the efficacy of such an approach (He
and Balmer, 2004, 2007; Brown et al., 2006; Cardador and Pratt, 2006). These cultural
groups are defined by comparative and relational cognitive states with other (“out”)
groups. Such membership is influenced by self esteem, as well as by cognitive and
affective states. Company stakeholders, as members of acorporate culture affirm their
strong identification to a corporation by emphasising commonalities with other
members of the cultural grouping as well as highlighting their differences with
so-called “out groups” (Tajfel and Turner, 1985; Holt, 1995; Donavan et al., 2006).
To me it seems logical to assume that an individual’s membership of such a group is
not fixed since individuals may migrate to other groups in order to leverage self esteem
and self-identity. As such, stakeholder identification to a group is more likely to occur
when such associations are linked to prestige (Pratt, 1998) and where, in addition, it is
distinctive and of high saliency to group members (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003; Holt,
Such a perspective shares some commonalities to the so called “Latin School of
Thought” of marketing where marketing effort is centered on the creation of social ties
between individuals (Jallat and Wood, 2005). This viewpoint takes account that a
person’s membership of a group or tribe is coveted above the consumption of products
and services (Badot and Cova, 1995) and represents a significant departure from
traditional marketing thought. At the level of the individual, corporate identities can be
Identity based
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consumed (as well as deployed) by the individual in order to create, and project, a sense
of identity (Sarup, 1996).
There also appears to be a distinct category of cultural identification embracing
those individuals or groups whose links with a particular culture/corporation appear,
at first sight to be tenuous but who, nonetheless demonstrate a strong cultural affinity:
I characterise this as being vicarious identification to a corporate culture (consider, for
instance, Manchester United supporters in the tribal communities of the rainforests of
Borneo or those USA and French citizens who “consume” the British monarchy as a
corporate brand). As such, although the legal and tangible links with these institutions
and brands may appear to be weak we should not disregard the power of an
individual’s emotional bonds with such institutions/corporate brand and their critical
role in defining the self.
Envisioned identities and identifications (envisioned identity of another
corporation towards us; envisioned identification with our corporation by a
stakeholder group and envisioned identification of another corporate
culture to our corporate culture)
Foci: beliefs about beliefs relating to identity and identification and has its sources in
perceptions and cognitions. As discussed here, it is examined in terms of a category of
questions. An indicative example being: What do envision to be our identity traits as
perceived by another corporation?)
Perception, and a concern with corporate image and corporate reputation, has a
considerable provenance within the marketing literature (see Martineau, 1958a, 1958b;
Brown et al., 2006). Just as marketing scholars have focused on customer perception a
corollary concern among organisational behaviourists relates to employee perception:
Dutton and Dukerich (1991) are credited in having coined the concept of organisational
image to denote the way in which employees conceptualise how others see their
corporation. In 1994 their clarified this standpoint by relabeling the concept as
construed external image (Dutton et al., 1994). A logical development of the above has
led to a concern with construed images and what I prosaically characterise as “beliefs
about beliefs”. Within marketing the notion of construed image tends to be used to
refer to corporate beliefs relating to how others view the corporation (Brown et al.,
2006). Another related notion is that of managerial perceived identity which can
materially influence corporate decision making (He and Balmer, 2005). As such, the
notion of construed image may be seen to belong to a much broader category which I
term envisioned identities: a category that has a multitude of applications. For
instance, it can be seen to operate between the following dyads, among others:
corporate to corporate; corporate and stakeholder/s or stakeholder group and between
stakeholders and cultures. Issues of envisioned identity and identification represent
important knowledge for marketers since perception can translate into behaviour. The
importance of the category of envisioned identities and identifications is that it
represents a potentially dangerous platform upon which to engage with other
corporations and cultures: what is required is acquired knowledge of beliefs. In
addition, it provides a salient reminder that other companies and cultures might draw
on this perspective in determining how they envision how we see them. The following
outlines some of the more prominent forms of envisioned identities:
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.Envisioned corporate identity. Refers to how we envision how another
corporation characterises our corporate identity traits.
.Envisioned corporate identification. Refers to how we envision to be the type of
identification a particular group has towards us.
.Envisioned cultural identification. Refers to how our corporate culture envisions
to be the type of identification another corporate culture (including those of other
corporations) have towards them..
Figure 4 illustrates, in diagrammatic form, examples of envisioned corporate identity,
envisioned stakeholder identification and envisioned corporate culture.
Identity-based views of corporate branding
There appears to be a prima facie case for applying the quindrivium cited above to
corporate brands and what I call “an identity based view of corporate brands”, e.g. the
Figure 4.
corporate culture
Identity based
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identity of a corporation brand; identification from a corporate brand; stakeholder/s
identification to a corporate brand; stakeholder/s identification with a corporate brand
culture and identities and identifications envisioned (by an organisation or group) of
the corporate brand/corporate brand culture etc.
