The role of corporate identity in the Malaysian higher education sector

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The Role of Corporate Identity in the Malaysian Higher Education Sector

Identity, image and reputation are the main agenda of organization through corporate communication activities. Van Riel (1997) study found that there are three main concepts in corporate communication that are always being studied by scholars. The concepts are corporate identity, corporate reputation and communication management. On overall, corporate communication is referred to as communication, added with advertising, media affair, financial communication, employee communication and crisis communication. In order to be effective, every organization needs a clear sense of purpose that people within it understand. They also need a strong sense of belonging. Purpose and belonging is the two facet of identities.

Every organization is unique and the identity must spring from organization's own roots, its personality, its strengths and its weaknesses. The identity of the cooperation must be so clear that it becomes the yardstick against which its products and services, behaviors and actions are measured. This means that the identity cannot simply be a slogan, or a collection of phrases: it must be visible, tangible and all embracing. Everything that organization does must be an affirmation of its identity.

In globalization world, both academic and business interests in corporate identity have increased significantly in recent years. Organizations have realised that a strong identity can help them align with the marketplace, attract investment, motivate employees and serve as a means to differentiate their products and services. Identity is now widely recognised as an effective strategic instrument and a means to achieve competitive advantage (Schmidt, 1995). Thus, many organizations are striving to develop a distinct and recognisable identity. Certain characteristics of an efficacious corporate identity include a reputation for high quality goods and services, a robust financial performance, a harmonious workplace environment, and a reputation for social and environmental responsibility (Einwiller and Will, 2002)

According to Melewar and Sibel Akel (2005), the globalisation of business has finally been embraced by the higher education sector in which education is seen as a service that could be marketed worldwide. Universities and other institutions of higher education have to compete with each other to attract high quality students and academic staff at an international level. Hence, competition is no longer limited within national borders. As education and training become a global business sector, education marketing is developing standards more akin to consumer goods marketing. This presents several challenges for Malaysian universities such as the development of a more customer orientated service approach to education and an increased emphasis on corporate image.

In a market where students are recognized as customers, universities have to implement strategies to maintain and enhance their competitiveness. Higher education sector in Malaysia develops rapidly since 1990. Now, Malaysia has 20 public universities offering a variety of courses and hundreds of private universities. Competition is not only within the country, but regionally and globally. The university needs to develop a competitive advantage based on a set of unique characteristics. Furthermore, universities need to communicate these characteristics in an effective and consistent way to all of the relevant stakeholders. Under these circumstances, universities have finally realized the role of corporate identity as a powerful source of competitive advantage.They understand that if managed strategically, corporate identity can help them develop a competitive edge over competitors (Olins, 1995). As a result, a growing number of universities have started to develop and implement corporate identity programme as part of their strategic rowth and expansion (Baker and Balmer, 1997).

Review of Literature

Corporate identity Birkigt and Stadler (1986) derived from Cornelissen and Elving (2003) refer to corporate identity as the strategically planned and operational self-presentation of a company, both internal and external, based on an agreed philosophy, long term company goals, and a particular desired image, combined with the will to utilize all instruments of the company as one unit achieved by means of behaviour, communication and symbolism. Although universities are a higher education institution body rather than a corporate company, they have somehow embodied a corporate outlook in its quest to realize its mission statement as an agreed philosophy outlined earlier. Given this situation, university is highly prudent in its effort to achieve what it has set out to accomplish by firstly, rallying its tools and means to communicate its identity to its groups.

In recent years, the importance of the corporate image has been recognized. One of the reasons behind this is the growing interest in studies of corporate image. The organization considers that the transmission of positive image is an essential precondition for establishing a commercial relationship with target groups (van Riel, 1995).

Congruent with statements by Birkigt and Stadler (1986) and Alessandri (2001) who posit that corporate identity needs to be founded upon the mission statement of a corporate entity, university, in promoting its academic excellence, has significantly rallied its forces in arriving at a logo that is very much representing the organization and what it has to offer based on its mission statement.

Olins (1995) outlines four stages in building an identity program. Firstly, investigation, analysis and strategic recommendations are carried out internally to determine what a corporate entity should represent. Insofar as university is concerned, it considers factors such as its position, market share, core values, central idea, growth patterns, size, corporate culture, profitability and competitiveness in setting its goals. Olins (1995) argues that once internal analysis and strategic recommendations have been carried out, the next stage is developing the identity by means of behavioural change, identity structure and name and visual style. According to Birkigt and Stadler (1986), corporate identity is also communicated through the behaviour of a corporate entity where target groups are able to be judged by the actions conducted by the entity in dealing with external forces or stimuli.

