Corporate identity

A study on brand building strategies used by new ventures


There exists a small window of opportunity in which a new venture has to survive in and adopting brand values provides an added avenue of success. Corporate identity proves a valuable concept from which to start this brand building idea as every organisation, just like every individual, has an identity. This identity is unique and can lead to a competitive advantage (Westcott Allesandri, 2001; Baker & Balmer, 1997; Marwick & Fill, 1997; van Riel & Balmer 1997). Models of corporate identity vary slightly in regards to the elements which constitute the concept but generally are considered to be; culture, symbolism, and communication (Birkigt and Stadler's, 1986 as cited in He and Balmer 2007) There has been limited research done on the relevance of corporate branding to start-ups and even less as it related to corporate identity. The majority of literature has focused on the role of the entrepreneur as an influence on the corporate brand. For start-ups the creation of a corporate brand is not a priority, but its ability in developing a competitive advantage and thus increasing the chances of survival, can not be ignored. The challenge is to balance brand-building against the resource constraints faced by start-ups. Corporate identity provides an opportunity by which these obstacles can be minimised and the foundation upon which a corporate brand built can be laid.

Research Question:

How does a start-up company leverage the concept of corporate identity to build a brand within the resource constraints inherent to its nature?

In the academic context, the research will add new insights to the concept of corporate branding through exploring the concept in context to business to business service organisations and also start-ups, literature in the context of the research is very limited. It will also further illustrate the link between corporate identity and corporate branding.

In the industrial context, the conceptual model will provide a strategic understanding of the potential application of corporate identity at the early stage of organisational development and how it can be used as a strategic tool for building a brand.

Literature review

Firstly the concept of corporate identity is defined and explained. Secondly, its strategic importance is described followed by its relevance to the specific research context, branding in start-up organisations. Literature relating to branding in service and business to business (B2B) organisations will also be outlined as it is relevant to the market sectors the case study company under research operates within.

* A corporate brand has the same objectives as product branding but is applied to the organisation as a whole. The added value created is applicable to all of its goods and services as opposed to an individual item and provide stakeholders a guarantee of quality, organisational stability and a guarantee of performance, it creates a covenant between stakeholders and an organisation, a promise (Balmer and Gray, 2003). The concept of corporate brands is of particular interest to B2B organisations as there is usually an array of products that are sold and the corporate brand is the best means for communicating with customers and stakeholders (Beverland et al, 2007). Corporate brands give the impression that they are inseparable from corporate identity as both are considered to be “organisation centred”, meaning elements of personnel and culture personify their core themes (Leitch and Richardson, 2003). The important link between the two concepts is that should an organisation choose to build a corporate brand then there must be alignment between what the company say they are, (corporate identity), and what they promise to be (corporate brand). The link between corporate identity and corporate brand is through the corporate image. The image of the organisation is created through communication of its corporate identity and will be the basis upon which a corporate brand is built (Rode and Vallaster, 2005). Corporate Identity was originally contrived by Walter Margulies in 1978 which spoke to corporate design strictly in a graphical design context, consisting of company logo, company names and other symbols that identified the organisation. Olins (1978) broaden the understanding of corporate identity from its visual identity origins to the strategic tool it is today, which can project who you are, what you do and how you do it to the external and internal stakeholders. Today, the “Strathclyde Statement is defined as the all encompassing definition of corporate identity and it was developed by the International Corporate Identity Group. It is used by practitioners and academics as a definition of corporate identity which articulates the multidisciplinary nature of the area and its difference from brand management (van Riel and Blamer, 1997), It also points out that corporate identity is a resource for corporate branding and is an opportunity for organisations to differentiate themselves in the marketplace (Balmer, 2001) For the purpose of this research paper we will focus on the corporate identity from the angle of the the corporate marketing mix approach which is said to be influenced by the marketing discipline and aims to “identify the components that fuse together to constitute an entity's identity” Balmer and Greyser (2007, p.34). The strategic value of the corporate identity is achieved through the successful management of its elements, culture, symbolism and communication. Corporate identity management reflects the philosophy of the organisation through the elements of the corporate identity mix (Marwick and Fill,1997). The communication of the organisation's culture through symbolism can create a favourable corporate image which over time will create a favourable corporate reputation (Westcott Alessandri, 2001). Branding in business to business markets, although having similarities to consumer markets, also has several differences. Branding has traditionally been thought of as redundant due to the belief that buyers are more rational than consumers, and therefore less likely to be influenced by emotional variables in the buying decision of products. Mudambi (2002) clarified this situation showing that buyers in B2B markets can be influenced by brands. Her study identified three clusters of buyers, highly tangible firms were the first cluster and they made up 49 per cent of the firms investigated - where tangible aspects such as price and physical products are more important than intangibles - Branding receptive firm cluster, representing 37 per cent and the final cluster were identified as being low interest firms who could be influenced through brand communication which increases customer perceptions of the importance of the purchase decision (de Chernatony & McDonald, 2003 p.201). Mudambi (2001) made it clear that branding does have a place in B2B marketing and although the decision making process was primarily rational there are emotional influences that can effect the final decision. There are several difference between SME's and large firm marketing. These indicate that SME's focus on short-term not long-term goals and are centred around action not planning, and there is an overall pragmatic and intuitive approach to marketing (Moriarty et al, 2008). The marketing process primarily depends on word of mouth and use of personal, social and business networks for information gathering, idea testing and advice (Hill and Wright, 2001). Wong & Merrilees (2005) argue that whether a company tries to or not a brand will be created in the consumers mind and thus, a company should have an input into this process to ensure the highest chance of a positive brand being achieved. Culture has been defined as the “glue” which holds the organisations together (Dowling 1993 as cited in Hatch and Schultz, 2002). According to the organisational behavioural school of thought, this viewpoint is said to be too straightforward by Hatch and Schultz (1997) who expanded the definition of culture to mean the realisation and interpretation of key ideas of the organisation by its members. Symbolism originates from corporate visual identity and was once equated with organisation identity (van Riel & Balmer, 1997). Historically, many corporate identity practitioners had their roots in graphic design and its core purpose was to provide visibility of the company. Now its role is in communicating corporate strategy (van Riel & Balmer, 1997) by differentiating the company through the use of symbols to the public. Ccommunication interacts with both behaviour and symbolism. There is communication within the organisation and there is communication to the public and to stakeholders through visual identity. Corporate communication translates a corporate identity into corporate image or corporate reputation (Dowling, 2001 as cited in Otubanjo& Melawar, 2007). Management Communication- Primarily internally focused and involves mangers of all level communicating with employees. This is to achieve unity of vision, creating or maintaining trust, managing a change within an organisation and motivating employees (Pincus, 1991 as cited in Melewar et al 2006).