Whereas a corporate identity draws on the complex mix of institutional traits the
essence of corporate branding is to be found from the values which are associated
with the brand and which represent an informal contract (sometimes called a
covenant) between the institutional brand and its various stakeholders (Balmer and
Greyser, 2002). To me, corporate brands are more appropriately viewed as a distinct
identity type which can have a life their own of its own in that they can be bought,
sold and borrowed as in the case of franchise arrangements (Balmer, 2005). As a
distinct category of (institutional) identity we should not loose sight that they can be
separate and divisible from the institution and nation from which they evolved. For
instance, until recently the Hilton corporate brand was underpinned by two
institutional identities: one in the UK and the other in the USA. Recently, within
marketing, a distinct literature is developing on this area (Aaker, 2004; Balmer and
Gray, 2003; Knox and Bickerton, 2003) although there is no evidence to currently
suggest that a distinction has yet been made between product-orientated,
service-orientated and industrial-orientated corporate brands. Just as the divide
between the marketing and organisational behaviour literatures have begun to
dissipate in relation to identity (Brown et al., 2006; Cornelissen et al., 2007; Hatch and
Schultz, 1997, He and Balmer, 2007,) the same has began to occur in relation to
corporate brand management.
Drawing on social identity theory the marketing literature has, in recent years,
examined customer identification with brands per se. This has given rise to new
categories of collective identitification and which are known as brand communities and
brand tribes. Brand communities refer to those social groupings that are homogeneous,
distinct and stable in nature, having a shared consciousness, rituals and traditions
(Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001, McAlexander et al., 2002; Balmer, 2005a; Kozinets et al.,
2007). In contrast, brand tribes and heterogeneous, ambiguous, and short-lived. They
also tend to be of smaller size than older-named sibling (Maffesoli, 1988; Cova and
Cova, 2001, 2002; Arnauld et al., 2002; Solomon, 2003; Kozinets et al., 2007).
Whilst notions of brand cultures and tribes would appear to be equally applicable to
corporate brands they would of course embrace internal and external stakeholder
groups beyond customers.
Reflections on the corporate identity canvas
In gradually applying my final brush strokes to this article and in contemplating the
broad identity canvas that has been examined I explain why corporate identity
scholars have reason to be doleful as well as hopeful and cheerful.
Reasons to be doleful
Like Tantalus who was punished by the Gods in being barred from seizing what could
so clearly be seen, a similar fate seems to have befallen corporate identity scholars
whose claims vis-a
`-vis the centrality and importance of the territory has (until
comparatively recently) not been widely accepted. As such, and as perhaps as a
consequence, perhaps, of prejudice, inertia, and ignorance, on the part of some
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marketing academics in the past, this has led to a narrow conceptualisation of the
identity canvas. For instance, some scholars and practitioners still envision corporate
identity exclusively in terms of visual identity: the polemic and diatribe regarding the
inflated benefits of visual identity by Aldersey-Williams (2000) exemplifies this
perspective. Others have substituted the corporate identity construct with that of the
corporate brand and use the concepts interchangeably. Worryingly, some appear to use
the concept of the corporate brand as a surrogate term for the corporation per se. More
doleful news for all corporate identitists this side of the pond can be found in some of
the non European marketing literature which makes only fleeting reference to the
European/Commonwealth literature on corporate identity even though a good deal of
the latter pre-dates writing on the territory elsewhere. What is, for me, unsettling are
those marketing and communications scholars have turned their back on their
marketing inheritance and have, now, embraced other identity perspectives where the
theoretical is emphasised at the expense of the practical and where marketing
perspectives on the area are accorded little, or no, importance. Sometimes the corporate
identity concept is studiously ignored. Yet, it seems to me, that our ability to more fully
discriminate the full richness of institutional landscapes in identity terms almost
certainly requires the adoption of multiple disciplinary perspectives and traditions.
Taken in isolation, it might appear from the above that corporate identity scholars
have been unremittingly harried over the last decade and that the corporate identity
has, progressively, become entropic in character and has, by some, been assigned a
default position. However, this position is changing and there are other brighter
colours to be, mused upon in scrutinising the broader identity mural.
Reasons to be hopeful
There are many reasons why marketing scholars should be up-beat. For instance, in
recent years, scholars of organisational identity have realised that the corporate
identity/marketing literature represents an untapped and fertile ground for
organisational behaviourists (Cardador and Pratt, 2006). Within marketing, our
general discernment of the field has been assisted by the mapping of the territory by
scholars via the identification of various identity types and schools of thought (Balmer,
1995a; Soenen and Moingeon, 2002, Hatch and Shultz, 2004; Brown et al., 2006; He and
Balmer, 2007; Cornelissen et al., 2007). The above have given rise to a number of
normative models which are predicated on the view that there should be alignment
between various identity types (Balmer and Soenen, 1999; Balmer and Greyser, 2002;
Hatch and Schultz, 2001, 2003).
