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What’s in a corporate image? Most businesses don’t know, and overlook the fact that research plays a vital part in analysing a company’s identity. By Sophie McKenzie

SBHD: What’s in a corporate image? Most businesses don’t know, and overlook the fact that research plays a vital part in analysing a company’s identity. By Sophie McKenzie

The Nineties have not been easy for research companies in the corporate identity markets. Not only have organisations cut back on marketing expenditure – particularly in new and unproven areas – but little has been done to further understanding of what a corporate image actually is.

Indeed, the press has been critical of businesses that have spent heavily on attempted image revamps, ignoring the fact that businesses which seek to review their visual identity are often also challenging all aspects of their identity, including the way they do business, their organisational structure, and the presentation of their product ranges.

Also overlooked is the fact that research plays an important part in analysing a company’s identity, working out how to change it and tracking those changes.

Under these conditions it is unsurprising that the few companies which do acknowledge the significance of identity have much idea of what can be achieved.

Strategic Marketing and Research Consultants managing director Roger Munby says: “Companies do recognise the importance of research into their corporate images but there’s a degree of dislocation between recognising and doing.”

Often businesses do not believe image can be measured effectively and therefore under-budget for it. John Orsmond, chairman of integrated marketing services company Advertising Research Marketing (ARM), says: “This can give rise to decision-making based on small-sampling techniques where the margins of error and risk are greater.”

So how can companies measure their image? Traditional methods include the commissioning of research into their reputation among the public. In a MORI poll carried out in 1992, 47 per cent of the public stated that the “quality of products and services” offered by an organisation was the most important factor in their judgment of its corporate reputation, followed by “customer service” (17 per cent) and “treatment of staff/industrial relations” (11 per cent).

MORI also notes that “social responsibility” and the “stance taken by organisations towards environmental issues” are becoming crucial factors in consumers’ judgments of their corporate reputations.

IAS research manager Susan Helm says: “We ask the market, usually people picked at random, to rank our clients by criteria. For example, we might ask them to rank a selection of companies, including our client, according to perceived level of service and quality of product. A more detailed approach would be to call actual customers and do a satisfaction survey.” For instance, customers could be asked what they think of a product or service and why they hold that opinion.

Press coverage achieved by an organisation is another indicator of its public image. There are organisations which monitor press coverage in the papers measuring each reference for positive or negative comment and awarding it points according to a pre-determined scale.

Qualitative and quantitative research can be useful in this instance. Quantitative clarifies what proportion of people hold which views, while qualitative aims to analyse those views. Munby believes qualitative can be more crucial and “hasn’t been given enough attention yet”.

Munby explains: “Surveys into people who use you can provide a lot of useful information. But you don’t just want to know what they think of you. What are they like? Not just in terms of gender, age, class and other demographics, but also in the sense of lifestyles and attitudes. And what is their purchasing behaviour like? Are they now lapsed users? How much and how deeply do they use you?”

This information is important as it stands but if the customer profile it gives is matched to profiles of non-users, a whole database of prospective customers emerges.

Of course it is hard to come up with a standard system for measuring image. It is not an exact science and this makes many companies wary of committing time and money to a measurement project.

Design consultancy Sampson Tyrell is working on a corporate brand research tool. Director Charles Trevail says: “Companies used to think that if you couldn’t measure it you couldn’t manage it. Now they are changing to see their identity as a brand that can be measured. So they are prepared to commit to more research if they think it will help them achieve better sales.”

Performance Measurement Systems (PMS) are IT-based resources which can be applied throughout all areas of marketing communications, from PR, often considered to be the most difficult marketing discipline to measure, to exhibitions and direct-response TV. So far very few UK companies have made a commitment to PMS.

However, Advertising Research Marketing (ARM) has worked with PMS for a number of clients. ARM’s Orsmond says: “Pioneering users who have been working long enough to mature their services and products and who have put PMS disciplines to work across a wide enough mix of creative and other marketing communications activities, can already point to impressive gains. For example, applications in the publicity area show users can point to upwards of 40 per cent in cost savings, and well over 100 per cent in productivity gains.”

It can take up to six months to design, test and debug the software systems for PMS. Orsmond emphasises the importance of training and induction and says controls must be in place to guard against the risk of drowning in information, as much as being starved of knowledge.

However, through the careful use of PMS, Orsmond claims a company can work out per supplier (for instance, PR company), per medium (for example, editorial press), who created a message, who sent it to whom, how much coverage it generated and whether this was favourable or unfavourable. The company can also calculate the cost and value of an individual message as well as the cost, value and volume of all the information generated each month – and much more besides. And it can do this using a PMS system for each medium covered or by integrating one measurement system throughout.

Research company Incide points out the importance of measuring all of a company’s target audiences, including its staff. Incide managing director Allard Marx says: “One of the main problems is that there are so many different experts looking after a company’s image. The corporate image consultants look after the image and logo, the PR agencies are concerned with tomorrow’s headlines, while the advertising agencies are concerned with selling products. Each expert uses research for differing purposes. Research companies, therefore, tend to work with either the in-house research departments or with the consultants and very rarely look at all the elements that make up that image.”

Incide already has a number of tracking programmes including Image Track, which measures changes in perceptions over time. It will shortly launch a new service called Concourse Corporate Navigation, which is designed to help companies develop an internal framework to ensure all corporate activities are co-ordinated with the same image objectives in mind.

Sophisticated products, which could improve all aspects of clients’ image-tracking, do exist. But the message is not getting through to client companies, few of which are really aware of their potential. Munby attributes this to the job cuts of the past ten years – casualties have included many specialist researchers in client companies. “This means the initiative is often taken by marketing people who may not know very much about research,” adds Munby.

The client companies that hoped to save money by cutting back on research staff may now be missing the opportunities – and cost savings – which their expertise could bring. The initiative must now come from the research companies themselves, which must make it their business to lead the way in developing and demonstrating the potential of new research processes.

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