The creation of a logo is a part of its identity building process which represents what it stands for (Olins, 1995). In designing the visual style, university makes use of different colours in the logo. To take words of Olins (1995), the purpose of a symbol is to present the central idea of the organization with impact, brevity and immediacy. The use of different colours and their representation in the logo of the university does present the central idea to portray university as a modern organization founded upon healthy principles and governance.

Olins (1989) argues that symbolism guarantees consistent quality standards and contributes to the loyalty of customers (in our case, student as customers to the university) and other target groups (the potential students). The third stage of Olins' Corporate Identity formation is launched and introduced to communicate corporate vision. The identity of university must be communicated through the mass media, another medium of identity formation. The final stage of identity formation is implementation. In alignment with its mission statement to market the university as a first choice, university should collaborate with other organizations in its quest to raise awareness. Olins (1995) corporate identity management needs to be considered in the same perspective as financial management or information system management as part of corporate resource where continuous efforts is necessary to implement and maintain it. However, Melewar and Jenskin (2002) identify five sub-construct to measure corporate identity or organization namely communication and visual identity; behaviour; corporate culture; market conditions; firm, product and services. The model adapts a multidisciplinary approach in the analysis of corporate identity. It unites the psychological, graphic design, marketing and public relations paradigms of the corporate identity. In this way the model represents different views and school of thoughts of corporate identity, aiming for a balanced combination between these different disciplines. Furthermore, in terms of its application, the model presents a practical tool for analysis with its simple structure summarised in a comprehensible graphic presentation.

Communication and visual image touch about corporate visual image; corporate communication; architecture and location and uncontrollable communication. Corporate visual identity of the organisation is reflected by five main components which are orporate name; symbol and/or logotype; typography; colour; and slogan (Dowling, 1986; Olins, 1995). According to Olins (1995) these components "present the central idea of the organisation with impact, brevity and immediacy". Meanwhile,corporate communication defined by Van Riel (1995) is a management instrument to create and harmonise favourable relationships with external and internal stakeholders. As pointed out by Markwick and Fill (1997), it is vital to ensure that consistent corporate communication is delivered to all stakeholders. Melewar and Sibel Akel (2005) studies on corporate identity of the University of Warwick classify its stakeholders into two categories namely internal; and external stakeholders. The external stakeholders cover a wide range of audiences from opinion leaders (business, media, academic, think tank, education specialist, government/political) to alumni and teachers. The internal audiences are divided into three main groups - students; academic; and non-academic staff. In a research study conducted by the University (Opinion Leader Research) it was found that overall knowledge of the University differed considerably between these audiences: On the whole, a far higher proportion of internal as opposed to external audiences state that they know the University well. Among the internal audiences, the academics in particular, show a low level of knowledge of the university (Jones, 2001). Corporate communication covers management, marketing and organizational communications. Among the three, management communication is seen as the most important (Van Riel, 1995). Top level managers are seen as the main medium of management communications since they are responsible for transmitting the corporate philosophy and vision to the internal stakeholders (Melewar and Jenkins, 2002).

The component of behaviour consists of management behaviour and employee behaviour. Given the current need for economic accountability and the increased focus on consumer choice, universities are viewing students and staff as customers. Consequently, to sustain the desired level of service quality, the relationship between administrative staff and academics, and administrative staff and students has become more structured. Thus, the behaviour of management at universities is increasingly resemblers that of a commercial company.

Increasingly, academics acknowledge that a "corporate identity refers to an organisation's unique characteristics which are rooted in the behaviour of employees" (Balmer and Wilson, 1998). As a result of reduced government funding and a larger social focus on consumer choice, universities design courses that are in accordance to what consumers want rather than what universities believe should be taught. This new way of looking at "customers" of education has created a need to review the relationship between the customers and university employees.

Nevertheless, in the context of a university, the identification of the customer and the employee is not an easy task. First, as identified by Sirvanci (1996) the student-university relationship is not a typical customeremployee relationship. The university student differs from a "conventional" customer in the sense that the university student does not have full freedom of choice with the product (knowledge/education), responsibility for paying the price and might not even "qualify" to purchase the product. Second, in an environment where the students are classified as internal customers the classification of academic staff is problematic. Academics are classified both under internal customer and academic staff. Evidence shows that relationship between academic and administrative staff is an area of potential conflict (Pitman, 2000). The tension is likely to originate from the fact that academic staff have different motives for working in a university from administrative staff members and use a different value system of their own.