The importance of the domain is increasingly reflected in the curriculum of leading
business schools, thereby building on earlier traditions established by Greyser at
Harvard Business School in the 1980s onwards as well as by marketing scholars at
Strathclyde Business School from the early 1990s and Bradford School of Management
from the late 1990s. Also heartening are the number of specialist conferences in
European and North America that have corporate identity as a core theme which
continues earlier traditions established in France in the 1980s and in the UK in the
1990. The conferences of the Design Management Institute of the USA which,
invariably, have corporate identity as the core theme are also noteworthy. The now,
seemingly, regular call for papers from leading journals on corporate identity do, of
course, build on the legacy established by the EJM in 1997.
Identity based
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Reasons to be cheerful
Today, corporate identity has emerged as a primary colour in the broader identity
opus. In addition, the integrationist and multidisciplinary agenda that informed the
EJM’s special issue of 1997, along with earlier writing on corporate identity, chimes
with more recent clarion calls within the literature (Brown et al., 2006, Carador and
Pratt, 2006, Cornelissen et al., 2007).
This brings me on to the third part of the triptych: Where are we going to?
For me, an exciting development is the growing symbiosis of thought within the
marketing/management literatures on identity and the mounting realisation that there
is much to be gained from adopting a panoptic rather than a narrow perspective. These
trends seem to presage a fuller appreciation of the identity tableau within marketing
and general management literature. As such, this has led me to introduce the notion of
identity-based views of the corporation.
To me, introducing identity based views of the corporation represents a natural
denouement for the “schools of thought” approach which has long-characterised the
British School of scholarship vis-a-vis corporate identity scholarship since the early
1990s. (Of course, an identity based perspective will also be seen to inform the nascent
area of corporate marketing).
In short, comprehending the multiple facets of corporate meaning requires recourse
to different identity types each of which is underpinned by a question of vital
importance for scholars and managers alike. The notion that identity types/corporate
marketing concepts are underpinned by a key question has informed my musings on
the area for some time (Balmer, 1999).
As Bertrand Russell (1912) advised, questions can be of critical importance because
they are questions. However, this often comes with a realisation that answering such
questions may be problematic. Notably, Russell did not shy away from answering
some great philosophical questions and much the same may surely be said in relation
to the questions underpinning identity-based views of the corporation. A similar
approach should, plainly, be adopted by marketing scholars.
For me, marketing at its most powerful draws on a rich tradition which attends both
to the cerebral as well as to the practical. In advancing this legacy in terms of identity
scholarship we should not loose sight that significant insights can be gained by
drawing on different perspectives. There is much to be gained by taking account of
different research, disciplinary and philosophical traditions relating to identity
Of course, the practical and utilitarian nature of corporate identity and identification
does, of course, have a considerable provenance as the work of the Harvard-based
scholar Renato Tagiuri (1982) attests. Many who have written in the EJM appear to
share his view that a fundamental role of senior managers is to comprehend both
corporate identity and identification: both are pre-requisites for guiding the
corporation and its employees.
In Figure 5 the key questions that inform identity based views of the corporation are
outlined. Each question is underpinned by a distinct identity type. In the exhibit I take
account that there are multiple levels of “corporate” analysis and, as such, identity
based perspective is applicable to corporations, industries, subsidiaries as well as to
corporate brand identities.
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Figure 5.
Identity based views of the
Identity based
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It will also be seen a number of identity types that have not been previously been
referred to in this article are included, e.g.: Desired Identity (the future orientated
identity that lives in the hearts and minds of senior management) and Ideal Identities
(the optimum positioning of the corporation in a given time frame based on strategic
analysis). In the exhibit I accord especial importance to the corporate brand identity or
what I call the covenanted identity. As such, the Covenanted Identity refers to the
covenant that underpins a corporate brand. The exhibit is indicative rather than
comprehensive in character. The exhibit can be adapted so that its primary focus is on
corporate brand identity.
In practical terms, a key inference from identity based views of the corporation is
that it is potentially very dangerous when individual identity types are considered in
isolation from each other. For instance, an overeliance on the communicated identity
may mask reality and lead to corporate self deception: the failure of British Airway’s
visual identity programme of the late 1990s (Project Utopia) which used over fifty
visual images from around the globe typifies the above. In a similar vein, undue
emphasis accorded to identification with an internal corporate culture may give rise to
powerful cadres which are self serving: consider the Enron, and Parmalat debacles.
