Visual Identity

Corporate visual identity plays a significant role in the way an organization presents itself to both internal and external stakeholders. In general terms, a corporate visual identity expresses the values and ambitions of an organization, its business, and its characteristics. Four functions of corporate visual identity can be distinguished. Three of these are aimed at external stakeholders.

First, a corporate visual identity provides an organisation with visibility and “recognizability”.[15] For virtually all profit and non-profit organisations, it is of vital importance that people know that the organization exists and remember its name and core business at the right time.
Second, a corporate visual identity symbolizes an organization for external stakeholders, and, hence, contributes to its image and reputation (Schultz, Hatch and Larsen, 2000). Van den Bosch, De Jong and Elving (2005) explored possible relationships between corporate visual identity and reputation, and concluded that corporate visual identity plays a supportive role in corporate reputations.
Third, a corporate visual identity expresses the structure of an organization to its external stakeholders, visualising its coherence as well as the relationships between divisions or units. Olins (1989) is well known for his “corporate identity structure”, which consists of three concepts: monolithic brands for companies which have a single brand, identity in which different brands are developed for parts of the organization or for different product lines, and an endorsed identity with different brands which are (visually) connected to each other. Although these concepts introduced by Olins are often presented as the corporate identity structure, they merely provide an indication of the visual presentation of (parts of) the organization. It is therefore better to describe it as a “corporate visual identity structure”.
A fourth, internal function of corporate visual identity relates to employees’ identification with the organization as a whole and/or the specific departments they work for (depending on the corporate visual strategy in this respect). Identification appears to be crucial for employees,[16] and corporate visual identity probably plays a symbolic role in creating such identification.

The definition of the corporate visual identity management is:[17]

Corporate visual identity management involves the planned maintenance, assessment and development of a corporate visual identity as well as associated tools and support, anticipating developments both inside and outside the organization, and engaging employees in applying it, with the objective of contributing to employees’ identification with and appreciation of the organization as well as recognition and appreciation among external stakeholders.

Special attention is paid to corporate identity in times of organizational change. Once a new corporate identity is implemented, attention to corporate identity related issues generally tends to decrease. However, corporate identity needs to be managed on a structural basis, to be internalized by the employees and to harmonize with future organizational developments.

Efforts to manage the corporate visual identity will result in more consistency and the corporate visual identity management mix should include structural, cultural and strategic aspects.[17] Guidelines, procedures and tools can be summarized as the structural aspects of managing the corporate visual identity.

However, as important as the structural aspects may be, they must be complemented by two other types of aspects. Among the cultural aspects of corporate visual identity management, socialization – i.e., formal and informal learning processes – turned out to influence the consistency of a corporate visual identity. Managers are important as a role model and they can clearly set an example. This implies that they need to be aware of the impact of their behaviour, which has an effect on how employees behave. If managers pay attention to the way they convey the identity of their organization, including the use of a corporate visual identity, this will have a positive effect on the attention employees give to the corporate visual identity.

Further, it seems to be important that the organization communicates the strategic aspects of the corporate visual identity. Employees need to have knowledge of the corporate visual identity of their organization – not only the general reasons for using the corporate visual identity, such as its role in enhancing the visibility and recognizability of the organization, but also aspects of the story behind the corporate visual identity. The story should explain why the design fits the organization and what the design – in all of its elements – is intended to express.