|Due to sustainable transitions, industries and organizations across the globe need to transform and align their product offerings and business practices with more environmentally friendly and socially accepted ways of operating. The movement towards this reality may come to confront organizations and industries’ business as usual, creating an identity threat. This is especially the case for incumbent organizations, who have reached their current market positions based on legacy business practices and products. Understanding how incumbent organizations deal with the identity threat within their external communication becomes important as theory acknowledges that an organization’s ability to communicate the process of change to its stakeholders and manage the expectations of these stakeholders as the organization transforms is as important as the act of changing processes, structures, and products.
This longitudinal study explains how an incumbent organization deals with an identity threat caused by a sustainable transition in its external communication, and identified which corporate identity elements does it alter, maintain, and disrupt. As empirical context, the study analyzed Porsche and the transition to electric mobility. The study used Porsche’s external communication (annual/sustainability reports and website for press-related matters) and interviews with Porsche’s senior executives, searched on Nexis Uni research database, during the period of 2005 and 2020. The data was first analyzed to reconstruct the case chronology and then analyzed for the identification of maintenance or change of corporate identity elements. This led to the identification of specific themes related to maintenance and change, which were then used to construct a process model that depicted how Porsche communicated about corporate identity change during this timeframe.
The findings demonstrate that Porsche does not disrupt any corporate identity elements within its communication but maintains three corporate identity sub-elements and changes five. Porsche’s communication about maintenance and change of specific corporate identity sub-elements interplay, creating, at times, an ambiguous message which creates an impression that Porsche is changing while remaining the same to possibly balance different stakeholder interests. Such dynamic sheds light on Porsche’s struggle to align itself to the sustainable transition and demonstrates that such transformational process is a slow and gradual one. The results can bring improved understanding of the transformational journey and deeper knowledge of what challenges and barriers incumbent organizations meet within the context of sustainable transitions.