Corporate culture has been a main focus of academic management since the early 1980s (Wiedmann, 1988). Culture is the commonly held and relatively stable beliefs, attitudes and values that exist within the organisation (Williams et al., 1993). Jarzabkowski and Wilson (2002) studies found that culture in University of Warwick is based on the following tenets: successorientated; entrepreneurial and competitive; intra-organisational competition; low tolerance for non-performers; pioneering; competing at the highest level of sectoral environment, (Harvard, Berkeley, Cambridge and Stanford); and "strong centre, strong department".

However, in an academic institution agreement on a single value set is difficult to achieve. Baker and Balmer (1997) in their study about the corporate identity of University of Strathclyde identify that the problem arises mainly from the fact that each member of the university is an expert in a specific area and has therefore a very strong view about how to proceed in this area. In the absence of a general direction for the academic community to proceed this sub-cultures and multiplicity in identities may harm the successful implementation of a corporate identity programme.

The component of corporate culture basically involves the element of nationality; goals, philosophies and principles and organizational imagery and history. Top ranking university accommodates students from different nationalities. With increasing numbers of overseas students and academic staff, the role of nationality is decreasing. However, student intake for public university in Malaysia is controlled by the government. The appointment of the academic staff also needs special permission from the government. As is common among other Malaysian universities, it capitalises mainly on the English language as the main language of commerce.

Moingeon and Ramanantsoa (1997) stress the interaction between history and corporate identity. They point out the way history influences the definition of corporate identity, i.e. "identity is the product of the history of the organisation" (Moingeon and Ramanantsoa, 1997). They further state that identity influences history and shapes the perceptions and actions of the organization members. Thus, identity also produces history. History created an identity in support of the entrepreneurial self-image and income generating orientation of the university (Jarzabkowski and Wilson, 2002). Component of corporate identity focus on market conditions involving nature of the industry and marketing strategy. Malaysia's higher education market is crowded and competitive. The general rule in the market is that prospective students will often attend a leading university because of its overall reputation, even though it may be relatively weak in the specific subject chosen. The teaching and research assessment exercises conducted regularly and the magazine (such as The Times Higher Education Supplement etc) publications of the ranking of the universities reveal that certain universities are more respected and are perceived to be general leaders in the field.

However, the generic characteristic of higher education makes the projection of a differentiated identity difficult. According to Melewar and Sibel Akel (2005), some universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College, Durham, LSE, UCL, York, Nottingham, Manchester and Bristol have succeeded in this difficult task. Corporate and marketing strategies are one of the few effort to promote university internationally. For example, University of Warwick's strategies are "enhancing and promoting the University's reputation, particularly on the international stage" and slogans such "maintaining and developing our strengths in institutional governance and management" and efforts to show that "the university is planning to continue its business-like development"

Corporate and marketing strategies not only determine desired future states of the organization but they also influence the formation of brand and corporate perceptions. Thus, the way an organization defines its corporate strategies has a significant impact on how it is perceived by its stakeholders. Simoes and Dibb (2001) state that the notion of corporate identity is linked to the corporate brand concept. Also according to Ind (1997) corporate branding is more than a visual projection of the organization - it is a manifestation of the organizational core alues.

Firm, product and services are the last component in corporate identity developed by Melewar and Storrie (2001). These components are branding strategies and organizational performance. Branding to the public is through heavy advertising of the company's image in the media and by editorial coverage in the local or international press. Articles in academic periodical, refereed journal, proceeding and books by university lecturers and students are a part of positioning strategy for the university to create a good brand of the university. University's design, landscapes, and image development could also be considered as part of the branding strategy. Performance of the university is apparent by itself in terms of building up a loyal customer base, winning national awards, retaining and developing employees, and the growth to the franchise. The performance can be measured by the recognition received by the university. University ranking published by Times Higher Educations Supplement and other reputable organization is a best indicator to measure university's performance. Besides university ranking, other recognition and award such as ISO 9000, inventor award obtained by students and lecturer of the university, can be considered as elements of performance.

Purpose of the Study

This study's major purpose was to attempt to determine what the role of corporate identity from the perspective of the university's prospective clients (among the students from Matriculation College in Malaysia). We were most interested in how important they considered the corporate identity function is. The study was designed specifically to discover what these students thought about corporate identity and how they saw this function being implemented in the university.


This was a drop and collect questionnaire study of matriculation college students. Subjects came from 9 Matriculation College throughout Malaysia. In each of this matriculation college, students were prospective clients for the public university in Malaysia. In this section, data gathering procedures, respondents, and measurements of variables are detailed.


