Using the Corporate Brand Identity Matrix (CBIM) to shape a cohesive brand narrative

“When a corporate identity is coherent, each of the other elements will inform and echo the brand core, resonating with the company’s values and what the brand stands for. The core, in turn, will shape the other eight elements.” – Mats Urde

Corporate brand identity is the internal activities undertaken to shape audience perception and sentiment. An amalgamation of corporate design, corporate communication, and corporate behaviour, through materials such as:

  • Corporate identity guidelines (e.g., style, visuals, and language)
  • Logo and website design
  • Marketing and promotional strategies
  • Content creation for websites and blogs
  • Personality and tone of voice guidelines
  • Policies and standard operating procedures
  • Corporate communication guidelines

In essence, a corporate brand identity is the actions an organisation takes to present a specific image of themselves to the world. The benefits of a clearly defined and cohesive identity are numerous. It can help strengthen your competitive voice, build your reputation and trust amongst target audiences, promote consistency and stability, and in recruitment efforts.

Before undertaking such actions however, it is important to first define the identity within the organisation, aligning everyone with a shared narrative. One approach for such an undertaking is utilising the Corporate Brand Identity Matrix (CBIM).

The CBIM is a framework designed to “guide an executive team through a structured set of questions about the company.” It is formed using a 3 x 3 grid (9 elements total), each element focussing on a different aspect of the organisation’s identity.  It is constructed using three layers:

  • Internal elements (the bottom row): The foundations of corporate brand identity, the values of the organisation and functional efficiencies
  • External elements (the top row): How the organisation wants to be perceived by customers and other external stakeholders
  • External / internal elements (the middle row): The organisation’s unique character and how they want to communicate, underpinned by the brand core

Each element of the framework is accompanied by ‘indicative questions’, the intention to “initiate the discussion of a particular element in practice.” For example, ‘value proposition’ is framed by the question ‘what are our key offerings, and how do we want them to appeal to customers and other stakeholders, ‘culture’ poses the question ‘what are our attitudes, and how do we work and behave?’.

In practice, unpacking the CBIM is not intended to be a siloed task, the thoughts of one leader, rather a shared exploration (workshop) with key strategic figures within an organisation. It is suggested each element is considered individually and on its own merits, best results stemming from answers that are concise, straightforward, authentic and timeless. As each element is answered a narrative about the corporate brand starts to form.

Once the CBIM is completed, it is recommended a more holistic view is taken, analysing the whole picture and how each element fits together. The structure of the matrix lends itself to ‘correspondence amongst the elements’. As Mats Urde (the mind behind the framework) explains:

“The CBIM guides the alignment of the corporate brand identity. Its structure suggests key correspondences among the elements, such as that between culture and relationships, and personality and expression. Do they in fact correspond? Are there gaps that need to be addressed? Does the brand core fulfil its role as the centre?”- Mats Urde

The graphic below describes how each element may be connected, grouping by organisation ‘capabilities’. The first diagonal focuses on strategy, the other competition. The horizontal pass interaction and the vertical communication.

With a cohesive and well-defined corporate brand identity, each of the elements should complement the other. If not, further workshopping and discussion may be needed to better align how the company intends to be perceived and ways of operating.

“If your corporate brand identity is clear, the elements on each axis will harmonize. The stronger the connections along each axis are, the more “stable” the matrix is. One of your team’s goals should be to maximize stability.” – Greyser and Urde, 2019

Crafting a well-defined corporate brand identity is a collaborative process that aligns the organisations actions with a desired presentation of self to customers and other external stakeholders. Using the Corporate Brand Identity Matrix tool, organisations can create a cohesive and stable brand identity that reinforces their competitive voice, builds trust, and fosters a positive reputation among target audiences.

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