Tag Archives: corporate identity

The three Cs (and the fourth)

Imagine a relationship between two people.

Maybe it’s yours with a partner or a friend. Maybe it’s your parents’ relationship or a friend’s marriage.

Maybe it’s blissful, maybe it’s wobbly from time to time, or maybe it’s a continual stream of misunderstandings and niggles. If it’s good, you can bet the couple in question have the three Cs down to a T. If it’s bad, they’re not applying the three Cs.

“What are these three Cs?” I hear you mutter impatiently, “And what the blazes has this babble about personal relationships to do with my business?”

The three Cs are communication, co-operation and consistency.

In a relationship, most people would agree, communication is fundamental to success. A couple that communicates well is given a greater chance of success; each party knows the other’s views, concerns and hopes.

Co-operation ought to speak for itself. No relationship can work if the people involved are continually at loggerheads. Identifying one another’s needs and goals and working together to meet and achieve them is critical to fulfilment.

Consistency needn’t mean predictability or lack of spontaneity. It does mean peace of mind, no misunderstandings and no mixed messages.

And the reason this is all relevant is that business is, in essence, a series of relationships.

Think of the various relationships between directors, managers and staff; department and department; company and stakeholders; company and staff; company and press; company and public; and company and client.

Now think about which departments are involved in these various relationships. Imagine all the room for miscommunication and misunderstanding and the innumerable adverse ways this could affect your business.

You can reduce the risk of lost sales, failed client relationships, staff disengagement, department rivalry and damage to public confidence in your company by applying the three Cs carefully.

How?

The most sensible way to ensure there is good communication internally and externally, co-operation between departments and consistency of message is this: all communications channels sit under the stewardship of one senior staff member, preferably at board level.

He or she should have a modern and collaborative approach, great delegation skills and trust in his or her teams, coupled with a good awareness of technology and its benefits.

It’s also crucial that relevant departments (marketing, communications, public relations, human resources and IT) understand that they are service departments first and foremost. They’re there to aid staff, other departments, and the company as a whole to achieve aims. They’re facilitators. I’ve seen IT departments, for instance, with their own agenda and the mistaken belief that they should choose and own all technology. Wrong. IT is a collection of tools to help others do their jobs. The role of the department is to facilitate this – to store, safeguard and assist in the dissemination of company data. HR is more than capable of evaluating the software it requires to do the job; IT needs to confirm the software will work and then do everything possible to deliver and support the HR department’s preferred choice.

The understanding that these departments are service departments is absolutely vital to cut out conflict and ensure co-operation.

Consider now all the methods of communication a company might use.

Internally:

• Email, intranet, news announcements, department and company newsletters & in-house magazines, training guides, introduction pack, staff handbooks, document templates and more

Externally:

• Email, website, blog, advertising, marketing material, social media, sales letters and bid documents, company newsletters and magazines, sponsorship, signage, branded goods, press releases, articles, report & accounts and other stakeholder communications.

It’s a lot to co-ordinate. And it’s originating from a number of different departments. These are all communication channels which need to be perfected in order to exploit them fully. But you can only hope to communicate internally and externally with real and positive impact if your decision-makers and heads of department are communicating and co-operating consistently.

That attitude, along with the methods and processes they should put in place, will greatly improve internal co-operation and communication. That in turn enables rounded, co-ordinated, complementary and non-duplicating external communications.

Is that it?

No. You see, I’ve left out two communications documents that deliver the third C.

Consistent tone of voice for your internal and external communications is a sign of professionalism. It increases staff engagement, public belief and client buy-in. The same goes for meaningful, aesthetic and consistent branding.

The two missing documents are the company style guide and the corporate identity guidelines. I’ve mentioned these previously as part of how to protect your brand, and they should become a company’s bible, and made available to every member of staff. In combination they help every department and every employee to deliver consistency.

So, the three Cs: co-operation, communication and consistency.

But wasn’t there a fourth?

Yep – and perhaps predictably enough, it’s copywriting.

Every element of every communications channel requires copywriting. That doesn’t mean you have to bring in a freelance copywriter if you already have the skills in-house, but the three Cs demonstrate the importance of the fourth – good copywriting. Your copywriter doesn’t just help you create the style guide and corporate identity which should inform your every communication; he or she has a direct bearing on every piece of communication you embark upon. It’s not fluffy nonsense (although it sure as hell isn’t working in a steelworks) – it’s fundamental to the success of every relationship your company is involved in.