The broad topography of the territory represented by identity based views of the
corporation may, at first sight, appear somewhat daunting in terms of marketing
research and scholarship but, perhaps, should be regarded as reflecting our increased
understanding/saliency of identity based views of the modern corporation and
especially with regard to corporate marketing.
To me, adopting an identity based view of the modern corporation captures a good
deal of the Zeitgeist in terms of contemporary identity scholarship undertaken by both
marketing and other management scholars (see Figure 5).
In reaching this important milestone all of us who intuitively have adopted an
identity-based perspective of the corporation will be buoyant at the thought that
identity studies appears to have shifted inextricably towards the central ground within
marketing. It is sometimes the case for new insights and developments to spend a good
deal of time on the margins and for such perspectives to be occasionally ridiculed,
dismissed or ignored. A decade on from the first special edition on corporate identity in
the EJM all of us working in this broad territory will be aware that although there is
much work that still needs to be done which should not underestimate the real progress
that has been made to our comprehension of the territory not only by the recent (and
very significant) advances by North American marketing scholars but also by the
enviable legacy bequeathed to us by an earlier generation of scholars from the UK,
Europe, the Commonwealth and North America (the case-study work of Greyser at
Harvard Business School is noticeable in this regard, e.g. Phillips and Greyser, 1999).
Many of us realise that the various facets of institutional identity and identification are
characterised not merely by complexity but also their richness. To me, ten years on
from the first special edition of the EJM devoted to the area, it is clear that corporate
identity is so much more than meets the eye: very much like Gauguin’s piece de
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1. The British Standard’s Institute definition of corporate identity is as follows: “Articulation of
what an organisation is, what it stands for, what it does and the way it goes about its
business especially the way it relates to its stakeholders and the environment.”
2. The Strathclyde statement on corporate identity management (issued by The International
Corporate Identity Group-ICIG) is broadly similar to the British Standard’s definition cited
above: “Corporate identity management is concerned with the conception, development, and
communication of an organisation’s mission, philosophy and ethos. Its orientation is
strategic and is based on a company’s values, cultures and behaviours.” “The management
of corporate identity draws on many disciplines, including strategic management,
marketing, corporate communications, organisational behaviour, public relations and
design.” “It is different from traditional brand marketing directed towards household or
business-to-business product/service purchases since it is concerned with all of an
organisation’s stakeholders and the multifaceted way in which an organisation
communicates.” “It is dynamic, not static, and is greatly affected by changes in the
external environment.” “When well managed, an organisation’s identity results in loyalty
from its diverse stakeholders.” “As such it can positively affect organisational performance,
e.g. its ability to attract and retain customers, achieve strategic alliances, recruit executives
and employees, be well positioned in financial markets, and strengthen internal staff
identification with the firm.” (John M.T. Balmer and Stephen A. Greyser, 1995)
3. The opening words of The Royal Charter granted to Brunel University by the Crown
illustrates the enduring legacy of Canon Law (CL *) and Heraldic Law (HL *) in terms of
defining the corporation in identity terms: “There shall be hereby constituted and henceforth
for ever shall be one body politic and corporate with perpetual succession (CL *) and a
Common Seal by the name and style of “Brunel University” with power to obtain through
Our College of Arms a grant of armorial bearings (HL *).”
4. In terms of identification from the corporation via symbolic means The British Standard
Institute provides five terms and definitions:
Corporate Logotype. “Distinctive way in which an organisation’s name is rendered,
principally in typographic form”.
Corporate Symbol. “Distinctive representative or abstract emblem used by an organisation to
identify itself”.
Visual Identity. “Visual expression of an organisation’s corporate identity: the face it puts on
itself, its activities and outputs”.
Visual Image. “Sum of visual impressions and quality of the output of an organisation built
up in the minds of its stakeholders and the public”.
Visual Identification System. “Principal means by which an organisation manifests visually
its corporate identity”.
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Appendix. The use of the organisational identity concept within the marketing
Recently, some marketing and communications scholars have begun to eshew all reference to
corporate identity in the literature and use the concept of organisational identity as a surrogate.
Regrettably, this can lead to a narrow conceptualisation of the identity construct in terms of its
scope, lineage and utility. In particular, it has tended to abrogate earlier, significant, insights
drawn from marketing practice and consultancy which appears in the practitioner literature: the
work of Olins (1978, 1989, 2003) is a case in point. It can also give the impression that academic
interest in the area dates back to the mid 1980s. It may, unwittingly, emphasize North American
scholarship relating to organisational behaviour at the expense of marketing scholarship from
Europe, the Commonwealth and North America. Marketing scholarship relating to identity has
an enviable provenance.
The blanket use of the concept of organisational identity by some can also undermine the
important convention within marketing where the prefix corporate is assigned to the concepts of
identity (corporate identity), image (corporate image), reputation (corporate reputation), branding
(corporate brands) and communications (corporate communications).
