As published in a 2008 edition of The Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal
By Bonnie J. Longbotham
President/Creative Director of Longbotham Strategic Marketing

Good advice: Establish a system and a set of procedures and document them!

Flimsy business cards. Royal blue tee shirts with “invisible” red silk-screened lettering. A blurry logo in last week’s newspaper ad. Pink magnets because that’s the CEO’s wife’s favorite color.

Thousands of pens with the firm’s address spelled incorrectly (and the order was accepted because someone didn’t want to be “mean”). Mixed messages that confuse employees, suppliers and clients.

Fifteen people, representing various company departments that have nothing to do with marketing, who serve on your internal “marketing committee” and are required to reach consensus on the really big stuff.

Corporate leaders who think that their actions are entirely their own and that “trickle-down” doesn’t apply to their organization.

Which of these contributes most to an inevitable breakdown of corporate identity? Unfortunately, for a growing number of firms, the answer is many or all of the above. Why?

Shrinking budgets. Uneducated decision-makers. Reduced staffing. Apathy. An increased focus on the potential health hazards of microwave popcorn in the workplace.

Seriously, in my 20 years of business experience, the lack of a system is the single greatest impediment standing in the way of any company attempting to achieve a cohesive, consistent identity protocol.

How does a company go about creating such a system? Start at the beginning. There are three primary areas of influence: corporate design, corporate communication and corporate behavior.

A single core initiative or ideal acts as the centerpiece and driving force for actions relating to each area.

Once those three elements are defined (and I do mean put down on paper in writing so that everyone is privy to them), everything that follows should evolve organically like fruit off the same tree, enhancing and reinforcing your corporate identity.

Corporate Design

When approaching corporate design, everything revolves around a logo that looks professional, conveys an appropriate message and distinguishes you from your competition.

If you don’t have a great logo, hire a professional ad agency or designer to create one for you. If you have a great logo, treat it like it’s worth something. If you don’t, no one else will.

I can’t even begin to emphasize how important it is to establish specific usage standards for your logo. If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a Corporate Identity Manual, it’s basically an all-inclusive  “How-To” book: Page after page, these manuals detail a production attack plan for every possible logo application. How the logo appears when reversed in a black-and-white environment. The amount of white space that should surround the logo when it’s used in conjunction with other type and graphic elements. The maximum size of the logo on a business card or piece of letterhead. And most manuals go on and on and on for pages! The best thing about an Identity Manual? Everyone in your firm, whether they work out of an office in Florida or a bungalow in France, will do things in the same planned, approved, consistent, image-building, brand-enhancing manner. Imagine that.

Corporate Communication

Corporate communication is all about your point of view. In the same manner that individuals harbor various opinions and ideas, so to do corporate giants and small businesses.

Corporate communication is your voice and every person who works for your company should know what it sounds like.

While certain companies embrace their customers as peers or friends, others treat them with deference and respect and maintain a little distance and others, believe it or not, grudgingly consider them a necessary evil.

Are you generous, critical, assertive, passive, thoughtful, selfish or boring?

Do you have a system in place that empowers representatives to address community or client concerns with empathy, honesty and integrity, knowing that they are speaking on behalf of a company who will stand behind them?

It’s important to realize that what you say and how you say it has a lot to do with how you act. After all, we all know that actions speak louder. And speaking of actions, perhaps it’s time to address the third and final area of influence:

Corporate Behavior

Is your firm a leader or a follower? Do you take responsibility for your role as part of our greater society and commit energy and resources to help make this world a better place? Are your interactions with employees, customers, vendors and partners designed to build win-win connections and yield productive long-term results? Are you willing to invest in others, encourage performance and  celebrate excellence? Are you aware that each time someone in your organization shrugs their shoulders and says, “That’s not my problem,” somewhere, a fairy dies. Without digressing into an ode to the brilliance of Peter Pan, there is something to be said about the loss of innocence and imagination in our world today. And, incredibly, even that relates to corporate identity or the lack thereof.

Every so often, we are almost surprised to find ourselves absolutely impressed by a brilliant new television commercial or catchy ad slogan.

Why, we ask? Freshness. Originality. And…wait for it…imagination. Your corporate behavior can remain strictly professional and appropriate and keep you firmly positioned as a conservative player (dare I say wallflower?) in your industry or in your hometown. Or, you can grab the bull by the horns, commit to what you believe in, and go out there and do something about it.

Be creative. Make a difference. Rock the boat occasionally, You may not always be liked. Yo may not always be popular.  But you will be noticed, you will be respected and you may even be admired, all because you had the fortitude to stand up and be counted.

Remember, any whole is only as strong as its weakest part. Create a system that works for your company.

Educate and empower people to properly manage, maintain and improve the system. Applaud their actions, appreciate their commitment, allow for change and adapt as needed.

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