Corporate Reputation

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Corporate Communication and the Corporate Brand
Peggy Simcic Brønn

(From: Corporate Communication: A Strategic Approach to Building Reputation (2002), Brønn, P.S. and R. Wiig (eds.), Oslo: Gyldendal.)

The first years of the 21st century have been hard on companies and their brands. It is predicted that Firestone is dead as a brand as a result of its defective tires used on Ford SUVs, which tipped over causing loss of lives. Arthur Anderson is feverishly trying to find partners for its many clients as it takes its last breath. The anti-globalization movement is targeting companies from McDonald’s to Starbucks to non-governmental organizations. Today, no organization is safe from public scrutiny of its actions and what it stands for. In many cases, it is not the product that gets organizations in trouble; often it is the action of its managers that directly causes the problem or exacerbates it. In fact, in many cases, products are not an issue at all. Customers continue purchasing from companies while other interest groups attack the company. It is naïve, however, to believe that organizational actions do not in the long run impact customer response. Both the organization and its products and services have images, and it is important that both are carefully nurtured and protected. This is true for any organization, whether for profit, non-profit or governmental sector. The relationships and concepts discussed in this chapter are complex and are based on theory from a number of disciplines, including strategy, organizational theory, psychology, sociology, and ethics, just to name a few. Some of these are explored in greater detail in other chapters. Here the point is to continue the discussion from Chapter 3 on the elements that lie behind the notion of the organization as a brand, otherwise referred to as the corporate brand and normally expressed as corporate image. The basic message here is that everything about an organization communicates. Everything. Failure to recognize this can result in serious headaches for organizations if they concentrate on their customer-related communications while ignoring the many other contact points that are not part of planned communication. These ‘unplanned’ points


of contact may include the people answering the phone, the accounting personnel handling billing information, the service personnel, or the check-out person in the visitors’ dining room. I begin the chapter with a discussion of identity followed by a definition of corporate image with a look at some researchers’ argument that reputation is not the same as image. The attributes normally associated with the corporate brand, as developed by Keller (1998), are then discussed. I then argue for the importance of anchoring identity and image in corporate mission and vision. This is important because it appears most firms have a difficult time doing this. Looking at how organizations communicate their image follows this, a process that becomes extremely complicated the more complex the organization is. Some examples of communication activities that organizations may use to market their corporate brand are then given.

Identity versus Image
It is necessary to start the discussion on corporate image by making perfectly clear the difference between corporate identity and image. This section looks at a number of researchers’ views starting with van Riel, who uses the Birkigt and Stader (1986) model, Figure 1, which defines corporate identity in terms of the cues offered by an organization both internally and externally through symbols, communication and behavior. He refers to this as the corporate identity mix and implies that the corporate personality is manifested through this mix. Dowling (2001) defines corporate identity as the symbols and nomenclature used by an organization to identify itself to people. According to Dowling, corporate identity helps people find or recognize an organization. Ind (1997) refers to...
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