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The value of corporate visual identity to market competitiveness. A literature review

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Abstract

This paper highlights the role of corporate visual identity (CVI) as a competitive tool in the modern business organization. The reviewed scholarship addresses the essence of CVI, the importance of effective CVI management, and the pragmatic CVI components which are used to appeal to stakeholders. The article raises implications for professionals in the areas of graphic design, branding, corporate image management, and business strategy.
The Value of Corporate Visual Identity to Market Competitiveness:
A Literature Review
Anna A Drzewiecka
Preston, United Kingdom
Abstract: This paper highlights the role of corporate visual identity (CVI) as a competitive
tool in the modern business organization. The reviewed scholarship addresses the essence of
CVI, the importance of effective CVI management, and the pragmatic CVI components which
are used to appeal to stakeholders. The article raises implications for professionals in the
areas of graphic design, branding, corporate image management, and business strategy.
Visual images are the very first impressions that businesses make on stakeholders.
Images depicting Corporate Visual Identity (CVI) are emotionally powerful communication
media that engrave marks in consumers’ minds, and, as such, are considered to be superior
over verbal messages (Ries, 2015). Visual identity is the “face” of an organization that
manifests its vision, emotions, style, and offerings; it is the feel, the look, the touch and the
alluring story behind a brand that forms connections with consumers. Consequently,
companies invest a significant amount of attention to planning the design of CVI. Likewise, a
great deal of work in academic scholarship has been devoted to the role of CVI in
contributing to organizational competitiveness in the retail sector.
Specifically, academic researchers have studied the topic of CVI over the past several
decades, most notably in the 1990s when Internet advertising became commonplace. Among
the most recognizable scholars were Aaker (1991;1996), Baker and Balmer (1997), Balmer
(1997), Balmer and Greyser (2003), Carter (1982), Dowling (1994), Downey (1986), Olins
(1989), van den Bosch, de Jong and Elving (2006), Melewar and Saunders (1998; 2000),
Podnar (2015), Selame and Selame (1975), Schmitt and Simonson (1997), van Riel and
Balmer (1997), and van Riel and Fombrun (2007). In particular, Porter (1985) and Ries and
Trout (2010) focused on the area of competitive positioning, while Ries (2015) investigated
the competitive status of visual identity from the perspective of its visual impact that makes
on consumers’ minds by calling it a “visual hammer” as the title of her work suggests.
A visual identity is an important organizational asset (van den Bosch, de Jong, and
Elving, 2006) that expresses the corporate vision, forms associations with a brand, fulfils
promises (Aaker, 1996), and impacts the competitive position of an organization, which
benefits from stakeholders’ loyalty, the attractive positioning of offerings, and premium
pricing (Henderson, Cote, Leong, and Schmitt, 2003) as well as the ability to weaken
competitive powers of market rivalry and increase productivity (Schmitt and Simonson,
1997). The visual identity of an organization is also useful in strategically differentiating a
superior market position of a brand (Selame and Selame, 1975), maintaining its originality,
and enhancing timelessness, authenticity and simplicity of all of the visual identity elements
(Olins, 1989). This management practice of CVI aims to protect brands’ centrality as well as
continuity and uniqueness of their identities (van Riel & Fombrun, 2007).
A corporate brand of any modern organization to sustain its competitive positioning in
a marketplace requires the ability to strategically manage its visual identity assets in harmony
with the principles of aesthetical consistency (Podnar, 2015), results of which impact the
visibility and recognizability of a brand (van den Bosch, de Jong, & Elving, 2006) amongst
other businesses. Van den Bosch (2005) suggested that effective management of corporate
visual identity was rooted in consistency, based on governing structural, cultural and strategic
dimensions of a brand, while Balmer and Greyser (2003) proposed the AC2ID test to assess
visual expressions of a brand through a multi-dimensional approach of actual, communicated,
ideal, desired and conceived identity.
Some of the existing theoretical frameworks of corporate identity (van Riel and
Balmer, 1997; Stuart, 1999; Cornelissen and Elving, 2003) explore the importance of
corporate identity management. None of those significantly emphasize the value of managing
corporate visual identity (CVI), the corporate design and its direct linkage to achieving
market competitiveness. Visual identity elements are instrumental to self-expression of
corporate identity (Schultz, Hatch and Larsen, 2000; van Riel & van den Ban, 2001). The
urgency lays in the effective implementation and management of CVI elements. As
globalization requires firms to be current, innovative, attractive, and unfailingly ahead of the
future market trends, significant portions of business budgets and time of resources are
directly linked to the area of visual identity—the critical part of branding.
To sustain its competitiveness in the ever-expanding global marketplace, a corporate
brand needs to distinguish itself from a crowded arena of rivals. Memorability, impact, and
meaningfulness of visual symbols of a brand (Aker, 1996) strengthen its identity while
continuously representing the quality of an organization’s brand exposure (Schmitt and
Simonson, 1997). A strong corporate brand must be recognisable by all stakeholders (Balmer
and Greyser, 2003) to maintain its competitiveness, therefore the visual identity elements of a
brand powerfully impact the corporate body in such a way that identifies, reminds, simulates
and guarantees brands’ promises to internal and external stakeholders (Podnar, 2015). A
corporate brand is a contingent asset of an organization (Balmer and Greyser, 2003), it
represents a corporate value that requires simple but remarkable design and ongoing
maintenance. Brands develop competitiveness through the positioning of a company’s
offering (Kapferer, 1992).
Aaker (1991) proposed a brand equity model that allows the evaluation of brand value
development through five dimensions: brand loyalty, name awareness, perceived quality,
brand associations, and other proprietary brand assets (such as distribution systems). The
model can be perceived as a visual framework of a brand equity definition, which can be
understood as a value represented by assets and liabilities of a brand, its name and a symbol.
The brand equity model (Aaker, 1996) allows the assessment of a brand’s performance within
those five dimensions and provides for the element of value to customers and to an
organization that directly impacts the superior market position of a brand including
competitive advantage, the effectiveness of marketing programs, brand loyalty and
engagement and overall trust. Strong brand identities create awareness (Hoeffler and Keller,
2003) as a result of consistent implementation of visual communication tactics through an
alignment of logos, symbols, and slogans rather than verbal communication (Reddy, Holak,
and Bhat, 1994). Powerful corporate branding allows consumers building a strong
unidimensional brand familiarity that effectively impacts the decision-making processes of
consumers, partners and other stakeholders (Dacin and Smith, 1994; Hoeffler and Keller,
2003; Laroche, Kim, and Zhou, 1996) resulting with market competitiveness.
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