9 February 2021, Views, LinkedIn

Identity has top priority: the CEO as Chief Identity Officer (CIdO)

»Who am I and if so, how many?« When it comes to the question of identity, things can quickly get complicated. Personally, you might reach for a self-discovery guidebook. As a society, we may be engaged in the umpteenth debate about a guiding culture. As important as the question of identity is in a personal or national context, for companies it is a critical issue for success and thus for survival. After all, a clear identity makes a company tangible for customers - and attractive for its own or new employees. The design and maintenance of this identity should therefore be a »matter for the boss« in any case.

Brandsformation – the brand as a tool in transformation
The brand – for organizations we speak of the corporate brand – is the maximum compression of the corporate identity. It is the most condensed expression of the company's self-conception with regard to its relationship with all stakeholders – all the more so when the company wants to advance strategically or is exposed to disruptive changes. This is why, ultimately and first and foremost, the CEO must also see himself as the supreme guardian of his own corporate brand or identity. In this respect, the Chief Executive Officer is always also the most important »Chief Identity Officer« – or »CIdO«. In this function, he must drive the »brandsformation« – the continuous development of the corporate brand as a driver and sense-maker in the transformation. Luca de Meo, CEO of Renault, recently showed how to perfectly communicate such a process: He succinctly and accurately describes the future course and the planned transformation of the French carmaker into a software-driven technology group as »Renaulution«.
Thinking strategy, culture and brand together
And why should such a process always be a matter for the CEO? Because the identity of a company is always more than just the sum of all marketing activities. Rather, the identity is also an important tool for the CEO to better manage corporate transformation processes. Against this backdrop, the corporate identity unites the self-defined purpose of existence (Why do we exist?) with the desired values (How are we? / How do we want to be?) in a target identity. As a corporate brand, this must always be thought of in the context and interaction of the factors »strategy & business model« on the one hand and »corporate culture & self-perception« on the other: The strategy is an expression of the will. Culture is an expression of ability. Anyone who wants to lead his company into the future without paying attention to culture should remember the famous words Peter Drucker: »Culture eats strategy for breakfast!« In this respect, every transformation process should not only identify the goal of the strategy, but also the starting point of the »cultural journey«. This is the only way that the CEO can purposefully steer what is usually a necessary cultural change or successfully manage a potential cultural clash (e.g. in M&A).

In the context of corporate branding, the CEO must also consider how the identity, purpose and values of the company can be made tangible: Creating identification internally – and positioning the company attractively externally. After all, perception is reality.
Leading the way – generating momentum
The CEO should therefore also be responsible for defining all these factors and their interaction. For the creation of a convincing and consistent corporate identity makes a significant contribution to the success of a company. The fact that this plays an important role, especially in the context of change processes, and that branding techniques can be used to convincingly sell a change in strategy, is illustrated, for example, by a look at VW: CEO Herbert Diess recently repositioned the group's strategic orientation by declaring Tesla and Apple to be their peer group, rather than BMW or Daimler. His message: VW is no longer the classic car producer, but first and foremost a software company that sells mobility.
This example also shows: The identity of a company should be stable, but not static.
While the corporate brand needs stability, it also needs to »live« and be regularly reinterpreted depending on the context (What does this mean for us? Why are we deciding this way now and not another?) without constantly subjecting the identity-defining elements of the corporate brand itself to change. Only in this way can the brand provide orientation in a rapidly changing world. And only in this way can the corporate brand become the third pillar of successful corporate management alongside strategy and culture – and the identity of a company quite naturally become the responsibility of the CEO a.k.a. CIdO.


Author: Sebastian May & Christopher Wünsche
Published on LinkedIn, Tuesday, 09 February 2021



Truffle Bay is an owner-managed, integrated strategic brand consulting and design agency based in Munich. With clarity and creativity we help ambitious companies and entrepreneurs to discover, define, design and bring to life their unique identity – to create strong brands as the compass and catalyst of entrepreneurial change processes as well as attractive and differentiating brand experiences to win and retain customers and employees.

Truffle Bay is a member of bvik – Bundesverband Industrie Kommunikation e.V. Test


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