The term “corporate identity” can feel like a formal concept that’s only relevant to multinational brands with millions of dollars in brand equity at stake. But a strong corporate image is just as important for small businesses as it is for global enterprises.
Corporate identity is all about putting your best foot forward as a company by building a clear, compelling brand image to share with the world—regardless of your organization’s size or stature.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what marketers really mean by corporate identity and why it’s so essential to business success.
We’ll also show you how to craft a successful corporate identity for your own business, and review a few top-notch corporate identity examples, so you can get a better sense of how to bring a strong one to life.
- What Is Corporate Identity?
- Key Elements of a Corporate Identity
- The Benefits of a Strong Corporate Identity
- How to Develop a Corporate Identity
- Examples of Corporate Identity
- The Takeaway
What Is Corporate Identity?
Corporate identity is the way a business presents itself to the world. Corporate identity comprises a range of key visual and verbal elements that define how a company looks, feels, and sounds.
From visual components, like logo and color palette, to verbal ones like brand name and tagline, corporate identity—or corporate image, as its also known—isn’t any one individual thing, but rather a sum of all these parts working together to create a compelling impression of a company’s brand.
Key Elements of a Corporate Identity
Corporate identity is influenced by a multitude of factors that work in tandem to give customers an overarching understanding of who your business is and what it’s all about. These factors fall into three primary categories: visual identity, verbal identity, and the brand collateral where these identities come to life.
1. Corporate Visual Identity
When it comes to first impressions of your brand, visuals pack a lot of punch. A logo, for example, should be designed to stick in the minds of your audiences (which is why it’s so important to choose the right style from the many types of logos). Color has the power to evoke deep-seated emotions. And a photo, as we all know, is worth a thousand words, including those that position your brand in a unique market landscape with distinct features and benefits.
These elements, along with things like typography, iconography, and graphic motifs, comprise your corporate identity design. When applied together, they not only help to communicate your value proposition and key offerings, but also reflect your organization’s brand personality.
For example, YouTube’s red TV-shaped logo with its white triangular play button instantly calls to mind watching videos. Calm, a sleep and meditation app, expresses the peaceful, tranquil character that’s embodied in its name through rounded icons, pastel gradients, and serene, natural imagery.
2. Corporate Verbal Identity
While visual aesthetics matter a great deal, they aren’t the only piece of the corporate brand identity puzzle. Words matters, too. From the sound of a brand name to the structure of a tagline to the themes that shine through in a brand’s narrative or messaging—language plays a big role in framing your corporate image.
Your corporate verbal identity is present in everything from your employee handbook to your social media feeds to your sales presentations. Key to a strong verbal identity—as with all things branding—is consistency and cohesiveness. Your brand’s voice should be instantly recognizable wherever it is heard by your target audiences.
Airbnb’s name, for instance, places the company squarely in the travel and hospitality space by referencing “bed and breakfast.” The deliberate choice to use a more distinctive and inviting type of accommodation in the Airbnb name (versus a term like “hotel,” for example) evokes the personal experiences the business enables, while showcasing its friendly, welcoming demeanor. From the app’s user experience to its television ads, Airbnb’s verbal identity is consistently welcoming and hospitable, encouraging audiences to explore new cities with the safety and security of a familiar place to lay their heads.
3. Brand Collateral
The final element in building a corporate image are the everyday touchpoints that weave visual and verbal elements together: materials like your company’s website, social media feeds, videos, packaging, physical environments, and more.
Brand collateral spans a range of mediums, from print to digital. None of which are too small to make an impact. A branded email signature and/or company letterhead may not be as large-scale as a national advertising campaign, but these touchpoints still make a difference when it comes to expressing your company’s corporate identity.
At the end of the day, your brand collateral is where audiences engage with your visual and verbal identities. Again, consistency is tantamount when it comes to brand collateral to ensure a cohesive, compelling, and above all, memorable brand experience.
The Benefits of a Strong Corporate Identity
As you’ve no doubt begun to see, an effective corporate identity is an essential component of any successful business. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most tangible benefits a strong identity can deliver.
1. Impacts Public Perception
Corporate identity is responsible for shaping the way audiences—customers and non-customers alike—perceive your organization. The look and feel of your corporate brand conveys critical benefits to audiences, like quality, reliability, expertise, and authority.
Take Netflix. As the original trailblazer in streaming services, Netflix is a category creator and dominates the industry with its original content-driven business model. But it also dresses the part, with a bold corporate identity that leverages visual and verbal elements to mark its status as a leader.
Bright red contrasts sharply with black, demanding attention. Thick, angular typeface implies strength. These signifiers ensure Netflix always feels like the frontrunner it is—even in more challenging times, such as when it reported the loss of 200,000 subscribers in early 2022.
2. Differentiates Your Business
A powerful corporate identity system doesn’t just influence perception. It also can also set you apart from your competitors—making you more recognizable and memorable to buyers.
Look at the world of retail banking. From Citi and Chase to Capital One, Bank of America, and beyond: the landscape is a sea of blue logos and professional yet impersonal voices.
