Melewar, T., Sarstedt, M. and Hallier, C. (2012), "Corporate identity, image and reputation management: a further analysis", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 17 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/ccij.2012.16817aaa.002Download as .RIS
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Corporate identity, image and reputation management: a further analysis
Article Type: Introduction to special section From: Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Volume 17, Issue 1
Individuals increase their control over the outcomes of an interaction by presenting information about themselves selectively. Every day individuals create an identity by the way they dress, their behaviour, and in the language they use. This phenomenon of self-presentation can also be observed at a company level. However, companies’ social encounters are not directly observable and are more complex than interactions on an individual level. A wide range of activities and actors represent a company’s identity, which is understood by various groups of stakeholders. Each group has different types of contacts, beliefs, feelings, knowledge, experiences and impressions about a company, and so they form different images about it (Abratt, 1989; Bernstein, 1984; Brown, 1998; Dowling, 1988; Gray, 1986; Spector, 1961; Topalian, 1984).
Corporate identity and image have been identified as constructs of growing importance, evidenced by numerous studies proposing that they can lead to lasting company success. Companies are creating identities in order to form a favourable image. Their persona is known as corporate identity and has been studied by many scholars. There are a multitude of definitions, dimensions and measurements for corporate identity (e.g. Van Riel and Balmer, 1997; Balmer and Gray, 2000; Melewar and Saunders, 2000; Van Rekom and Van Riel, 2000; Melewar and Jenkins, 2002; Melewar and Smith, 2003; Melewar and Akel, 2005; Balmer and Greyser, 2006), as well as a breadth of studies about corporate image (e.g. Bristol, 1960; Spector, 1961; Cohen, 1967; Enis, 1967; Margulies, 1977; Grönroos, 1984; Dichter, 1985; Dowling, 1986; Van Riel, 1998; Christensen and Askegaard, 2001). Despite all these definitions and divergent views as to what corporate identity or corporate image are, it is commonly agreed that “identity and image are typically seen as opposite ends of the communication process” (Christensen and Askegaard, 2001, p. 296).
The construct of corporate identity originates from visual systems such as flags, ensigns and emblems. Olins (1989) calls those visual systems the “traditions”. One of the first developments of a corporate identity was observed in the early twentieth century. The German company AEG, employed the architect Peter Behrens, to align the design of the turbine manufacturing shop in Berlin with other design elements such as a letterhead, exhibits, equivalents and the like (Argenti and Forman, 2002).
Even if the roots of corporate identity can be found in corporate design, today the definition of corporate identity incorporates many other elements (Melewar and Karaosmanoglu, 2006). Corporate identity is a broad term and has been defined as “a key element, which gives a business identity its distinctiveness and relates to the attitudes and beliefs of those within the organisation” (Balmer, 2001, p. 254). A product or a service is only one means among many to disseminate the company’s “fingerprints” among its various environments. Thus, corporate identity is a multidisciplinary construct with several elements. Melewar and Karaosmanoglu (2006) have defined the following elements of corporate identity: corporate communication (controlled, uncontrolled and indirect communication); corporate design (corporate visual identity system (CVIS) and applications of CVIS); corporate culture (philosophy, values, mission, principles, guidelines, history, founder of the company, country of origin, subculture); behaviour (corporate behaviour, employee behaviour, management behaviour); corporate structure (brand structure, organisational structure); industry identity and corporate strategy (differentiation and positioning strategy).
Many authors have analysed the impact of various dimensions of corporate identity and image on stakeholder-related constructs such as customer satisfaction, brand image, and intention to purchase, whereas others have concentrated on the direct impact on business and marketing performance measures (e.g. Schwaiger et al., 2010; Sarstedt et al., 2012). Corporate image shapes customer behaviour (Boulding, 1956; Barich and Kotler, 1991; Cohen, 1967), has an influence on buyer attitude towards a company’s sales person and product (Brown, 1998), and impacts new product evaluation (Aaker and Keller, 1993). Furthermore, corporate image provides a competitive advantage that cannot easily be imitated (Brown, 1998) and leads individuals to buy a company’s product, to invest into the company, or to work for the company (Balmer, 1995; Van Riel, 1995). In addition, corporate image increases security and maintains the public’s trust (Gray, 1986). These noted strengths of corporate image underline how important it is for a company to work on the various elements of its identity in order to create a positive image.
The idea of corporate image is certainly not new. Research on corporate image can be traced back to Gardner and Levy (1955), who introduced the concept of image. In addition Boulding’s (1956) seminal work, in which he conceptualised corporate image, should also be mentioned. Boulding suggests that rather than relying on reality, people rely on their perceived images (De Chernatony et al., 2000). Companies have carried out institutional advertising for many years, and in sophisticated public relations people have long stressed the significance of many kinds of effort in building up a general reservoir of goodwill for a company. But the concept of a corporate image has given much greater meaning to these endeavours. Against the backdrop of brand images and product-area images, the corporate image offers something new, distinct, and valuable. In a remarkably short space of time, the goals of advertising and marketing in the consumer field have been broadened past the functional stages (Balmer and Greyser, 2003).
