To make generalizations based on particulars via metalanguage mechanism as a discourse strategy in the communication of corporate image
Corporate image communication follows the progression from naturalization mechanism to generalization mechanism
“From the present-day perspective, an image is an asset; it is something that is convertible into commodity which the manipulator contrives with all ingenu- ity.”19 Amidst an overabundance of information fragments, the entire process of making the public notice, accept and resonate with a particular corporate image and turning the enterprise into a symbol that can enhance value becomes a process of producing modern myth. Beneath many seemingly natural processes of image identification, there underlie highly socialized value judgment, aesthetic standards, and ethical and moral principles and various forms of ideology. To gain an insight into the underlying rules at work, it is necessary for us to examine all the mysteries involved in the process by investigating the inherent mechanism governing the communication of symbols. “As a discourse strategy, a myth encompasses two layers, namely, the connotative signification and the metalanguage. Connotative signification is constructed by means of metaphor whereas metalanguage depends on metonym for its fulfillment. Connotation/metaphor constitutes the underlying mechanism of naturalization whereas metalanguage/metonym is the behind-the-scene manipulation by generalization.”20 In the following section, the author intends to analyze, with these two layers of discourse strategy as a theoretical framework, how the corporate image is turned into myth.
From a semiotic perspective, a positive corporate image depends on the ability for a corporate symbol to convey a meaning, the signified, that strongly appeals to the public. But the fact is that this meaning which is conveyed is not the signified of the symbol’s denotation but the highly socialized underlying meaning, that is, the signified of the connotation.
When a consumer buys an electrical appliance of the Haier brand, a certain employee of Haier Group would go to the customer’s home to offer installation service. This employee’s code of behavior, service attitude and professional skills all convey a certain message. In such circumstances, this particular employee is a symbol that stands for the entire Haier Group. As shown in Fig. 1.6 , the employee’s various forms of behavior constitute his signifiers, which is E1. The signified of his denotation, C1, has ceased to matter, and what really matters is the signified of his connotation, C2, which are the evaluations that the client forms about him.
The reason why these evaluations can become the signified of the connotation is that the process of forming these assessments has been regulated by the consumer’s subjective psychological judgment, which incorporates his previous social experiences. In addition, the consumer applies certain norms of social behavior in making his assessments before he finally comes to a definitive conclusion. An important fact is that such a process has been naturalized under various social conventions whose complexity becomes imperceptible. For example, if this employee puts on plastic covers on his pair of shoes before he enters the house or the apartment of the client, if the uniform he wears is clean and tidy and if he clears all the trashes and take them away as he finishes the installation and leaves the client’s house, the client would arrive at the judgment, based on all those details, that the employee’s service is “very professional and of high quality.” Such a seemingly spontaneous evaluation is actually informed by various social norms. Does such a behavior of “dressing oneself in neat uniform and keeping the client’s floor clean” necessarily mean that the employee’s service is “very professional and of high quality?” What the consumer has done is that, by relying on certain particular standards of the present-day society, he establishes a connection between the conduct of a typical Haier employee and the evaluative norms of being “very professional and of high quality.” This correlating act is in itself highly ideological in that it represents a form of value judgment in a given historical context. The only fact is that, over a long period of social life, those social norms which are coupled with subjective judgments have become naturalized, obviating any need for a complicated deciphering process. This enables people to leap directly from the signifier to the signified of the connotation and remain fully convinced. Those artificially established rules and norms are made to seem natural and inherent, and this mandatory fusion of the signifying relations is what we often call “isology,” which is the most perfect mechanism of generating meaning where the ideological nature of the signification is camouflaged.
Figure 1.6 The Communication Mechanism of the Connotative Signification of the Image of Haier Employees
The first step in the creation of mythology is to establish a certain relationship, via a seemingly spontaneous mechanism of naturalization, between the otherwise unrelated signifier and the signified and to make such a newly cemented relationship indivisible. The ultimate outcome would be the exclusive correlation between the signifier and the signified in terms of the signifying relationship, which has been referred to as “isology” in our previous discussions. The establishment of such a relationship is tinctured with a strongly subjective ideological dimension but is cloaked in the day-to-day utterances by a certain privileged class. This is what provoked strong reactions from Roland Barthes, inspiring him to assert that “mythology is form of utterance.”21 As a result, the public would naturally try to measure the behavior of other people by applying certain social norms, but what they fail to realize is the underlying ideological mechanism which is at work in the entire process.
However, the power of mythology does not simply lie in its ability to establish an indestructible signifying relationship between the signifier and the signified. What is truly marvelous about it is that it can turn an accidental event into a prevalent fact of generalized meaning and make people willingly accept it by taking it for granted. This is the metalanguage which is produced by means of the generalization mechanism, which is a mechanism of producing meaning via the mode of thinking called metonymy. This explains how a particular consumer, by gaining knowledge about the conduct of a certain Haier employee, is able to generalize about the overall image of all the Haier employees. In fact, in the field of psychology, so-called “gestalt psychology,” the “halo effect” and the “iceberg theory” are all based on such similar logical judgments, assuming that, in the process of understanding the world, human beings are capable of inferring about the whole by knowing about the part, or extrapolating about the unknown on the basis of what is already known. The relevant theories in semiology have provided us with new perspectives with which we can understand this phenomenon of psychological cognition in a more thorough-going manner.