A strong Corporate Identity due to Community Building

How a participatory corporate culture creates sustainable value

In order to have a positive public perception, a company nowadays needs a common sense – the purpose. Closely related to this is corporate identity: it shapes the company’s mission statement. The boundaries between corporate communications, community building, branding and design are fluid.

In order to have a positive public perception, a company nowadays needs a common sense – the purpose. Closely related to this is the concept of corporate identity: it shapes the company’s mission statement. The boundaries between corporate communications, community building, branding and design are fluid – top management, professional employees and customers all influence the process of identity creation in equal measure.

A sustainable social contract for the 21st century

“Purpose matters,” board members and executives agree. Ethical questioning of entrepreneurial actions and the search for deeper meaning in a value chain that is largely fixated on expansionist optimization mania, cost reduction, status-driven hyperconsumption and aggressive resource allocation are red-hot. But what is actually meaningful? Entrepreneurial answers to this question range from the future orientation of the company to the promotion of social participation and an efficient circular economy to the support of good causes such as education, the fight against poverty and international understanding.

Pressure on companies is increasing as consumers demand clear commitments and concrete blueprints on how to shape a just and dignified future of an interconnected planet. At the same time, they are demanding orientation and support in the face of unprecedented challenges and consequential damage from the Anthropocene epoch. According to the market research study “Sustainable Living 2020”, 69% of respondents see brands and companies as having a greater social responsibility than before. They demand authentic, transparent and committed communication, seeing the burden of responsibility as falling almost equally on the state and themselves, in addition to companies. Sustainable conditions in the food, energy, mobility/transport and health sectors are particularly important to them.

But what measures can be used to achieve such generally formulated goals as sustainability? The fact that a consensus on this is not so easy to negotiate is demonstrated by the emotionally charged discussion on the topic of climate protection in the media and online communities. Instead of discussing concrete conditions for financing sustainable growth, proxy discussions are conducted around symbolic individual measures. Practices such as greenwashing also show that companies have an inadequate understanding of the debate about meaning. While expensively produced corporate social responsibility campaigns are presented to the public, business as usual is done in the backroom. Is this still misguided communication or already consumer fraud?

Pride and prejudice of the bazaar community

To this day, many companies follow the common communication concept that says: achieve credibility through freedom from contradiction. Sticking to a consistent, strategic overall concept is fundamentally correct. But in an omni-channel world of overlapping communication channels, where different target groups consume and act in real time, delivering the same static message to everyone is problematic. Minimal mistakes are exposed by the mass of critical public in no time and let the strategy fall flat or even lead to an opposite negative effect.

Our digital world, especially social media, is characterized by populist stimulus control and a concise, aphoristic mode of communication. Instead of lengthy deliberation and the search for master plans, an impulsive actionism prevails that agilely adapts to new trends: attitude beats methodology. Strict adherence to a predefined communication strategy can quickly be misunderstood by the community as stubborn, uncompromising insistence and arrogance. Closed marketing strategies that emphasize selected facts in favor of others and cannot flexibly adapt to new facts are not infrequently perceived as manipulative and insincere.

Corporate communications must be more consistently aligned with the community base in order to provide positive orientation. Instead of classic marketing of a predefined message that runs top-down, today’s media communication is non-linear and participatory. In the bazaar community, content can no longer be assigned to a single sender or recipient, but instead ghosts through the communication spaces as fragmented narratives, with the community’s feedback acting directly back on them. A communications strategy must plan for and absorb these reactions without the company bending too much.

Companies must learn to view communication as a process involving many different stakeholders. Interactive community building offers enormous potential, as it provides a practical experimentation environment for communication strategies, from which – properly implemented – all sides benefit. If companies are open to this process, they have the chance to learn from the input of the community and to align themselves with new target markets at an early stage. Crises can be used optimally for further development by serving as a reorientation, image change or image booster.

Corporate identity creates trust through lived values

The corporate identity includes the corporate philosophy and the long-term objective. In addition to the strategy and the general vision, however, the corporate identity of a company also includes the organizational reality, corporate policies, management performance, cultural artifacts and symbols, and fundamental beliefs and values that have evolved over the years in everyday business on the basis of best practices. This primarily affects employees, but also the wider network of business partners and customers – the Corporation Community.

