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Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline for the 21st Century
By Steven Howard, Howard Marketing Services

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not. When properly designed and managed, the corporate image will accurately reflect the level of the organization's commitment to quality, excellence and relationships

The Corporate image is a dynamic and profound affirmation of the nature, culture and structure of an organization. This applies equally to corporations, businesses, government entities, and non-profit organizations. The corporate image communicates the organization's mission, the professionalism of its leadership, the caliber of its employees and its roles within the marketing environment or political landscape.

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not. When properly designed and managed, the corporate image will accurately reflect the level of the organization's commitment to quality, excellence and relationships with its various constituents including current and potential customers, employees and future staff, competitors, partners, governing bodies, and the general public at large. As a result, the corporate image is a critical concern for every organization, one deserving the same attention and commitment by senior management as any other vital issue.

Historically, thinking and writing about the subject of corporate image has come from the area of graphic design, with most attention given to name selection, typography, logo design and usage rules, color palettes, uniforms, and marketing collateral. This approach no longer suits the global, dynamic, cross-border and cross-cultural world in which a growing number of today's businesses and organizations operate. What is needed, instead, is a practice called Corporate Image Management. This is a holistic management discipline designed to prepare organizations to compete for resources, partners, customers and market share well into the early years of the 21st Century.

Corporate image management is founded upon modern cooperate identity practices and the marketing premise that everything an organization does, and does not do, affects the perception of that organization and its performance, products, and services. These perceptions affect its ability to recruit the financial resources, people and partnerships it needs to attain its goals and objectives.

This approach evaluates corporate image from a marketing, rather than a graphic design, perspective. The premise has two predominant concerns for companies entering the 21st Century:

  • an understanding that the corporate image is a major strategic concern that can have a direct impact on the level of success the organization achieves through its other marketing and management efforts, and
  • an understanding that a coherent corporate image needs to be integrated into the organization at all levels.

Looked at from a marketing perspective, corporate image management becomes an on-going, synergistic management tool, rather than a one-time "corporate image exercise" as currently practiced by most organizations and almost all corporate identity consultants. Corporate image management, therefore, becomes a comprehensive and all-embracing process that internalizes a new skill set for managing relationships between constituents at all levels in the organization. Its goal is to enable sustainable relationship advantages to be developed with key audiences. Since the process of corporate image management is on-going, these relationship management skills are applied to all current, prospective and future relationships. It applies equally to commercial, non-profit and government organizations.

By incorporating a post-graphic design management process into the practice of corporate image management, today's organizational leaders can develop an integrated approach to managing all verbal, visual and environmental elements and media used in communicating the organization's identity to each of the organization's constituents. Corporate image management focuses on the very heart and soul of the organization, even to the extent of evaluating why the organization exists and determining the organization's key purposes. It represents one of the highest levels of functional control of the organization.

Perhaps more importantly, its value as a management tool is greater because it provides a mechanism for the organization to:

  • differentiate itself from competition,
  • to create recognized added- value to the products and services marketed or delivered by the organization, and
  • to attract and maintain customer relationships in order to prosper in an increasingly competitive and constantly changing global marketplace.

Corporate image management, therefore, also represents the highest level of brand personality and characteristics that can be created and communicated to customers and marketing partners. From both a marketing and management perspective, corporate image management needs to be integrated into the organization's development at all levels, starting from the top.

The Corporate Image
The Corporate image comprises all the visual, verbal and behavioral elements that make up the organization. In many respects, the corporate image should be a dynamic actualization of the Chief Executive Officer's vision, integrated with the corporation's mission and strategic plan. It should be thoroughly planned and constantly managed in order to support and sustain the corporation's mission. If managed effectively, it should protect the organization against competition from new competitors or from current competitors offering new products and services. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.

The corporate image combines the organization's self-perceptions with those of its constituents. It is the raison d


Steven Howard is Asia's leading marketing consultant and positioning specialist, with over 22 years experience. The author of two books and numerous articles, you may reach him at www.howard-marketing.com or steven@howard-marketing.com.

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