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  • Writer's pictureDominic Cincotta

Brand Identity for SMEs in a Technological Age

The importance of brand identity within small and medium enterprises (SME) can most easily be understood as a strategic concern. “Their ability to fully understand their marketplace and become truly competitive relies on small and medium sized enterprises developing a deeper and systematic understanding of their current marketing decision making process through a planned and thorough adoption of more robust and more strategically-focused procedures” (Parrott, Roomi, Holliman, 2010, p. 198). Banham and He (2010) explore the definition of a SME (small and medium sized enterprise) as having a few common characteristics. The elements of these definitions include acting entrepreneurially, private ownership, limited public financial offerings, and restricted financial resources. SMEs are forced to deal with numerous choices when planning their marketing. Academic study is now starting to consider technology, along with messaging, as important in this marketing process. This study seeks to comprehensively examine SME's marketing through messaging, symbols, and signs represented in websites as they attempt to enhance their competitiveness individually and as part of a communal regional industry.

Communication and Technology

In today's business landscape, organizations must learn to function as information age organizations. Organizations in the information age are only as good as the information they obtain, synthesize, and effectively use. Alan Durham (1999) conceptualizes the information age in this way, “The computer defines our technological era as the steam engine defined the early years of the industrial revolution; indeed, the term used to characterize our modern time is no longer "the space age," but "the information age” (p. 1). An organization engages in the information age when it adopts a computer as a way to convey and use knowledge in a digital way. The computer now defines our organizations and the way they function; and, therefore, we must explore how this shift has affected the core of the businesses or the organization. Organizations that combine obtaining, synthesizing, and effectively using information with being virtual organizations are presented with a number of challenges including understand how outsiders view them, what they share with consumers, and how they differ from their competition.

Culture, identity, and the use of symbols as a way to convey ideas are worth studying in order to gain insight into human communication about organizations. Culture and identity are created by humans and therefore the process to understand them requires complex study. Geertz (1973) best communicates the importance of taking on this complex study in his statement, “The whole point of a semiotic approach to culture is, as I have said, to aid us in gaining access to the conceptual world in which our subjects live so that we can, in some extended sense of the term, converse with them” (p. 24). We can only understand our world and how we communicate within this world if we create an understanding of the signs and symbols we use to convey meaning as a group.

Jean-Francois Lyotard discusses information and knowledge as the new currency of organizations: “Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major – perhaps the major – stake in the worldwide competition for power” (Lyotard, 1984, p. 5). Information will become the currency of the information age organization and as such, the entity with the most information will have the most power. The Internet makes it incredibly easy for organizations to find, acquire, and disseminate knowledge. Conversely, it also facilitates easy information acquisition by consumers. This highlights the need for organizations to understand what information they are putting out and what information consumers are taking in.

In order to stay current and competitive, organizations in the information age are required to utilize current technologies in the form of computer and virtual software. As a result, these organizations are subjected to the opportunities and the consequences of information science/information technology/and information systems theory. This means that they are subject to the limitations of information systems and their components, tools, and theories. These limitations include technical bandwidth, consumer attention span, technical specifications of tools, and how humans share/process the vast amounts of information available today. Organizations have consented to deal with the challenges that these technologies present in terms of scaling, security, and knowledge sharing by choosing to engage in new technology solutions and processes. By acknowledging these limitations as well as the responsibilities that come with engaging in the information age, organizations are now accountable for the engagement in technology and the consequences of misuse of this technology.

In Neal Gabler's The Elusive Big Idea (2011), the author examines our understanding of knowledge in a world with exponentially increasing amounts of information available through technology. He presents this challenge by stating, “We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn't have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don't want to” (p. 6). There are factors in today's technology and information media that are turning what were elaborate stories into condensed lists, making room for more information. In order to deal with the amount of information with which we are presented, we condense this information into lists to process, store, and relate them. These become the taxonomies of our world. Only then do we refer to lists of shared symbols and signs in order to share these ideas and to serve our own needs.

Recent research around brand identities has attempted to consolidate identity into lists of human personality traits that correlate to the brand (Norman 1963; Tupes and Christal 1958; McCrae and Cost 1989; Piedmont, McCrae, and Costa 1991; John 1990; Aaker 1997). As Gabler asserts, “…The most popular sites on the Web are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas” (p. 6). Lists and taxonomies have become not only how we understand our world and communicate in it, but how we understand the brands we engage with and share this understanding with a larger consumer group

- This is an excerpt from my 2014 RMU Doctoral Dissertation

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