By contrast, TD Bank, with its notable green color scheme and witty advertisements, stands out from the crowd. Its authentic, relatable corporate identity not only shapes the way the brand is perceived by its customers, it also helps differentiate it from a cadre of other brands touting similar offerings and benefits.
3. Drives Audience Engagement—and Brand Value
So, your business identity affects how your various audiences perceive your brand. But these perceptions, in turn, determine how audiences behave when it comes to purchasing decisions and other engagements with your brand.
A striking identity may help you catch the eye of a prospective client. A sophisticated one could make your business seem more attractive to potential investors. A welcoming company identity may even enable you to attract top-tier talent.
Most importantly, consistent corporate identity management may even help you drive loyalty among your customer base. When your viewers and readers see and hear similar visuals and messaging, a visceral level of credibility is established. Audiences know what you stand for, which engenders customer trust and lays the groundwork for brand loyalty.
In influencing customer behavior, a strong identity can drive measurable value for your organization. A recent study cited by Harvard Business Review found that companies seen as having a stronger corporate identity outperformed others by 25 percent.
Whether the value you reap comes in the form of employee retention, repeat customers, more investors, or higher sales, it’s clear that corporate identity is essential to business growth.
How to Develop a Corporate Identity
Developing a strong corporate identity isn’t magic. Like most branding pursuits, there’s a tried and true process for getting it right. Below, we outline three simple steps outlining how to develop a cohesive corporate image.
1. Conduct Brand Research
The best corporate identities avoid a “see if it sticks” approach, and instead are based on measurable, objective data resulting from thorough brand research.
Qualitative customer research validated by quantitative surveys can give you much of the insight you need to begin the process. Because corporate identity is purely external and doesn’t involve core values or company culture, market research with existing and prospective customers is typically the most helpful (although internal surveys to gauge employee sentiment around your visual and verbal identities never hurt).
A competitive brand audit can also give you a better sense of market landscape and the players you’re up against, so you can more easily identify opportunities for optimal positioning and differentiation.
2. Establish Positioning and Personality
With the insights from your research in hand, you can begin ideation on the visual and verbal components that will comprise your corporate identity.
Strong visual and verbal identities begin with strong brand positioning. That’s why it’s best to begin the process with a positioning workshop attended by key decision-makers within your organization. The goal of the workshop is to define your brand positioning platform, including foundational elements like your brand compass, brand promise, competitive differentiation, and—most importantly—your brand personality.
Getting alignment from key stakeholders around these essential brand pillars will establish a through line for your brand’s look and feel. It will give you the blueprints you need to create and implement a cohesive corporate identity system.
3. Create and Implement Your Corporate Identity System
Working with the positioning platform you’ve outlined in the previous step, the last step is to create and implement your corporate identity system.
As we’ve seen, a comprehensive identity system includes visual elements like your logo, color scheme, and photographic style. It also includes verbal elements like your brand voice, brand story, and brand messaging framework. Defining these components will fall to your internal marketing team or, better yet, a branding agency partner whom you trust to bring your brand to life.
Finally, a corporate identity system includes a comprehensive set of brand collateral, where the visual and verbal elements of your identity come to life. Your brand collateral should include everything from corporate stationary and business cards to sales presentation templates and your company website.
The individuals and teams responsible for creating and implementing your corporate identity system may vary—from internal team members to agency partners—but if you’ve established a strong positioning platform in the previous step, the assets they create should feel consistent and cohesive.
Examples of Corporate Identity
As you move through the process of creating an identity for your own business, it can be helpful to look at some examples of corporate identity from the world’s strongest and most successful brands. Each of the following is a prime example of how to craft and implement a powerful, cohesive identity.
Yes, its tech is revolutionary. But Apple also wins big thanks to its smart marketing and branding efforts—specifically through an iconic corporate identity rooted in simplicity.
For Apple, design reigns supreme. Its easy-to-use products and streamlined user interfaces embody a clean, crisp, and minimalist visual system—one where less is truly more. And its voice follows suit, with pithy yet approachable copy that never sounds overly complex or exclusionary.
The result? Thanks in large part to this corporate image, Apple became the first company in the world to reach a valuation of $3 trillion—and it is only continuing to grow from there.
In the world of shipping and logistics, FedEx’s corporate identity truly delivers.
Its punchy name alone cuts through an industry saturated with acronyms: UPS, DHL, APL Logistics, XPO Logistics, and SNCF, to name just a few. And FedEx’s streamlined orange and purple logo (complete with a hidden arrow in the middle) symbolizes the reliability and speed the brand has come to be known for—ever since it first pioneered express delivery services and package tracking systems.
Today, FedEx is one of the largest and most profitable global courier companies, earning $83.9 billion in 2021 and ranking 39 on the Fortune 500. Much of this can be tracked back to a corporate identity that is instantly recognizable and enduringly memorable.
When it comes to the success of businesses large and small, the importance of corporate identity cannot be overstated.
A diligent approach to defining your business’s visual and verbal identities, and to creating and implementing a cohesive, compelling identity system, will ensure your target audiences always perceive your brand in the best possible light, driving customer loyalty and business growth in the process.