The corporation as brand: an identity dilemma.

Author:Bailey, Irving W., II

The payoff of adopting a new identity--a package that includes a company's name, brandmark, and marketing pitch--may be access to hitherto hard-to-penetrate consumer groups and greater market share.

What's in a corporate name? Could be plenty. Consider the following scenarios:

* Providian Corporation, formerly Capital Holding, was originally the parent corporation of a number of traditional home-service life insurance companies. But over time, the company acquired a direct-response insurance business and a small non-bank that now issues credit cards, and built an accumulation business with financial products and services for both institutional and retail customers. At the same time, the corporation's management structure evolved from one of highly autonomous business units to one that is far more integrated. The word "holding" could not convey the corporation's mission and structure or the breadth and scope of its operating companies' products and services.

* Market research revealed that Geo. A. Hormel & Co. was perceived by consumers to be an old-fashioned pork butcher with products that failed to appeal to the health-conscious. Updating its product line, the $2.8 billion company sought a fresh image.

* Kentucky Fried Chicken, too, faced problems as consumers eschewed fatty foods. Expanding its menus, the company, a division of Purchase, NY-based PepsiCo, sought to retain its distinctive red and white logo, while abandoning the word "fried."

In each case, the solution to the business problem was a new corporate identity, an entity that comprises visual components (name, logo, colors, brandmark), and thematic elements, including an advertising slogan or tag-line. Not all identity changes are successful: For example, take the decision by United Airlines-parent UAL to change its name to Allegis, or Beatrice Foods' decision to "brand the corporation," placing its name on unrelated divisions and products. But as competition stiffens in industries across the board, a company's identity--like the brands it underpins--may be a key source of competitive advantage, leading to greater marketing clout, access to hitherto hard-to-penetrate consumer groups, and increased sales and market share.

"The new identity has been instrumental in integrating Hormel's diverse product portfolio," says CEO Joel W. Johnson. "Coupled with more appealing packaging, this has contributed to bottom-line performance."

"With a consolidated name, everything became less costly, from signage to advertising and$printing," says William M. Crozier Jr., chairman, president, and CEO of $10.5 billion-asset BayBanks, originally the Boston-based parent of 11 individually named suburban Massachusetts banks, which over the past decade completed the transition to a single identifier. "With a single voice, our brand has become a major corporate asset."


The circumstances listed above by no means form a complete list of the reasons corporations seek an identity overhaul. Consider this diagnostic checklist, prepared by our identity consultant, Interbrand Schechter.

* Have you recently completed a major acquisition, merger, or divestiture?

* Must you quickly and forcefully convey a positioning change--perhaps a shift in focus--to all your audiences?...

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