Respondent in this research are prospective clients of the University Utara Malaysia (among students from matriculation colleges in Malaysia). Survey packets were sent directly to 500 students. The sample n=496 (99.2%) in nine matriculation centre. The ationale for choosing this sample is that all respondents are prospective clients of the university and their perception is essential to determine the corporate identity of the university. Approximately 78.23% (n = 388) are female and 21.77% (n = 108) are male. This sample distribution reflects the norm of students in Malaysia. The majority of the respondents are (70.97% (n = 352) respondents from account stream, while 29.03% (n = 144) from science stream in matriculation centre.

Measurement Instrument

Based on corporate identity model developed by Melewar and Jenskin (2000), there are five main components to developing corporate identity. Melewar and Storrie (2001) also use in the study for service company. Melewar and Sibel Akel (2005), also apply the same model to study the corporate identity Warwick University. The instrument used to assess corporate identity includes 80 items based on corporate identity model developed by Melewar and Jenskin (2001). The items representing four components of corporate identity which are communication and visual image, behaviour, corporate culture, market conditions and firm, product and services. Each item is measured using 5- point Likert type scale.Prior to the actual study, we conducted a pre-test study among respondents in the matriculation colleges. The pre-test conducted sought to determine the degree of stability, trustworthiness, dependability of the measurement used in this study, as there are very limited study on corporate identity and corporate reputation. Results of the pre-test show Cronbach's alpha for communication and visual identity is .90, behaviour is .87, corporate culture is .86, and market condition is .80 and firm, product and services 0.78.


Before we conduct factor analysis, data are tested for coding/data entry errors and tests for normality are conducted for each of the survey items as well as the constructs that are created by computing individual items. Tests for normality include kurtosis easures, skewness measures, and visual inspection of histograms. The majority of items appear to be within normality. Kurtosis measures are below one. Skewness measures are around zero, and analysis indicates normal-shaped histograms. Based on dimensions of corporate identity in the communication literature, and some items from Melewar and Akel (2005), we generated an initial set of 80 items. These items focused on communication and visual identity, corporate behaviour, corporate culture, market conditions and firm, product and services. Using data collected from the sample of 496 students, we conducted an exploratory factor analysis using principal components with the number of factors not specified. The magnitude and scree plot of the eigenvalues indicated factors. In the next factor analysis, we set the number of factors to five and interpreted factor loadings based on pattern matrix which resulted from oblique rotation (Hair et al. 1998). Oblique rotation was appropriate because the ultimate goal of this research through factor analysis is to obtain several theoretically meaningful factors or constructs. Analysis of the 80 items resulted in five factors that explain 57% of the variance. Based on the oblique factor pattern, each factor clearly reflected one of the five priori dimensions. Subsequent iterations were performed following deletion of cross-loaded items or items that were theoretically inconsistent with their factor. The rule of thumb provided by Hair, Anderson, Tatham and Black (1998) were applied where items load less than .30 were eliminated.

The resulting solution consisted of 52 items explaining 78.4% of the variance. The breakdown of these items was communication and visual identity (19 items), behaviour (11 items), corporate culture (11 items), market conditions (6 items) and firm, product and services (5 items). The rotated factor loadings for these 52 items appear in Table 1.

Factor Analysis

Normally, when factor analysis is used in a study of this nature, results reveal a certain sense of conformity between variables. As a result, one usually can make considerably more sense out of factor loadings than is the case in this particular study. The principal components procedures produced 5 factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0. This 5 factor solution, shown in Table 1 (see appendix), accounted for 57.9 per cent of the total variance.

Factor 1

Nineteen items clearly define factor 1 as shown by the loadings in Table 1. All items load positively and the statement appear to represent a concept of corporate communication and identity visual. Statement such as 'promotion', 'advertising', 'information and message' and 'media used', seem to represent corporate communication part. Other item such as 'office interior design', 'lighting', 'furniture', 'design of building', 'location', 'landscape', 'space', 'logo' and 'the word UUM' represent visual identity of the university. Communication and visual identity shows an important element in measuring the corporate identity of the university.

Factor 2

Behaviour is categorized under intangible identity and extremely important in corporate identity. Eleven statements clearly meet the loading criteria on this factor. These items are 'university's policy', 'behaviour of management', 'ethics', 'quality of relationship', 'staff dressing', 'personal characteristics', 'suitable skill', 'helpful', 'understanding' and 'knowledgeable'.

Factor 3

Another eleven items clearly define this factor. They are 'vision and mission', 'goal achievement', 'philosophy and principal', 'aspiration' and 'history and imagery'. Most of these items reflect corporate culture issues.