* Marketing Communication - This is concentrated outwardly and involves communicating with customers and potential customers, its focus is in generating sales (Van Riel, 1995, p.10 as cited in Melewar et al 2006).

* Organisational Communication - Is the messages that are conveyed to all stakeholders and the general public from the organisation as a whole. It is rooted in public relations but now functions to include many aspects and is structured to speak to specific target groups (Melewar et al 2006).

Balmer and Gray (1999) extended this model by introducing total corporate communication which consisted of;

* Primary communication this is achieved through direct contact with company staff, products, management, etc.

* Secondary communication which consists of all planned and controlled communication, this includes van Riel's three categories above.

* Tertiary communication, these being the uncontrolled communications which are a result of media reporting, interest groups and so on.

The above categorisations of corporate communication highlight that it is of strategic value to know who you are communicating with, how you communicate with them and ensure a consistency in the communication message.

The literature on networks relating to start-ups is limited. An article by Premaratne (2001) illustrates three types of actors in entrepreneurial networks, social, supporting and inter-firm networks. Social networks are personal friends, family or acquaintances, supporting networks are agencies like financiers, government and non-government agencies, and inter-firm networks include other arrangements in which two or more independent organisations cooperate to perform business activities. Networking has the benefits of sharing costs, increasing technical transfers and information sharing, this beneficially impacts an SME's ability to outmatch stronger competitions, provides easy entry into new markets and access to additional resources (BarNir and Smith, 2002).

We have outlined the literature as it relates to the corporate identity mix and branding relevant to the current research. Corporate identity can provide a route for creating competitive advantage through the successful management of culture, symbolism and communication. Literature in the service and B2B sectors indicate that corporate branding is beneficial primarily because it increases the tangibility of service products and prevents B2B products becoming commodities.


The research philosophy adopted is phenomenology. Phenomenology is the science of phenomena and is concerned with understanding human behaviour from the participants own frame of reference (Collis & Hussey, 2003, p. 53) As the research objective is exploring a relatively underdeveloped field, branding in start-ups, it seems appropriate to adopt a method of theory generation (Rode and Vallester, 2005). The primary data collection will consist of in-depth interviews, observation of the organisation and documentary analysis. Secondary data collection will primarily consist of documentary data including written materials such as journal articles, books and company website.

An interpretivism/social constructionism philosophy will be adopted as the research is of an exploratory nature whereby the researcher will be observing the way in which the organisation behaves, communicates and views itself in order to attain the research aim This multi-method approach, where different methods of data is collected, has the added benefit of using triangulation to verify that the data is providing a ‘true state of affairs by examining where the different data intersect” (Silverman, 2005, p. 121). The “start-up” commenced operations in January 2008 and is a Joint Venture with an established investment bank, here on known as (EIB). There are currently 13 people working with the company, six of them being part of the founding team. They combine the concept of facility management with financing of core and non-core assets of organisations and provide an integration service between the two services. Unlike many consultancy firms the “start-up” will partner with the customer through the implementation process as opposed to leaving them with a report of what to do, they aim to become a trusted long term business partner with their customers. The methods available for the analysis of qualitative research include analytic induction, grounded theory, discourse analysis and narrative analysis Saunders et al (2007, p.492). Analytical induction may not be suited for my research as it requires a number of case studies which can be examined to determine a specific outcome, this research is only looking at one organisation and discourse analysis is best suited to research that uses a subjectivist ontologist (Saunders et al, 2007, p.502) design.

Grounded Theory is defined as “the theory that was derived from data systematically gathered and analysed through the research process. In this method, data collection, analysis and eventual theory stand in close relationship to one another” (Strauss and Corbin 1998, p. 12 as cited in Bryman and Bell 2007, p. 585). Grounded Analysis allows texts that have been gathered as a result of interviews or as company reports to be analysed through coding and identifying themes and categories. The structure is derived from the data as opposed to being imposed upon the data (Easterby-Smith et al, 2008).


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Submitted By:- Jitesh .N. Pol ( University of Wales) Page 1

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