The use of the corporate prefix within marketing is not merely one of custom and practice
(important though this is). For instance, managers are more inclined to refer to corporate identity
Identity based
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and corporate image rather than to organisational identity and image. The use of the prefix
corporate also means that marketing scholars and practitioners share a common argot.
There is another consideration. For instance, the organisational prefix is rarely used when
referring to institutional communications (e.g. corporate communications) or institutional brands
(e.g. corporate brands). In addition, reference to the prefix corporate (rather than organisational)
allows for the above concepts to be applied to entire industries, as well as to cities and countries
and of course is equally applicable to collective groups.
However, marketing scholars should not loose sight of the fact that the theories from
organisational behaviour which underpin the concepts of organisational identity, identification
and image provide critically important perspectives on this territory.
We should take care, however, to incorporate these concepts within the corporate marketing
lexicon with care and without undermining our rich marketing inheritance. There is much to be
gained by drawing on this, as well as other traditions, relating to identity scholarship.
About the author
John M.T. Balmer is Professor of Corporate Marketing at Brunel University, London. He was
Professor of Corporate Identity at Bradford School of Management where he went on to hold the
Chair in Corporate Brand/Identity Management. Previously, he was Director of the International
Centre for Corporate Identity Studies at Strathclyde Business School, Scotland. He has served as
a Guest Editor for 12 journals on corporate identity, corporate branding and corporate
marketing. His published output has appeared in California Management Review, European
Journal of Marketing, Journal of Business Ethics, Long Range Planning, The British Journal of
Management, and International Studies of Management and Organizations amongst others. He
is also the co-author with Stephen A. Greyser (Harvard Business School) of Revealing the
Corporation (Routledge, 2003) on corporate identity, image, reputation, corporate branding and
corporate level marketing. He is the Founder-Director of the International Corporate Identity
Group (1994) which was launched at the House of Lords in 1995. He has worked with a variety of
organisations and institutions on corporate marketing projects including the Swedish Monarchy,
the BBC, the WPP Group and Mercedes Benz. He can be contacted at:
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail:
Or visit our web site for further details:
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... Problems connected with constructing identities and (re)identification are typically associated with dramatic organisational changes such as mergers (Balmer, 2008), in which the organisation's identity needs to evolve to enable organisational change (Gioia, Patvardhan, Hamilton, & Corley, 2013). Identity ambiguity regarding what the organisation stands for and where it is heading affects the organisational change process (He & Baruch, 2009;Puusa & Kekäle, 2013. ...
... Identity is at the same time individual and social (McLean & Price, 2016). An individual's membership in a collective or group identity, as well as not being a member of particular groups define the self (Balmer, 2008). Individuals seek a sense of belonging in a community (Bauman & Vecchi, 2004), but groups also have their own collective identities that depend on a shared understanding of characteristics typical of the group and the perceived similarity among its members. ...
... These powers are discussed in more detail in section 3.4.1. Social identity theory is relevant when examining the social group identities of organisations like universities and organisational sub-groups and the social identites of individuals as members of these groups (Balmer, 2008). The interconnections of the relations between individual identity, social group identity and organisational identity are summarised in Figure 4. ...
... Everything begins with the set of characteristics, beliefs, and values of the organisation, which, when conveyed by the different conventional and/or digital media, produce individual and collective perceptions, albeit variable, and underpin appearances, knowledge, and associations. In this context, time is essential in the process because it allows the organization to develop relationships with these intangible assets with the internal and external public, namely customers and stakeholders (Balmer 2001(Balmer , 2008. In this transfer and informative production flow, the organisation manages this perceptive reality concerning a specific identity and behavioural pattern. ...
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This paper explores the relationships among variables and determines the influences of dimensions (i.e., municipal satisfaction, organizational performance, perceived quality, contestations and complaints of the municipal executive) on the notoriety, image, and reputation (NIR) of municipal executives. We attempted to understand if citizens’ opinions influenced the evaluations, recommendations, and contestations based on NIR. Parishes in the municipality of Valongo were selected and analysed, namely Alfena, Campo e Sobrado, Valongo, and Ermesinde; a total of 998 questionnaires were collected. It was concluded that all of the studied dimensions were statistically significant in the final structural estimated model. The structural results point to municipal satisfaction and contestations and complaints of municipal executives as having directly positive and statistically significant influences on NIR. Organizational performance and perceived quality have directly positive but not statistically significant influences on NIR. The results of this research suggest that obtaining the personal opinions of citizens (e.g., regarding the work performances of their mayors) allows citizens to feel heard and active in their municipalities. From the point of view of public executives, the results of this type of study could provide valid information that allows stakeholders to make political decisions that are appropriate for the interests of their communities (e.g., by listening to their citizens).
