Every business should have a corporate identity manual. A corporate identity manual defines how your company’s brand, image and messaging is delivered to the public and particularly to your key audiences.
But before we answer the burning question of what’s the most important page in your corporate identity manual, let’s dig a little deeper.
Corporate identity is not the same as corporate image. Clive Chajet, writing in Corporate Image, makes these distinctions:
Corporate image is the perception of the company by its various audiences, i.e., how it appears to outsiders such as the financial community or potential consumers.
Corporate identity is what the corporation chooses to use to shape those perceptions.
To make it easy for employees to present the corporate identity consistently, many businesses publish a corporate identity manual. A corporate identity manual is simply a set of instructions for how to present things like logos and how to describe the business accurately.
Identity = Brand
Laurence Ackerman, a former partner at the legendary design firm, Anspach Grossman Portugal, says that besides comprehensive design standards, companies manage their identity through:
- Language (specific words and phrases for services)
- Distinctive themes and messages (“taglines”)
- Actions and policies (CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility)
As a company grows and more people are involved, the very essence of the brand is being expressed by multiple managers and communicators. How do we reign in all of this and maintain standards, as well as build upon a brand as the company and its story evolves and grows?
The corporate identity manual is the critical tool for this. It positions the company, no matter how big or small. The importance of consistent typography, color use, logo placement and such cannot be taken for granted. These are all laid out in the corporate identity manual.
Good identity manuals help designers and communication managers establish a visual voice for the company that may include photography libraries and image standards as well as professional publication templates. These guidelines build a more powerful corporate identity that in turn influences the public and ultimately the company’s corporate image.
The Real Power of Your ID Manual
When I was the manager of corporate communications at an insurance company, I inherited a new logo and an unyielding binder full of identity standards and recommendations. (This was back in the days when you had to print everything and a PDF was not possible.)
The “work in progress” standards were too cumbersome and the page length made it prohibitive to print. So I sat down and sifted through the content and prioritized everything to see how I could get the final manual down to 16 pages.
Once the corporate identity manual was published, life as the internal “logo cop” and defender-of-the-brand became easier – but not in the way that I had expected. I thought everyone would now follow the carefully worded rules and exacting details that we had labored over in writing and designing the manual. What I found was that most people didn’t actually read the document. They just called me with their questions and asked me what the rules were.
So the manual became my reference guide. It kept me on track, consistent and more importantly it became the law of the land within the company.
Once I had the manual in place I could call the vice president of pensions and say, with confidence, that the logo could not be published with that drop shadow against a dark colored background because it says so on page 4.
And why would he listen to me? Because, on the first page of the corporate identity manual, there was a signed letter from the president of the company introducing and endorsing the branding standards.
That was the most important page in the manual.
Manual Photo via Shutterstock
I love this! I wish for SMBs understood how important it is to be specific. The further you articulate your identity to begin with (and understand that it will change over time) the easier it is to make decisions in developing your culture and your campaigns. Great post!
Thanks Meredith! The way identities evolve is much like a marriage: you accept your partner just as he/she is…and in doing so, you both will change together!
I agree that having a consistent corporate identity is a great idea, but how do you avoid stagnation or rigidity? Seems like having a manual that serves as the final say “instead of real people” could end up hurting the brand.
It’s really a balancing act, you need the structure of a strong Corporate Identity guide along with the ability to interpret the rules and express the core values of the brand. Good guidelines and good caretakers will follow a consistent approach while using unexpected creative solutions that support the brand.