The two main characteristics of corporate image are the functional and the emotional (Kennedy, 1977; Martineau, 1958). Functional characteristics are tangible and can be easily measured, while emotional characteristics are based on psychological dimensions, such as attitude or feelings toward a company. Therefore, corporate image can be said to be an aggregation of attributes, which have been evaluated by customers (Kennedy, 1977; Martineau, 1958).
As mentioned an image comprises a number of attributes and theorists use different points of view to define the concept of corporate image. Cornelissen (2000, p.120) proposes that “an image is a perception of a receiver of his or her received projection of the corporate identity and own reflections of interpretations of various attributes from various sources”. Another definition, suggested by Barich and Kotler (1991, p.95) states that: “We use the term ‘image’ to represent the sum of beliefs, attitudes, and impressions that a person or group has of an object. The object may be a company, product, brand, place, or person. The impressions may be true or false, real or imagined”.
In conclusion, it can be said that a company has multiple audiences, each of which perceive a company in their own way. Companies try to generate a positive corporate image for each of those stakeholder groups. An image is composed of a number of attributes and theorists use different points of view to define the concept of corporate image.
The following two empirical studies address the dimensions of those two important concepts: corporate identity and corporate image. The first study discusses why corporate and regional identity, as well as image, play an important role for stakeholder dialogue in higher education. The second study investigates its effects on perceived corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The first study, addressing corporate identity formation in higher education, highlights the fact that in today’s competitive markets of higher education, universities need to create distinct profiles to strengthen their identity and thus reach a clear position in the market. The authors’ ideas are summed up by the claim that multidisciplinary universities need to highlight different identities across the organisation in order to effectively listen and speak to different stakeholder groups. The study presents attributes of universities’ identities that need to be addressed in order to create clearly defined profiles.
In this first study identity has been explained through different research traditions. Organisational behaviourists only discussed organisational identity and marketing researcher corporate identity, whereas the authors stress both the differences and similarities of those different views on identity and their relationships to corporate brand and corporate image.
The second study deals with an important concept, namely corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is said to have an impact on corporate image and reputation (Schwaiger et al., 2010). Today’s well-informed and mature customers ask for more than mere products and services. They view a company as a persona that has to take responsibility for its behaviour and take care of its social and environmental surroundings.
Companies have been quick to grasp the importance of CSR issues and respond to this trend in many ways. Companies such as Body Shop have even built their core strategy around environmental protection and project their responsible behaviour towards social and environmental issues. In doing so, they hope to foster a positive image and gain a favourable reputation. Various studies have shown that CSR contributes to a positive reputation.
Corporate social responsibility can be classified under company ethics, whereas company ethics is a part of the field of applied ethics (Pieper, 2003). In 1953 Bowen published a paper in which he coined the term corporate social responsibility. He posits that companies have the responsibility to orientate their expectations, objectives and values to the ones of the society (Bassen et al., 2005).
An often cited definition of CSR is from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which reads as follows: “Corporate social responsibility is the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life” (World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), 2000, p. 10). MacMillan (2004) changed the term “corporate social responsibility” to only “corporate responsibility” with the following rational: “The term corporate responsibility drops the word social so popular in previous language development to reflect the emerging sense that responsibilities are integral to corporate actions, decisions, behaviours and impacts […] CR implies responsibility in all the activities of a business” (MacMillan, 2004, cited in Van Dijken, 2009, p. 142).
The second study discusses visual priming of pharmaceutical advertising disclosure, and its effects on perceived corporate social responsibility. It has often been asked if consumers exposed to a visual primed pharmaceutical advertising disclosure will notice the disclosure more than consumers exposed to a pharmaceutical advertising disclosure without visual priming. The study argues that visual priming in advertising may influence consumers’ perceptions to a company’s social responsibility and increase their perceived trust about its advertising. To examine the study’s hypothesis a one-way (visual priming versus no visual priming) quasi-experimental design was used.
These two studies highlight the importance of different dimensions of corporate identity and how they impact stakeholders’ perceptions of the companies. Despite the fact that there are many studies addressing all kind of elements of corporate identity and corporate image, far more studies are needed to explain the magnitude of all dimensions. According to Topalian (2003) “a successful corporate identity is a ‘living’ identity: a tangible reality that is a true representation of an organisation and its aspiration which ‘breathes’ and changes with that organisation over time” (p. 1120). This statement underlines how important it is for scholars to undertake further investigation into the different facets of corporate identity and corporate image so that companies can strengthen their stakeholder dialogue.
T.C. MelewarBrunel Business School, Brunel University, London, UK
Marko SarstedtInstitute for Market-based Management, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany
Christine HallierSchool of Management and Law, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland
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