... (Gioia et al., 2000). In particular, organizational identity is defined by its cultural understanding and its associated social interactions, thereby representing the perceived meanings from internal organizational members as well as projecting an outward image to fans (Balmer, 2008;Hatch and Schultz, 1997). Scholars attribute the concept of organizational identity to three specific characteristics: (1) central (representing only essential and fundamental aspects), (2) distinctive (represents how the organization distinguish itself from others) and (3) enduring (represents that these values last over time) (Albert and Whetten, 1985;Skille et al., 2020). ...
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Purpose-A perceived misalignment between socially responsible fans and football club management has recently led to a major crisis during the annual meeting in 2021 of Bayern Munich, one of the largest professional football teams in Europe. In an unprecedented scenario, Bayern Munich fans demanded that management drop one of its largest sponsors due to alleged violation of human rights. The goal of this paper is to examine this particular phenomenon, as it not only demonstrates a discrepancy between the social organizational identity and its image, but more importantly, how it impacts legitimation strategies and the fans' loyalty attitudes towards the club. Design/methodology/approach-Using the underlying concepts of legitimacy and loyalty, this conceptual model paper proposes two frameworks for social responsibility in professional football clubs: (1) analyzing how the (mis-)alignment between organizational identity and image impacts fan loyalty and (2) depicting four different types of social responsibility strategies to align organizational identity and image. Findings-The authors identify various theoretical concepts that influence organizational identity and image in and for social responsibility and combine the two critical concepts of legitimacy and loyalty to categorize the social responsibility strategies for professional football clubs. Originality/value-Both frameworks advance the understanding of the decision-making behind social responsibility strategies and also synthesize the current literature to offer conceptual clarity regarding the varied implications and outcomes linked to the misalignment between organizational identity and image.
... In the case of written texts, self-mention pronouns enable distinctions to be made between individual, shared and collective authorship. Within particular industry domains (such as finance), corporate identity is important and the contribution of individual company representatives to shaping company discourse cannot usually be identified (Balmer 2008). This is different in domains such as technology, for instance, where personal communication from individuals (e.g., Steve Jobs or Elon Musk) can be an important feature of company brand marketing. ...
This study investigates the use of explicit manifestations of authorial identity (namely self-mention pronouns) and their collocation networks in academic and workplace written texts. Based on a purpose-built corpus of research articles and the Hong Kong Financial Services Corpus (HKFSC), this study used Antconc and Graphcoll to extract and analyze the pronouns and their collocation networks. The statistical analysis shows that the academic register contains significantly more self-mention pronouns than the workplace corpus, which can be attributed to a stronger tendency towards self-positioning. We also identified significant register-specific semantic features of the collocation networks of self-mention pronouns. These findings contribute to our understanding of how self-mention pronouns operate in tandem with their surrounding context in register-specific discourse. Pedagogically, the findings can be useful for workshop-based training for finance students and early-career professionals in this domain to support the development of the discipline-specific writing skills needed for careers in academia and industry.
... The idea of presenting company identity through different foci has been around a while (cf. Balmer, 2008). We use two such foci, viz. ...
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The Norwegian Mentoring Scheme (NMS) has now been running for six years, and was evaluated for the first time by the end of 2018. This paper dwells on the results of this evaluation, published in Norwegian in February 2019 (Orban, 2019). These results were obtained through access to primary sources from the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service (DNCS) and from the NMS’ archives, as well as through semi-structured interviews. Eight were conducted with participants in the scheme. Nine were conducted with their mentors. One particular feature of the NMS is the use of mentors from civil society with different backgrounds in order to engage sentenced radical prisoners and to moderate behaviors and discourses. Twenty interviews were conducted with prison staff working with participants in the program, prison wardens and designers of the NMS. All interviews took place from March 2017 to October 2018. Due to high prison security measures, it was not possible to conduct more than one interview per mentee during the evaluation period. Interviews with both mentees and mentors averaged between 1.5 and 2 hours and were exclusively focused on how participation in the NMS was experienced by both groups. This chapter suggests that good targeting of mentors and mentees and trust building are critical factors to create appropriate conditions for change. Despite shortages, unexpected geopolitical developments and economic constraints, the first results of the NMS review were promising. However, the efficiency of the trust model to prevent recidivism into terrorism has yet to be confirmed in the long term. Aside from the work done on influencing behaviors and mindsets, mentors compensated for the lack of management of radicalized inmates in the prison system by providing a humanized form of support. In that sense, this study also suggests that the NMS might have less in common with deradicalization interventions than with existing reintegration measures that seek to empower prisoners to change their lifestyle and to prevent recidivism into crime.
