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Fragmented MI - a story (an anecdote) and a concept

A visual sign can most directly reveal much about the corporate image and it belongs to the tangible part of a corporate image. Apart from that, stories or events related to an enterprise can also become the symbols that carry the corporate image and convey important messages. The only thing is that in such cases the signifier of a sign is a narrative text with discourse as its vehicle. The story itself becomes the signifier of a sign. The particular creed, attitude or assessment about an enterprise that the public interpret from the story constitutes the signified of the sign.

For any enterprise, there tend to be some extremely important events or memorable experiences in the process of its development. It is highly possible for the enterprise to derive certain important tenets or values from those extraordinary past events, which go into the making of the unique corporate image. In 1985, the “smashing the refrigerators” incident by Haier Corporation was an exceedingly sensational event and that seemingly “incredible” story helped forge Haier’s ultimate idea about quality control - “the better of the best”. When a customer filed a complaint about the quality of a certain refrigerator produced by Haier, Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin ordered an immediate general investigation of all the refrigerators in the warehouses and found 76 to be below quality standard. In order to eliminate the possibility of producing any poor-quality products in the future, Zhang Ruimin made an incredible decision which surprised all the Haier employees. He personally carried a heavy hammer and took the lead in smashing all the remaining refrigerators that were below the quality standards. At that time, the price of a refrigerator was tantamount to the two-year salary of an average employee at Haier. However, by insisting that “all flawed products are good-for-nothing products,” Zhang Rui- min instituted the most stringent standards of quality control over all Haier products, which also came to constitute the corporate philosophy that Haier has since been observing. Several years after the refrigerator-smashing event, Haier emerged as the No. 1 refrigerator manufacturing brand in China and fought its way into the rank of the leading brands in the world. Even up till now, the story still makes all the staff members of Haier particularly proud. From this interesting story, the public can interpret the principle and the value that Haier pursues as a corporate organization and can conceive about the rigorous professional attitude that Haier’s top management maintains regarding their products. This will definitely lead to the enhanced trust on the part of the public in the quality of all the Haier products. As a result, the corporate image of Haier as a manufacturer of “credibility, rigorousness and excellent quality” has come to develop in the mind of the consumers.

From the semiotic perspective, a story can become a symbol which showcases the image of a certain corporate organization. This story can be presented either in the form of a written narrative or in the form of a speech. Both the written narrative and the speech are the signifiers of the symbol whereas the content in them is the signified of the symbol. However, on the basis of the original story, the public can make associations and derive other meanings beyond the story itself. The meanings thus derived become the signified in the signification scheme on a higher level, that is, the signified of the symbol’s connotative signification. Those meanings tend to acquire a certain degree of social dimensions and exemplify a corporate organization’s social identity. This is illustrated in Fig. 1.4:

The Communication Mechanism of Connotative Signification about Haier Group’s MI

Figure 1.4 The Communication Mechanism of Connotative Signification about Haier Group’s MI

Here, the written narrative or the speech with which to relate the story about Haier is represented as E1, the signifier of the symbol. What the story is about is represented as C1, the signified of the denotative signification. Such meanings as “credibility, rigorousness and excellent quality” that the public derive from the story are represented as C2, the signified of the sign (which is either a written or oral text) on the level of connotative signification. Hence, to a certain degree, the key to the communication of a corporate image lies in the communication of the signified of the connotative signification, whose ultimate effect is the establishment of isology between the signifier and the signified.15 This is the subject that will be treated in detail in the following sections.

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