What drives success in business? According to recent PWC research published by PwC’s Strategy&, one answer lies with strong corporate identity. In the survey of 720 executives, companies that were seen as having a stronger identity outperformed others by 25%. They did so “by knowing themselves well and leveraging their distinctive strengths to build a clear identity, companies can outperform their peers.”
Take some of the survey’s top performing brands - Apple, BMW and Coca-Cola. As soon as you mention their names, a distinct logo springs to mind. Similarly, even in isolation it’s likely that you’d be able to match a font, social media post or billboard advert to the brands. This is because through careful planning and consistent application, these brands have used design to ensure that elements of corporate identity combine to create a strong brand identity that is recognised and remembered by audiences.
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So what do we mean by ‘corporate identity’ and what is corporate identity design? Importantly what role do they both play overall in branding?
Corporate identity could be described as the face of your brand. It consists of all visual branding elements, reaching beyond corporate logos to including typeface, tagline, imagery, colour palette, and tone of voice. It is seen across a number of mediums that give consumers a sense of the brand’s personality; stationery, packaging, uniforms, merchandise, brochures or online campaigns. Corporate identity design is the process of creating all these various company visuals.
A strong corporate or brand identity must be derived from a strong brand. You must have a clear understanding of your brand’s purpose, positioning and its values. What does your brand stand for? How is does it differ from its competitors? Why does it add value to a consumer’s lifestyle? Only through a clear understanding of these answers can you begin to explore the creative interpretation and design approach to the colours, styles, typography and imagery that give your brand the right personality in the eyes of customers, employees and stakeholders.
If your company’s look and feel doesn’t reflect how your company acts, there will be a gap between your corporate identity and your ‘brand image’ (i.e. how consumers view and experience your brand). This not only weakens your corporate identity, it generates mistrust among a confused audience.
So, if you’ve got a solid set of brand foundations in check, here’s fourbasic elements of corporate identity that your design process should consider.
Four Elements of corporate identity
Whether a symbol, word, or mix of both, a logo is the most obvious of the graphic elements of corporate identity. As a standout visual signifier, it should act to instantly identify your company. For example, Apple’s bitten apple, Google’s colourful wordmark and Twitter’s blue bird all immediately align one visual element with a brand’s entire positioning, story and messaging. A strong corporate logo can even take a brand from being a business to being a cultural icon.
Getting your logo right is one thing, keeping it right is another! Leading global brands are constantly updating and tweaking their corporate logo design to represent new services and remain current in fast-paced industries. This year the rebranding processes of Calvin Klein, Converse and YouTube all proved that the power and success of a brand’s identity is dependent on an evolving process of self reflection and the renewal of elements of corporate identity design.
‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ the saying goes, but an exploration of typography - one of the key elements of corporate identity, will tell you that the style, shape, weight and spacing of the written word can also say an awful lot. Type, can be warm and friendly, elegant and luxurious, or bold and authoritative before you’ve even read the first word.
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Helvetica, a typeface with such significance it is the subject of its own film, was designed by Max Miedinger and Edouard Hoffman in 1957 in an effort to create a utilitarian style of type that would be clear, bold and legible across signage and in print. The type was famously used across the New York City Subway and has since become synonymous with the city and adopted by brands including Jeep and American Apparel due to its symbolic appeal as reflecting modern American culture.
For your brand, typographic style will be the most far reaching elements of your corporate identity appearing on emails, presentations, contracts, email signatures, brochures, stationery, office signage and more.
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A good starting point is to pick a primary font that compliments your logo. Fonts, like a logo, should tell story and help your brand’s voice and personality come to life. If the two clash it’s visually unappealing and suggests a conflicted brand identity; particularly as they are often see together.
As well as a primary font, you need to consider a secondary font that ties in well with your logo and primary font. With so many fonts out there, this can be daunting but just keep your brand in mind at all times - a highly decorative font might work for a creative agency but would probably be inappropriate for an insurance firm. Remember that although your font should be engaging, above all else it should be legible, clear and work across different digital and print platforms.
3. Imagery & Asset Library
As well as words, images are powerful elements of corporate identity. You’ll want to collate a variety of photography and/or illustrations that have a consistent look and feel - whether that’s the subject matter of the photo, filter you apply or focus of your shot.
For recognisable brands such as IKEA, clear, consistent and ownable photography has allowed them to differentiate from their competitors and have underpinned some of the most successful and memorable campaigns to date.
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Take Acne’s recent campaign for IKEA in response to high-fashion house, Balenciaga’s bag clone of IKEA’s iconic shopper. The image is immediately identifiable as IKEA and pokes fun at Balenciaga’s appropriation of IKEA’s visual identity:
Once you’ve picked your image selection, consider access and control. Sending your team to an easily accessible library or pre-approved assets will ensure you don’t end up with employees needing to Google of off-brand images. Cloud-hosted solutions such as Templafy offer 24/7 access not just to image libraries but all centralized content - from email templates to logos, current fonts to dynamic best practice documents. Using this brand compliance software, Brand Managers always remain in control of the elements of corporate identity, allowing them to easily upload then assign assets to different departments and individuals.
4. Brand guidelines
When you’ve created all your various elements of corporate identity, a set of detailed brand guidelines are needed to help ensure their successful application. Also known as a corporate identity manual or corporate identity design manual, brand guidelines are produced so that everyone in your company from designers to IT managers are working towards the same brand vision.
Guidelines should outline exactly how and when different visual assets are used so you need to consider all placements - for example third party email banners, social media cover images, email signatures, business cards, letterheads. It’s always handy to include visual examples of ‘Dos and Don'ts’ to avoid any misinterpretation.
Sending your brand guidelines enterprise-wide and hoping each of your busy employees reads, understands and applies it, can be wishful thinking. Especially when you have a brand management team working hard to constantly update your look, ever changing brand guidelines need to be more than static and unread PDFs.
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Templafy seamlessly rolls out brand identity updates across documents and related brand assets, ensuring new designs are used correctly. Plugins such as the Brand Compliance & Checker validate text documents from presentations to emails, identifying any off-brand elements such as old logos or out of date fonts and offering users an alternative, on-brand option at the click of a button. With greater control over what and how brand visuals are used, your company and employees are able to work together to build the strongest brand identity possible.
Read next: Brand consistency builds brand integrity
Interested in how brand compliance and automation software can improve elements of your corporate identity? Book a meeting and a member of our Templafy team will be in touch at a time that works for you.