Motivated by firms' increasing use of new media technology for investor communications, we investigate how alignment between company image and communication platform affects investor judgment and decision making. In our first experiment, we demonstrate that investors expect alignment between firm image and the perception of the new media communication platform managers choose for investor relations. In a second experiment, we examine how this alignment affects investor judgment and decision making. We predict and find that greater platform-image alignment leads investors to experience subjective ease of processing, but does not change investment amounts. Additionally, we demonstrate an approach to conducting an explicit test of a null hypothesis by evaluating the convergence of null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) and Bayesian methods. Our findings have implications for researchers, firms, and investors, and add to a growing literature on new media disclosure.
Im wissenschaftlichen Diskurs nimmt die Zahl der Methoden, mit denen Organisationen auf normative Erwartungen ihrer Stakeholder reagieren und sie berücksichtigen können, weiter zu. Bei eingehender Betrachtung zeigen sich allerdings konzeptionelle Lücken, die nicht nur die Wirksamkeit der Methoden einschränken, sondern zusätzliche Gefahren für Organisationen bergen. Es fehlt ein Ansatz, wie Organisationen die normativen Erwartungen ihrer Stakeholder integrativ und ganzheitlich berücksichtigen können. Auf Basis bestehender Literatur wurde – unterstützt durch vier konzeptionelle und empirische Forschungsprojekte – ein auf den persönlichen Werten der Stakeholder basierender Ansatz (SVBM) abgeleitet, der normative und vor allem erwünschte Stakeholder-Erwartungen prädiktiv und damit indirekt abbildet. Durch die Positionierung im normativen Management sorgt er zum einen für die Integration der Aktivitäten im Management. Zum anderen gewährleistet er durch die Ausrichtung an den persönlichen Werten sowie die Einnahme einer integrativen Stakeholder-Perspektive die notwendige Ganzheitlichkeit bzgl. der Auswahl der normativen Erwartungen und der Bestimmung der Stakeholder. Mittels der Übertragung des Ansatzes in das konzeptionelle Framework des Higher Purpose kann mit dem SVBM nicht nur möglicher Schaden durch eine Nichterfüllung abgewandt werden: Unterstützt durch die mit dem Higher Purpose verbundene Wertepositionierung und die daraus folgende Identifikation der Stakeholder mit Organisationen können auch nachhaltige Differenzierungs- und Erfolgsfaktoren geschaffen werden. In dieser Konsequenz und Deutlichkeit macht der Ansatz des SVBM – nach bestem Wissen des Autors – erstmalig die persönlichen Werte der Stakeholder von Organisationen zum Fundament deren Managements, um die normativen und vor allem die erwünschten Erwartungen der Stakeholder prädiktiv und damit indirekt im Management zu berücksichtigen. Die Arbeit hebt sich damit von bestehenden Konzepten und Methoden ab und ergänzt diese. Sie bildet zugleich den Ausgangspunkt für weitere Forschung sowie für die praktische Anwendung in Organisationen und schafft Wert für weitere gesellschaftliche Anwendungen und Bereiche.
Brand heritage identity (BHI) has been examined in single corporate cases, often of family firms, in a specific country, to reveal a deep theoretical understanding of the concept and how BHIs are created. Our study complements this research by providing a large-scale empirical study of BHI in family firms across countries. Specifically, using signaling theory as a framework, this study investigates how country-level importance of family values, as well as firm age, influence the use of BHI and drive marketing performance for family businesses. BHI is a signal that helps stakeholders resolve market asymmetries and this signal is bolstered in countries where family is deemed more important. Firm age is an important moderator. The findings demonstrate that in countries where family, as a key social unit, is more important, firms signal competitiveness via BHI, which in turn relates positively to marketing performance.
Financial instruments are the subject of considerable interest. The supply of promissory notes has attracted the attention of financial historians, political economists and antiquarians, alike. We consider bank notes as a mechanism for building corporate identity. The article focuses on the bank notes that were issued in the early nineteenth century by newly established joint stock banks in the English provinces. Despite not having a legal personality, which could be separated from the bank’s owners, the banks did not use symbols of the owners, such as family crests or other personal means, to communicate their identity. The article shows that these notes displayed symbols of a collective culture and regional identity. We argue that this was crucial to building the bank’s position within the local commercial community and in generating a persona which customers could trust.
The chapter aims at synthetizing past research on CSR into the new meaning of CR by investigating if CR is being pursued through an integrated approach with branding by the six major banking corporates in Italy and the UK. In particular, differences and similarities in the extent of implementation are addressed. The research adopts a qualitative approach based on case study development and data analysis according to a CR framework that allowed data extrapolation and systematization, which the authors have designed in accordance with theories of integrated CR. The findings reveal that the extent of integration between CR and branding varies depending on cultural contexts and consumers' perceptions. Most of the sample is undertaking CR policies and programmes with the intent of driving the whole company towards the execution of an integrated strategy, but the UK sample shows the higher extent of integration. The study favours the emerging of best practices for CR integration among banking players and can be adapted to further geographical areas.
