EXPERT ADVICE

Corporate Faces: The 5 Masks

Every corporation has a face. Imagery, shine and style are interlayered into a skin that appears as a mask; uplift captured by a distinct name identity poises it to reach the upper stratosphere of stardom.

Corporate masks are just like real people: Some are exciting and some boring; some you remember and some you forget; some you like, and some you simply don’t. Whether you like it or not, at this very moment, your corporate mask is out there on the block, fully exposed, and it’s being judged by the global markets.

Following are the five common masks — and now the question is not which is the best, but rather why? Any image is good if it is in sync with your long-term plans and can rings cash registers. Otherwise, these masks can choke and suffocate, which so often is the main reason grandiose business plans collapse. Take a deep breath, and be honest — but first look in the mirror.

The Hippie Mask

When an image is often a spinning burst of soft and bright colors, like a freeze- frame sliced from a kaleidoscope, when you hear hip-hop to bebop music from gentle to 140 beats per minute transfused form various eras and styles, when it’s always the right time to ride a brightly green microbus to watch the whales, and the sun hardly ever sets — welcome to early age hippie-land.

Here colors are wildly greenish and Jello-yellow, while images are carefully designed not only to gently touch your soul, but also firmly grab your wallet. This type of mask is all around us — from consumer-packaged goods to all other sectors.

Once exclusive to soda pop or soap selling, this style with its overly slip-n-slide and touchy-feely names has been adopted by a very large number of heavy industrial giants — from mega petrochemical to global mining companies — which have adopted such themes to fit eco-friendly trends.

Most of the time, such imagery does get attention, but high-density use of this motif makes the imagery overlapping and forgettable unless it is in your face all the time. For this reason alone, it accounts for the largest billing share of global ad marketing services.

Identifier: generic and forgettable names wrapped in logo themes.

Evaluation: appears easy and fun to play but works only with unlimited ad budgets.

Caution: How do these identities fit with the ever-expanding universe of a global audience, and how truly solid are their name identities and trademarks?

The Mortician Mask

This kind of mask is full of dull, dark and stale colors, often fading to black. Dark suits are a must, as are artificial smiles, firm handshakes and powerful scents. The distant sound of an organ is piped throughout the organization, where hypnotized posturing is considered fashionable.

Such masks worked very well before the e-commerce revolution. This kind of image is still very common in old-technology based manufacturing or financial services, but recently banks have begun dropping this altogether and are on the fast track to adopting brighter, psychedelic, fluid images.

This mortician mask, if named after the founders or some great landmark, city or country, gets rigidly stuck, limiting its reach in an ever-expanding global market.

Identifier: long and descriptive names, often initialized just to appear modern.

Evaluation: If the stifling of the old guard becomes an unspoken water-cooler mantra — or if despite all efforts, the old perception simply won’t go away.

Caution: The lingering and dying image often kills innovation or hurts morale.

The Ivy-League Mask

Here, a distinct element of intellectual snobbery seems a prerequisite. Sometimes it really exists, but most of the time it is just a show. In both cases, the image is driven with an elitist language and style — Times Roman fonts and formal lingo.

The projection of wealth, old money and a sense of security is the prime thrust. Dark green, dark burgundy and dark blue are the most sought-after colors. Famous and literary types of names are used as the corporate monikers.

The Internet has had a big impact on the style of corporate communications, With a flashy website, a mediocre offering can be made to appear very exclusive, backed by world class expertise.

Identifier: historical names and symbols with legendary quotes and references.

Evaluation: how to balance the image with delivery of quality and promise.

Caution: the increased dilution of classy ideas with mixed skills by flashier websites.

The Cybernaut Mask

Image, name and branding are mouse-driven, and what you see is not what you get. This image is here today and gone tomorrow. Ingenuity and stupidity are both displayed in a simultaneous interaction. Just don’t blink too fast.

Great ideas, packaged as silly brands and named in the most ridiculous fashion are the standard. It works — but extremely rarely. Subtlety and cuteness, once deciphered in the marketplace, often kill the cash flow.

Colors are mostly out of control. Total imagery and business model are translucent, while corporate name identity is transient. As technology changes, so do the names. There is constant surgery to an existing name, primarily to accommodate trademark conflicts — and secondly, because the original name never matched the core business.

This is a very crowded area, and of the millions of technology companies, less than 1 percent have achieved some stardom, despite great ideas. Most brilliant techies, along with their smart Vcs, are mostly chasing each other in masquerade balls all over the world.

Identifier: the most inappropriate, forgettable and technology-dependant names.

Evaluation: Names and messages are changed and modified every season to cope with technological and evolutionary trends.

Caution: Zealous creativity threatens the longevity of the name identity, and sudden changes take away customers’ connectivity with the business, thus sucking cash flow dry and spinning the business in a downward spiral.

The Dinosaur Mask

You can’t ignore the most twisted or irrelevant logos and colors wrapped around intertwined and multiple-meaning names, often as a result of long-term surgery to any mask.

The glory of the past and dynamic mergers and acquisitions create a disconnected train of iconic engines each pulling in a different direction. Here the long corridors and the stale smell of the office will lead you to the old graveyards.

Unexplainable color schemes and overuse of fluorescent lights at the squarely placed massive HQ complex speak loud and clear of the glories of the past. The corporate names are several feet long. Some get telescoped or initialized to some weird and strange combinations, acronym and initials.

Sometimes one can trace the bloody battles of mergers and acquisitions of the past in the lineage of the name, where a small part of the previous name or just a single letter is preserved as a mark of distinction. Hence, awkward names with confusing messages.

Identifier: Meet the Frankenstein monster, when several names of businesses are compressed and twisted together.

Evaluation: Long names always describe an older process, so why show off facial scars?

Caution: Any sudden change for a new mask must be based on deeply intelligent processes. Otherwise, a change may lead into something totally new, but its weird concoction would position the image in an undesired spot in a carnival parade. Most are too embarrassed to admit such fiascoes or decide to change all over again.

The Faceless Empires

There are millions of other organizations that do not place any importance at all on image and name identity. Welcome to the largest group on the planet — these faceless empires. Here, nothing makes a difference. What name? What image? What identity?

Like a humongous school project, the bosses run the operation by the seat of the pants without any global identity blueprint, always chasing profit in panic and often in the dark, but constantly complaining about lack of attention given to them in the markets.

For every well-defined image and identity, there are thousands of such faceless organizations. The economic meltdown and commoditization are both critical wake-up calls for this sector.

Makeover Techniques

These particular masks represent last-century thinking, when solutions presented by creative agencies of the period molded these types of business imagery. Now, in a post-meltdown and hyper-accelerated global image-shifting world, most appear to be misfits.

No matter what, keeping an open mind is the best way to measure the cost of keeping your current mask, identity and layers of imagery. You can bring brand new special knowledge to your organization on how to achieve the right makeover, but please do not confuse this with traditional logo-slogan-dependent rebranding processes.

Image makeovers, in a post-meltdown adjustment are extremely critical today, but the first thing you need is a real mirror.

Naseem Javed

Naseem Javed, founder of ABC Namebank, is recognized as a world authority on image positioning and global naming complexities. He is currently helping corporations on ICANN's new gTLD cyberplatforms and lecturing on new nomenclature frontiers and global cyberbranding.

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