What Is Your Business Identity And Why Should You Care?

Your business identity is not just a descriptor of your business’s line of work. Rather, it should be a message that “sells” a coherent vision of what your business wants to achieve and why it is different (and better) than competitors. This is also known as “your brand”. Business identity is made up of a number of intangibles. Company name, trading name, domain names, trade marks, straplines and colours are just some of the ways you can convey your business identity. With thought and planning you can control (virtually) all of the intangibles and ensure they are working for you. 

The major reason to invest in your business identity is that it is the strongest pillar of business growth. Global brands like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have achieved phenomenal growth by relentlessly focussing on developing and protecting business identity everywhere they trade.

Closer to home, Telecom is spending $20m implementing a new business identity based around a name change to “Spark”. A key motivation for the change, as CEO Simon Moutter puts it, is that it “better represents what we are today - it is all about digital services, fibre, mobile, data, cloud, entertainment, apps, or whatever new technology is around the corner".[1]

Behind the new image is the reality that Telecom has had to change its business model due to anti-trust regulation and increasing competition, as well as the impact of the digital revolution.  It’s not always easy to predict what’s around the corner, but all business owners must understand and control their business identity to support growth plans for the business.

Here are some practical reasons to invest in and protect business identity:

Good business identity awareness gives flexibility to move forward

  • As we’ve seen with Telecom, brands which describe the business’s offering can lead to a business identity dead-end. Note the clever 2-step process Telecom used to transition goodwill from “Telecom” to the new brand Spark by introducing the scribble logo 5 years before the name change.
  • The dairy co-operative merger which established the Fonterra dairy business giant went to a lot of trouble developing the “Fonterra” brand. Special care was taken to ensure it was not offensive in any language or already in use internationally. Although there was some initial scepticism, the brand has stood the test of time and evolution of the Fonterra business model.
  • And would we be listening to songs by Mark Foster & the People if early feedback had not prompted a change of name to Foster the People? (Yes, bands are businesses too!)

If it’s any good, a competitor will try to steal it

  • This can happen where a business is in transition. The threat may come from someone with a personal grudge looking for an opportunity to do you some damage. Owners of a manufacturing industry business which had just launched its new online identity were puzzled to find searches for the business ended up at a competitor’s website. The owners, who had previously all worked for the competitor, were stunned to find all their (unprotected) business brands registered as domain names linking to the competitor’s website!
  • It may be a case of a legacy business identity not standing up to the pressures of online competition. For example, Nakedbus were able to exploit Intercity’s somewhat generic brand by using “inter city” in Google adwords.[2]

Business Identity may be the only part of your business IP investors can understand

  • Businesses such as cloud infrastructure and service providers use a new and evolving business model.

Often such businesses are essentially project-based with most IP (intellectual property) resulting from the project’s output transferring into the hands of the customer on completion. Understandably, this can be problematic from an investor’s point of view.

For this type of business, development and protection of business identity is essential and should be high priority.

[1] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11207031

[2] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11204106




(From our Spring Newsletter 2014)


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