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Outlines 15 explanations for the fog which has enveloped the nascent domains of corporate identity and corporate marketing. However, the fog surrounding the area has a silver lining. This is because the fog has, unwittingly, led to the emergence of rich disciplinary, philosophical as well as``as``national'', schools of thought. In their composite, these approaches have the potential to form the foundations of a new approach to management which might be termed`` termed``corporate marketing''. In addition to articulating the author's understanding of the attributes regarding a business identity (the umbrella label used to cover corporate identity, organisational identification and visual identity) the author outlines the characteristics of corporate marketing and introduces a new corporate marketing mix based on the mnemonic``mnemonic``HEADS''[2]. This relates to what an organisation has, expresses, the affinities of its employees, as well as what the organisation does and how it is seen by stakeholder groups and networks. In addition, the author describes the relationship between the corporate identity and corporate brand and notes the differences between product brands and corporate brands. Finally, the author argues that scholars need to be sensitive to the factors that are contributing to the fog surrounding corporate identity. Only then will business identity/corporate marketing studies grow in maturity.
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In 1995 I wrote an article on Corporate Branding and Connoisseurship which was, arguably, one of the fi rst articles to explicitly mention corporate brands in its title and to focus on both corporate brands and identity in terms of content. Today, 15 years on, I have been invited to refl ect on developments in corporate branding scholarship. I draw on a good deal of my own work on the terriitory (both individual and collaborative) dating back to 1995 when my first article and musings on institutional brands enti-tled Corporate Branding and Connoisseurship appeared in The Journal of General Management ( Balmer, 1995)At that time, reference to corporate brands was or so it seemed to me then in British contexts, was not very occasionally mentioned in management parlance; received fl eeting attention in branding books and for strategic and design consultancies; was ignored or viewed as a dimension of an organisations corporate identity. For the main, the branding domain was primarily concerned with the important marketing areas of product and services brands.
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Purpose – The role of Wally Olins (1930-2014) vis-à-vis corporate identity scholarship is appraised. The paper aims to discuss this issue. Design/methodology/approach – A review of Wally Olins published output on corporate identity. Specific focus is accorded to his two seminal publications (books): The Corporate Personality: An Inquiry into the Nature of Corporate Identity (1978) and Corporate Identity: Making Business Strategy Visible through Design (1989). Findings – Olins’ contribution to corporate identity scholarship is fivefold, namely: inspired and greatly influenced the first generation of corporate communications and corporate marketing academics; provided binary definitions of corporate identity; noted the importance of the Corporate Personality vis-à-vis the corporate identity; introduced the heroic and technocratic identity notions; and identified three, core, corporate identity structures (monolithic identity, endorsed identity and branded identity). In terms of his entire opus three distinct eras can be discerned, namely: 1978-1979: the identity exposition era; 1985-1999: the identity reiteration era; and 2000-2014 brand adherent era. Practical implications – Olins was also part of the English corporate marketing revolution where the importance of organisations (other than products and services) were recognised. His reflections and those of others inspired Balmer (1998) to formally introduced the corporate marketing perspective where the focus of marketing focuses on organisations, stakeholders, societal concerns and the temporal dimension. Originality/value – This is the first assessment of Olins’ influence on corporate identity scholarship. It critically appraises the nature of his contribution in his three writing periods vis-a-vis corporate identity scholarship and identifies five, significant, contributions he has made to the corporate identity canon. Keywords: Design, Identification, Corporate identity
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This article explains the utility of adopting an identity-based view of the corporation, which underpins a diagnostic tool of identity management outlined in this article. Using British Airways as an extensive case history, it examines and analyzes how British Airways' senior executives have intuitively adopted an identity-based perspective as part of the strategic management of the carrier. The analysis is corroborated by insights from the former CEO of British Airways, Lord Marshall, as well as his predecessor, Lord King. The overriding message is that calibrating the multiple identities of the corporation is a critical dimension of strategic management.
Identification is defined as the “perceived oneness with or belongingness to an organization” of which the person is a member. The authors propose that customers, in their role as members, identify with organizations. They use social identity theory to propose and test a model that relates members’ identification with the focal organization to (1) organizational and product characteristics, (2) members’ affiliation characteristics, and (3) members’ activity characteristics. Their empirical setting consists of the members of an art museum. Their survey findings show that members’ identification is positively related to perceived organizational prestige, donating activity, tenure of membership, visiting frequency, and confirmation of member expectations with the organization's services. However, members’ participation in similar organizations is negatively related to identification with the focal organization. The authors discuss how this study can be extended to other marketing contexts and how managers can use the notion of identification in implementing marketing strategies.