When you set up the business, corporate identity wasn't exactly top of your shopping list. Your mother-in-law came up with the name, and your friend, who's a graphic designer, did a nice job on the stationery. But now the letterhead looks just a teeny bit amateurish, and you're not sure if you're sending out the right signals to customers. So how can you go about creating a coherent and distinctive identity for your enterprise?
UNDERSTAND WHAT AN IDENTITY IS. Says Ian Rowland-Hill, chief executive of the Design Business Association: 'Many smaller companies don't really understand what corporate identity can do for their business. They often think it is no more than a logotype.' Your logo is a key aspect of your identity. But it should also embrace every way that your company presents itself to the outside world, from the styling of your office reception to the way your receptionists greet your clients. It should encapsulate your values, and tell customers the type of business you are. It may even involve a change of name.
CALL IN THE PROFESSIONALS. The Nike 'swoosh' was reportedly created by an art student for dollars 30. But the implementation is almost as important as the visual solution and consultants have a rational process for creating an identity, which usually includes the following elements: research and investigation; formulation of brief; creative proposals; development; acceptance; implementation; and production of guidelines.
INVOLVE YOUR PEOPLE. 'You need to make sure that by the time you launch your new identity, your people will be happy with it,' says Claire Fuller, managing director of consultants Bamber Forsyth. 'Discuss the brief with staff, and take account of their views. Explain why you have decided on the identity you have; even if they don't like it, they will see the logic,' says Fuller.
CREATE A VISION STATEMENT. Most consultants believe that articulating in words what the company is trying to achieve is an invaluable step towards creating an identity. John Sorrell, chairman of consultancy Interbrand Newell & Sorrell, says: 'Whether you call it your purpose, mission, or vision and values, the process of sitting down and deciding what you believe in, then describing it in your own terms, is an extremely valuable exercise. It makes people focus on what they are trying to do.'
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Dave Allen, chief executive of identity group Enterprise IG, says: 'Too many companies make the mistake of confusing their identity with their communication strategy. As a result, they create an over-complex identity which is trying to communicate everything they want to say about themselves in one go.'
STAY REAL. Your identity should contain an element of aspiration, but only so long as it maintains contact with reality. 'Your identity can help you to move forward,' says Fuller. 'It can provide a beacon, a direction to people. But only if the company is progressing, and the positioning is not unrealistic.'
BE SENSITIVE. Both names and visual elements of your identity - colours and shapes - can be loaded with cultural significance. A cross wouldn't go down well in some countries. Colours mean different things to different cultures. So do your research.
GET READY TO ROLL. The speed at which you implement your identity is likely to be tempered by budget considerations. Gradual roll-out avoids wastage and reduces much of the cost through the process of natural replacement.
But there should always be a deadline, preferably no more than a year, for complete implementation. Overnight roll-out is more expensive, but it can provide the dramatic impact needed to change perceptions.
DO SAY: 'Creating a new identity will be a key component of our five-year strategy.'
DON'T SAY: 'Sharon, ring the art college and see if they've got any students who fancy knocking up a new identity for us.'