Several months ago, New Media, the online publication for Internet architects, which recently ceased operations, featured a puzzle by Scott Kim. Called Puzzler: True Colors, it asks readers to match company names with corporate colors. While the puzzle is aimed at testing the powers of observation, it also leads to larger observations: how much similarity exists in the marketplace, and, given what appear to be a finite number of options, how difficult is it for an organization to distinguish itself? Aspects of Identity Granted, corporate colors, logos and slogans are only pieces of overall image projection. The product line and method of delivery are obviously key factors when it comes to consumer perception. But, for some customers, a company’s stand on a political issue or decisive actions in matters of social responsibility can also be relevant. Ideological compatibility can lead to product purchases. There are companies that are known for this type of image building as much, if not more, as goods or services. The People of the World United Colors of Benetton is one such organization. The Italian company, which designs and manufacturers clothing and sports equipment, promotes diversity with its very name. Its clothing advertisements are known for featuring people of color. The homepage of the company website includes three categories: “Who We Are,” “What We Say,” and “What We Make.” Selecting “What We Say,” in the center of the homepage, leads to a page where the quote “All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” appears. On this page, two of the three categories and corresponding subcategories are devoted to issues of social responsibility. Choosing “Our Communications,” under the heading “About Who We Are,” leads to details about Benetton’s communications campaigns. Selecting “United Colors Divided Opinions,” under “About Who You Are,” provides a list of themes and issues the company has taken on, with links to information and details about each communications effort. One of the campaigns undertaken in the year 2000 was “We, on Death Row.” It used billboard advertising, newspaper ads and the Benetton website to educate people about the faces on death row. In addition, a magazine with death row inmate photographs and interviews was created and sent as an insert to Talk magazine subscribers. In the past 10 years, Benetton has aggressively campaigned for other human rights issues and has worked with organizations such as the United Nations, FAO, and the Red Cross on projects ranging from AIDS awareness and research to support for relief efforts in Kosovo. The company’s most recent communications campaign uses the slogan “Breaking Down Stereotypes” and addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict. United Colors at Benetton does offer online shopping. But it is available at a sub-site called www.theex.it. This Place Earth The outdoor clothing and gear manufacturer Patagonia is another company known for its culture. Focused on enjoying the earth but creating products that limit environmental impact, the California-based Patagonia promotes its commitment in all its advertising. The company also places identity alongside goods at its Web site. Categories at the homepage are “Shop,” “Customer Service,” “Enviro Action,” “Sports We Do,” “Our Culture,” and “Design Philosophy.” By choosing “Enviro Action,” a customer or jobseeker can read about how Patagonia has eliminated chlorine bleach from cotton fabrics to reduce the use of formaldehyde, and how it gives one percent of sales or 10 percent of pre-tax profits, whichever is more, to grassroots environmental movements. Selecting “Our Culture” leads to subcategories that include “Working Here,” “Our Roots” and “Press Room.” The message for the job seeker comes across loud and clear: work at Patagonia involves supporting a very specific ideal. If a person is not interested in the company’s focus, regardless of the position, the odds are against job satisfaction. A Different Appearance United Colors of Benetton and Patagonia are examples of companies with strong external messages that speak to customers and candidates, and indeed the entire world, about company commitment and corporate culture. However, in the effort to aggressively compete, corporate identity can sometimes get lost. As a result, many organizations are going to great lengths to create what could be called secondary identities in order to appeal to younger workers. The main communications vehicle for this “other face” is the Web. Creating a secondary website, which is either an offshoot of an existing site or a standalone site, with lots of lights and action, is something companies are doing in order to project a progressive image. Truth in Advertising But while the ability to entice potential employees using media may be tempting, it’s important not to alter your company’s identity to the point of distortion. The answer lies in articulating your message. What your company’s identity says to potential candidates will have an influence on the kinds of employees you attract. And it is they who will determine the company you build.
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