Factor 4

Six items load cleanly on this factor. They are 'student oriented', 'the role as student's development', 'strategic marketing' and 'promotion'. This factor seems to reflect a sense of market conditions in the university's corporate identity.

Factor 5

Five other statements define this factor. They are 'marketing strategy' and 'branding', representing the elements of branding. While, 'award', 'employee performance', and 'excellent' loaded under element of performance.

Discussion of Results

This finding shows an important aspect of corporate identity in Malaysia is higher education sector. For higher education sector in Malaysia, all component of corporate identity (communication and visual image, behaviour, corporate culture, market condition and firm, product and services) play an important role in influencing and perhaps in determining their corporate identity. This finding has interesting implications. First, finding reveals Matriculation College's students look at all aspect of corporate identity of the university. This study presents considerable evidence to suggest that prospective students of the university really see university's identity based on visual. Factor analysis results clarify this statement even more as nineteen items are loaded under these factors. It is interesting to note that the elements of visual identity such as logo, landscapes, building, lighting and furniture all loaded on the same factor. This finding is supported by the literature on corporate identity which sees corporate visual identity defined in the way in which an organization uses logos, type styles, nomenclature and architecture to communicate its corporate philosophy and personality (Balmer, 1995). Identity should be visible and easy to recognise by the people. These results show that the importance of visual identity should be a highlight to the university. A well-built corporate visual identity does not simply add to organizational visibility, but can also be used as a powerful weapon in gaining an advantage over competitors, while attracting clients and helping convince the parent to send their children to the particular university. Higher education sector in Malaysia, especially universities should focus more on their identity to ensure the image of the university is increased.

Second, this finding finds that corporate behaviours were considered to be especially important. Even though this component is categorized under intangible elements compared to visual identity that can be seen and touched, it is still an important element to measure corporate identity. Based on factor analysis, eleven items were loaded under this component. Customers are expecting a specific set of personal characteristics to form or reinforce their impression. Behaviour such as ethics, quality of relationship, staff dressing, personal characteristics, suitable skill, helpful, understanding and knowledgeable are the important characteristic from the perspective of the clients. Training and education either takes place in the university or outside of the university will benefit the university.

Thirdly, the component of corporate culture including vision and mission, goal achievement, philosophy and principal, aspiration and history and imagery is very important to the university's identity. Corporate culture portrayed the entire organization behaviour. Positive corporate culture and strong vision and mission will increase confident among the prospective clients, component market condition and firm, product and services also show to be an important component to measure the corporate identity.

For university who intends to globalize their institution, this results indicate that the corporate identity management should take into account its personality (Balmer, 1995; Birkight and Stadler, 1986; Olins, 1978), its corporate strategy (Wiedmann, 1988) and the three parts of the corporate identity mix (behaviour of organizational members, communication and symbolism) in order to acquire a favourable corporate reputation (Fombrun, 1996) which results in improved organizational performance (Fombrun and Shanley, 1990). If the results are generalizable, maximizing all corporate identity (communication and visual image, behaviour, corporate culture, market conditions and firm, product and services) should have a positive effect on the university's corporate reputation.

Our findings suggest that corporate identity of Malaysian university instruments influence their corporate image. One explanation for identity is now widely recognised as an effective strategic instrument and a means to achieve competitive advantage (Schmidt, 1995) and to be researched by more academics and practitioners.

Conclusions and Limitations

Because this study focused only on one university in Malaysia, it represents a limited test on the corporate identity. However, it has already suggested that corporate identity does effect the image of the university. The next step is to assess the external validity of he obtained results by replicating the study to other Malaysian university settings. For example future research should test whether similar effect can be found in other public university or private university operating in Malaysia or foreign university based in Malaysia.

We also noted that, because this study is derived from one source that is the potential clients, there is the possibilities of common method biases to exist in this study. Thus, future research should consider obtaining data from multiple sources. For example, elements of corporate identity can be obtained from existing clients (students). However, additional dimensions of corporate identity needed to be considered. Such additional research can play a vital role in developing understandings about what and whether corporate identity should deviate from the 'best' corporate image. Additionally, we are also aware that there are some limitations in corporate identity model used in this study. Thus, for those who are interested to continue, the use of seven dimension of corporate identity (Melewar and Karaosmanoglu, 2006) scale would provide better explanation about corporate identity in organizations.

In sum, this study represents an initial research effort to identify corporate identity (communication and visual image; behavior, corporate culture, market condition, firm, product and services) in which will influence the corporate image of the university. This nvestigation is also the first to focus on specific corporate identity in Malaysia University. The results of this research suggest that universities in Malaysia should consider corporate identity programme for their long term planning.

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