Cognitions, Corporate Identity and Relationship Marketing

I have a Renault Kangoo. It’s a great car / van which gets me up most roads and dirt tracks despite not being a 4 x 4 wheel drive (for my mountaineering exploits). If a Kangoo is classified as a van, in Spain it needs to pass its M.O.T. (Spanish equivalent) every 6 months, if it’s a car, it’s every year or so. However, to establish that you are using your Kangoo as a car, you need a certificate from your Renault garage that states that you are using the vehicle as a car and not a van.


So, on Saturday morning off we went to the local Renault garage to try to get this certificate. This is more or less how the conversation went:

Renault guy: “Hi, can I help you?”

Us: explained the above

Renault guy: “I just sell cars”

Us: “OK, but how can we get this certificate we need?”

Renault guy: “I just sell cars, you need to get that from the Renault mechanics” (behind the showroom there is a Renault garage for repairing cars)

Us: “OK, are they open today?”

Renault guy: “I just sell cars” (yeah …. I think we’ve gathered this now – we presume that means no)

Us: “Is there a Renault place around here that is open today where we can get this certificate?”

Renault guy: “I just sell cars, there might be one in Sabadell (miles away), I don’t know …”

You get the picture, right? …….. He just sells cars

We left this “helpful” salesman with lots of food for thought and not exactly about cars. How could somebody be such a bad ambassador for the company where he worked? How could he care so little about the impression he was making and how this reflected on the company that paid his salary?

Leaving aside all the criticisms I could have about this particular salesman, our brief dialogue got me thinking about the effect one individual can have on the reputation of a company or organisation. And I started to think about whether this could happen in the Language Teaching Organisation (LTO) that I manage and what I can do to make sure that potential customers, current customers or ex-customers never experience anything like this.

I came to the conclusion that in order for people representing an LTO to transmit the values and beliefs of the LTO where they work, their cognitions firstly need to be in synch with the LTO’s beliefs and values and secondly they need to be aware of the importance of communicating them in any interaction they have with clients or potential clients. In other words their cognitions need to be in line with the LTO’s corporate identity and applied to the principles of relationship management.


Cognitions are belief systems which are based on our experience and the training we receive. These belief systems are often unconscious and are deeply entrenched in our attitudes to teaching, learning and management. They are based on years of learning and living in a certain way and according to Lou McLaughlin’s research are very difficult to change. Sending someone on a training course which introduces people to other belief systems will not change the beliefs of a lifetime even if the person attending the course seems to agree with them. These cognitions will only change when managers recognise that different cognitions exist; when we constantly monitor these belief systems and how they manifest themselves; and work on trying to move them in the direction of what our LTOs stand for (through training and development sessions as well as other means). If we are unable to bring these cognitions in line with the core values and beliefs of our LTOs, the messages that our customers receive may be very mixed and confusing.

Corporate identity

Corporate identity is about what our company (in our case, LTO) stands for and what people associate with the name of our company. It’s about the LTO’s mission and objectives. It is much more than “we sell cars” or in our case “we sell language courses”. Having a strong, shared corporate identity helps to build a team of people working towards the same objectives.

These are some questions which I think are relevant to ask yourself as a manager in terms of corporate identity:

1- Does the LTO you manage have a clearly defined corporate identity?

  1. If it does, do the people working for the LTO know what it is?
  2. Do the people working for the LTO share and believe in this identity?
  3. Do the people in your LTO transmit this identity and values?

Unless the answer is yes to all these questions, then this suggests there is work to be done on clarifying and agreeing your LTO’s corporate identity; on working on different personal cognitions; and on the importance of communicating this identity.

Relationship management

Relationship management is about analysing how you deal with your clients / customers before they become your client, while they are your client and after they have stopped becoming your client. This is about public and customer relations and about how you market your LTO and the services it offers. It obviously ties in very closely to both cognitions and corporate identity. Good relationship marketing is only going to be possible if everybody shares the same objectives and core beliefs about the LTO they represent. Administrative staff, teaching staff, front-of-house staff, marketing staff etc. all need to be speaking the same language J (awful pun – sorry) to communicate a clear and successfully appealing message which will be coherent with the experience people get if they sign up for a course.

By placing sufficient importance on the inter-relationship between cognitions, corporate identity and relationship marketing, we hopefully make this possible.

So, would I buy another Renault Kangoo? Well, definitely not from that Renault garage, and to be honest I would prefer to buy another make of car in the future. I don’t want to buy a brand new car from car showroom that “just sells cars”. I want to also buy reassurance that they’ll look after me if anything goes wrong, I want them to make me feel that they’ll be there for me if I need some help …..

I’d hate to think of somebody reacting in the same way about the LTO I manage.