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Symbols as basic media in human cognition of corporate identity

An understanding about the essential nature of “image” or “identity” is necessary before we delve deeper into our discussions about corporate identity. Today, people have shown much greater concern with “image” or “identity”

6 The metalanguage’s mechanism of communicating

A Symbolic Signification Diagram of Corporate Identity

Figure 1.1 A Symbolic Signification Diagram of Corporate Identity

than ever before. “Looking around, we will become acutely aware that we are surrounded by ‘images.’ In this sense, we can say that the age of information is essentially an age of images.”11 On a fundamental level, images can include “personal image,”, “corporate image” and “city image.” On a higher level, images can encompass “the image of a country” and the “the image of a nation.” In an age in which images have been soliciting rapidly increasing attention, we may well ask what is actually meant by “image” and why people are so addicted to images.

The term “image” has been variously defined. According to one definition, an image means “the form or appearance, that specific and concrete configuration or feature that evokes people’s mental and emotional activities.”12 Image has also been defined as “the totality of the cognitive information that people have acquired about a given person or object,” and “it is the cognitive information that one has gathered about an object, rather than the object itself.”13 Of those two different definitions, the former focuses on the objective existence of the image whereas the latter emphasizes the subjective information of cognition that a human individual develops regarding the image. Here the author believes that an image cannot exist in isolation, independent of the objective object itself; nor can it be separated from the evaluation which the cognitive subject forms concerning the object. This means that an image can be divided into two levels. It possesses a form which is the external manifestation of the object, while it possesses a substance which is the inner meaning of that object.

Form and substance are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin. Like the signi- fier and the signified of the sign, they are mutually dependent, and they exist in close companionship.

As pointed above, the communication of information necessarily depends on the media that carry the information and signs are exactly the media that carry the information. A sign consists of not only a signifier which has a tangible form but also a signified, a meaning which can be communicated. It is this signified, the meaning or the message that is conveyed by a sign, which influences people’s cognition and judgment of an image. As a result, the cognition of an image becomes the cognition of a sign or a set of signs. A great diversity of signs constitutes the basic media with which people gain cognition about images. Together, they form a kaleidoscopic world of images that convey abundant information that serves as a crucial basis for the public to make judgments and choose their course of action.

It can thus be inferred that a corporate identity also consists of two levels - the level of form and the level of substance. Various objective appearances related to a corporate organization make up the form, which is the system of signifi- ers contained in the symbol of that organization. The evaluation that the public make with respect to those appearances forms the substance, which is the system of signifieds conveyed by the symbol of that organization. Then, in what form should the sign which presents the corporate image be presented? In addition, what mechanism of symbolic communication should an organization resort to in order to communicate its corporate identity? Those are the questions that will be addressed one by one in the following sections.

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