How to protect your brand

Brand is not just a logo, not just a visual identity. Sure, it’s where the concept came about – branding irons marked livestock with a symbol that identified each beast as the property of an individual. But brand means so much more. It’s how you want to be perceived. It includes every possible visible facet of your company. Ultimately it’s a feeling you wish to invoke. And feelings, we all know, can be volatile, unpredictable and irredeemably damaged.

So how do you maintain the brand you were aiming to create, its identity and integrity? With rules, I’m afraid. Rules and a robust system of procedures to enforce them. Above all, you need the buy-in and support of the company’s upper echelons and the support for and from a team dedicated to reputation management.

At a minimum there are four sets of rules you should have in place; a checklist of policies which ensure brand protection and reputation management.

  1. Press policy
  2. Social media policy
  3. Corporate identity guidelines
  4. Style guide

Press policy

‘No comment’ can do more damage than silence. It carries the whiff of guilt. Equally you don’t want staff, and that should include Board-level personnel, chatting to the press at will. Every company should have a press policy in place, directing all press enquiries to a PR department that’s skilled in dealing with the wiliest or most persistent of journalists.

PR gets a bad name – some regard it as spin, hiding the truth, an excuse for news, and worse besides – but without the benefit of a sound press policy your company can miss out on the chance to pass on positive news, and carry out damage limitation on negative news. Your PR department protects your brand, your investment, your clients, and the livelihood of all your employees.

Social media policy

Like it or loathe it, social media is more than a passing fad. According to a UK Global Web Index survey conducted in January 2009 people trust the opinions of their online social network, and even bloggers they’ve never met, more than television news presenters, and only marginally less than colleagues. Around 40% of UK adults use social media at least once a month, and that number is predicted to increase. Ignore it at your peril; embrace it to control it.

Quite a few companies have suffered adverse publicity through the internet. It’s word of mouth on a global and instant scale. Construction companies have had site staff film dangerous and foolish antics and published their footage on YouTube, complete with company name emblazoned on seemingly ironic safety gear. Elsewhere staff have used social media to deliver damning verdicts on their employers and colleagues. Bad news folks, on the web nothing is truly private. A zero-tolerance attitude towards social media won’t protect you and can even generate negative publicity in itself. It’s time to take social media seriously.

Corporate identity guidelines

The original meaning of brand still matters as part of a whole. Designed well, a logo and rules about its application can influence public perception. Beyond the use of such established psychology, a company’s visual identity is a statement of professionalism. Consistency is sacrosanct. Any change should be undertaken with a specific aim in mind, and carefully timetabled and introduced. Shoddy use of your visual brand smacks of a ‘don’t care’ attitude, and even at a subconscious level your customers and clients may react negatively.

Think about it – when you receive mailings from Virgin trying to convince you to take up their latest broadband offering – every word, every colour, every instance of logo is positioned just so. If global firms place such importance on corporate identity, why should you be any different? If you want clients to respect your brand, you need to do the same.

Style guide

A style guide might be built into your corporate identity guidelines, but should be available as a standalone document. It should go without saying that both style guide and corporate identity manual are distributed to every department and available to every individual. Of particular importance are bid teams, marketing, PR/comms teams, secretaries/PAs, print & graphic design departments, as well of course as any external PR, marketing, creative or design agencies you engage.

Your style guide isn’t just about when to use a capital or when an abbreviation is acceptable, although these are vital components. It outlines your corporate tone of voice and increases consistency across your communications channels. And as with visual identity, consistency is the essence of a professional image. Why would you want your clients, or even your own staff, to receive anything but the impression you wish to convey?

And why am I, a copywriter, telling you these things? Two reasons. With a background in corporate communications and public relations I’ve seen first-hand how everyone from salesman to Board member can put a foot wrong. I’ve also seen how useful an external perspective can be and how important it is to have your policies worded in such a way their contents are not just understood but embraced.

You’ve spent time and money, sweat and tears creating a brand of which you can be proud – now don’t overlook protecting it.