Corporate image is dynamic and subject to change

The system of signifiers for a corporate symbol is open and richly diverse, so is its system of the signifieds. Due to differences in temporal and spatial conditions, the signifier of the same symbol may generate totally different meanings and convey different signifieds. This implies that, even within the same temporal and spatial dimensions, the differences in the backgrounds of the public may result in different interpretations of the same signifier. For example, “Moutai Wine,” one of the most expensive white wines in China, has always been an important symbol for its manufacturer, Kweichow Moutai Company Limited. Throughout history, the wine as a signifier has never changed - its ingredients, its manufacturing technology and its quality have all remained constant. But the signified, the social meaning that the wine conveys, has remarkably changed, from its original meaning of “a type of wine of very high quality” to “a luxury commodity which stands for a certain social class and status.” Because of this, the corporate image of the manufacturer has also changed, projected as a high-end enterprise engaged in the production of luxury commodities. But as an increasing number of cases of fake wine are reported, there have emerged many new social commentaries about this luxury commodity, which have been incorporated as the new signified of the Moutai Wine as a commercial brand.

Precisely because both the system of the signifier and the system of the signified of a corporate symbol are open, the corporate image is capable of dynamic changes. As a dominant agent, an enterprise can change the public’s past impressions and judgments about itself and develop a more appealing corporate image which is more closely geared to the present-day social needs by altering its own objective conditions and utilizing various kinds of communication channels.

It is precisely this possibility of change that makes it an enduring undertaking to an enterprise to maintain and improve its corporate image. To develop and maintain a positive corporate image is by no means an easy task, because such an image could be devastated overnight due to the failure of even the slightest detail. As pointed above, the symbols that convey a corporate image can be infinite in number, composed of a great number of specific details. Every detail can become a crucial symbol that produces a defining impact on the corporate image and any negligence in a single detail may negatively impact the entire corporate image. This is what might be called “the whole may be altered by even the minutest detail.” The reason is that, for the public, the negligence of the detail that an individual witnesses or experiences might make up the whole of his perception about a particular enterprise. It may also set him imagining that the enterprise can be marred by flaws in a number of other aspects. In other words, such negligence may act as a typical symbol that the individual may use to generalize about the enterprise and to derive a negative meaning, the signified, that could damage the overall image of the enterprise. It may even be possible that a crisis might be generated for the reputation of the enterprise. Although a judgment that infers about the whole based on a particular detail might suffer from a certain degree of subjective partiality, this is nevertheless one of the fundamental ways of how human beings think, and its efficacy has been demonstrated since antiquity.

Any medium that is related to an enterprise can become a symbol capable of producing an impact on the corporate image. No one can quantify the exact number of symbols or what kind of corporate image has been conveyed by those symbols, nor is it possible for anyone to predict what kind of symbols would emerge in the future and what image could be communicated by such symbols. Any positive or negative media reports about an enterprise, any specific person or incident, or even any particular catch phrase that has temporarily gained wide currency could all turn into fragmentary symbols that produce a certain impact on the corporate image at any time. The impact produced by melamine on the reputation of Sanlu Group, a major manufacturer of dairy products in China’s Hebei Province, is a case in point. Prior to 2008, the corporate image of Sanlu Group was not in any way associated with the chemical substance melamine. But after Sanlu Group’s baby-formula milk powder was discovered to have contained the hazardous melamine, this chemical substance soon became an overwhelming corporate symbol of Sanlu Group and even today the majority of the public still retain negative conceptions about the corporation due to the lingering aftermaths of the melamine incident. The same is true about the impact produced by Guo Meimei on the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC). Guo used to be an ordinary young lady, with nothing to do with RCSC. In no way could she ever become a symbol of RCSC. However, in the wake of the so-called “Guo Meimei Incident,” in which she showed off her extremely expensive car and various luxury commodities and claimed to be an official of RCSC, “Guo Meimei” became part of the symbolic representation of RCSC, generating many negative ramifications that dealt a severe blow to the image of RCSC as a non-profit charity organization and fatally jeopardized its reputation. Faced with such a horrendous crisis, RCSC made desperate efforts to rebuild its image through various measures of public relations in order to regain the public’s confidence.

All the foregoing analyses should convince us that the development of the corporate image is an endless endeavor for any enterprise. Any change caused by a fragment of the symbol could affect the overall image of an enterprise. It is only through constant maintenance and innovation that a corporate organization can maximize the brand effects, economic effects and social effects as a result of its improved image.

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