A positive, clearly perceivable corporate identity increases motivation and support among employees. As an integrative force, it creates security and trust, improves morale and productivity, supports the recruitment of new employees, and ensures low labor turnover. This, in turn, only succeeds if all employees are involved in bringing the corporate identity to life in the daily work process. Then it works towards a healthy corporate culture and thus also improves the image and reputation of the company.

Studies show that image and reputation reduce risks and increase market share. In contrast to corporate identity, which depicts a company’s self-image, image emerges from the public’s external image. Reputation verifies the congruence of image and actual actions of the company over a longer period of time. Both image and reputation can therefore only be influenced indirectly via corporate identity as target variables – ultimately, the community decides whether the identification offer is credible.

Mastering corporate crises through flexible role offerings

Corporate identity has traditionally been understood as an unchanging entity, leader-generated and integrated into processes perceived as natural. But what happens when the concept proves to be ineffective, inadequate, inconsistent or excessive? The human being as a “persistent unit that remains eternally the same in the floods of change,” as Friedrich Schiller once wrote, is today a liquid interface in which the most diverse orders, processes of consciousness and feelings converge. In the same way, a corporate identity must be able to change without breaking apart as a whole. To this end, crises must be planned for and proactively mastered.

The longer a company exists, the more likely it is to run the risk of stagnating its initial innovative zeal and thus its long-term success.  As the company grows, rules and bureaucratic processes increase, authority structures become entrenched, and the average age of employees rises. The division of work into subunits increases, which increases the distance between hierarchical levels. Large corporations with many subunits will find it difficult to reduce their philosophy to a core identity or even a marketing slogan in change management. How do you deal with this situation?

Every corporate culture is a bundle of complex processes, contradictions and asymmetrical power relationships. Instead of focusing on avoiding conflicting goals and conforming closed interaction, orientation and integration should take place via the offer of flexible roles that strengthen individual responsibility and self-efficacy. Create harmony – not only in transformation phases – through an appreciative and open climate, multidimensionality of perspectives and identity of word and deed, instead of intervening too strongly in a directive manner. Then the community will also forgive mistakes, both on the part of the staff and the consumer audience.

Proactively use change of identities in the corporate culture

Sociological models understand identity as a dynamic interaction between the self-perception of the individual and the conventions and requirements of the environment. In order to develop a stable identity, the first step is the detachment from the mediated group identity. It is thus the alienation that precedes the active and willing adaptation to the cultural conditions. The process of identification is therefore by no means without tensions and ruptures – on the contrary, distancing is constitutive for the formation of one’s own point of view.

How can divergent views be successfully integrated into the company? According to Denison’s corporate culture model, four characteristics in their interplay are decisive for efficiency: mission, consistency, adaptability and participation. There is a dynamic tension between adaptability – stimulating progress – and consistency – maintaining the core. Innovation here consists above all in motivating employees to participate in order to achieve the necessary adaptive performance together. Only in this way can corporate identity have a stabilizing effect in the sustainability triangle of economy, ecology and society, without getting in the way of change.

Generating intrinsic motivation can only succeed through the integration and promotion of personal goals and ambitions. Strategic corporate development should therefore always take into account the energy and development potential in the organization and in the audience in order to make optimal use of its imaginary capital. What is needed above all are competent leaders who understand how to engage and unite the community for the corporate identity and accompany it on the path of change.


Corporate Identity entsteht durch Community Building.

  1. VALUE CREATION. Systematically explore and leverage employee talent reserves to drive organic inspiration and empowered self-activation at all levels of the organization.
  2. VALUE ADDING. If you proactively involve the community in product and feature development, you will not only receive valuable feedback from the target group for value creation, but also stimulate the community’s desire to participate in the creative process.
  3. VALUE CREATION. If you support the process with incentive and performance-based evaluation systems, you can map and control progress.
Simone Belko is a media scientist and European studies scholar with a strong focus on digital literacy. With experience in journalism, PR, marketing, IT and training she has excelled in Germany and abroad. As a manager for digital products in the online games and FinTech industry she gained deep insights into online platforms and communities. Simone is the author of "Digital Consciousness" ("Das digitale Bewusstsein") and currently works at Otto GmbH, leveraging her expertise in business transformation.

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