Jul 16, 2008

Mktg - Branding a real challenge

The 200-year-old British financial brand Norwich Union has little time left. It is soon to be replaced by the less patriotic-sounding Aviva , which its senior management argues will allow it to shake off associations with British parochialism and perform better on the global stage.This may sound alarm bells to those who remember the disastrous rebranding of British institution the Post Office Group as Consignia in 2001, which brought the company to national attention for all the wrong reasons. However, Aviva brand development director Sally Shire identifies key differences in the finance group’s approach to the rebranding process compared with that taken by the Post Office, which she believes will make the change a success . Not least of these, she says, is that “Aviva is already a successful customer brand in more than 20 countries, and has gained significant worldwide recognition.” Shire adds that she is keenly aware that “clear and consistent stakeholder communications” are vital for keeping staff, customers , partners and shareholders on-side , particularly when killing off a brand that has such a strong heritage in Britain. Consequently , the Aviva name is being phased in slowly, in contrast to the sudden and stark changeover that Consignia attempted, without any prior advertising. This approach led to a PR crisis, as journalists and the public failed to understand that the rebrand would not result in the Royal Mail and Post Office brands’ disappearance. Consignia was merely meant to be a global name for the company’s business-to-business arm. The other major difference between the two rebrands is that Aviva is in good financial shape, whereas Consignia was in trouble . However, this did allow chairman Allan Leighton to package the axing of the Consignia name a year later as a new beginning. Consignia’s agency, Dragon Brands, was disappointed by Leighton’s retreat. “You don’t change a company name without very good reason,” says Keith Wells, the agency’s director. “These were present for Consignia, just as I am sure they are for Aviva , and I would advise marketers there to stick with it and keep reinforcing the idea that it is a way to help the business achieve its goals. After all, Aviva is only a name. You get used to it, just as we have all got used to Diageo, Virgin and Accenture. People are very quick to criticise anything remotely interesting and brave, but we should let brands be, so that they can grow.” These two contrasting case studies demonstrate the fine line between triumph and disaster that is present in any rebranding exercise. A well-executed rebrand can revitalise a tired property, turning festering sales into sudden growth. Done badly, it risks alienating existing markets, confusing the general public and conveying a lack of credibility.Steve North, head of digital channel Dave, which was formerly UKTV’s G2, agrees that when rebranding it is often necessary to ride the wave of bad publicity. “It is impossible to have a rebrand that everyone is going to love,” he says. “You have to accept that there will be a few detractors. For us, awareness - whether positive or negative - was the key thing.” Awareness of UKTV G2 was only 1% of the UK population but only a week after its rebrand, awareness of Dave was 32%. It has since clinched the coveted brand revitalisation award at the recent Marketing Society Awards for Excellence. “Dave had stand-out quality. People were saying ‘you can’t call a TV channel Dave, that’s ridiculous .’ Well, actually, it seems that you can. Our viewers love it,” adds North. The idea behind the Dave moniker was to give the channel the persona of a fun, witty and entertaining ‘surrogate friend.’ “Everybody knows a bloke called Dave, so it’s familiar. And there is no class issue with the name,” says North. His comments highlight that the only opinions marketers should be concerned about are those of their customers. Ian Derbyshire, executive director of the holidays division at Thomas Cook, who has overseen the repositioning of its Club 18-30 brand, has faced plenty of critics who argue that the brand will never be able to ditch the sleazy, sex-on-the-beach , lager-lout image encapsulated by its ‘Beaver Espana’ and ‘Summer of 69’ ad campaigns. However, Derbyshire describes the repositioning as ‘a huge success.’ “That is very much an old perception. It has stuck in the media, but not among our audience,” he says. “Today’s customers are too young to remember those campaigns . For a start, the ads ran on billboards , which aren’t relevant to our target audience now. They are better reached via social networks. Some journalists have said it will be an uphill struggle to reposition , but after 40 years of trading, this year has been our most successful.” Some brand consultants may have advised Derbyshire that, to reposition, it would be necessary to axe the Club 18-30 brand, but he claims to believe more in brand ‘evolution’ . “Club 18-30 has such recognition that changing the name would be to its disadvantage,” he says. “I would only drop it if it hadn’t stayed relevant and was still operating in the past.” Jim Prior, managing director of branding consultancy The Partners, is another wary of hasty rebrands. “A lot of high-street brands tend to be superficial in their approach , thinking too much in terms of logos , brochures and shop fronts,” he says, adding that many rebrands seem too be little more than exercises in vanity. Another deadly sin, according to Prior, is compromise. “BUPA has spent a year going through a rebranding process that has left it looking even less interesting than before, and you can’t help thinking that the heavy hand of compromise has been at work,” he adds. Rebranding, then, is a risky business, and as Prior argues, the worst thing to do is rebrand yourself into obscurity. It is far better to be bold and memorable, even if it draws criticism from outside the brand’s target audience. Focusing on the consumer , and heeding their views, will ensure that a brand retains credibility and stays in their shopping baskets.British Airways is less than upbeat about its 1997 rebrand and the introduction of tailfins sporting ethnically-inspired designs . The strategy, intended to impart a more global feel to the BA brand, did not go down well with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who famously covered one of the designs with her handkerchief, saying ‘We fly the British flag, not these awful things’ . Shortly afterward, Virgin Atlantic added the Union Jack to its livery. Two years later, then BA chief executive Bob Ayling called a review, resulting in a decision to discontinue the tailfins and replace them with a variant of the Union Flag used by Concorde. The existing ethnic tailfins remained, but no more were launched. When Rod Eddington replaced Ayling two years later, all BA planes were repainted with the Union Flag design, which Eddington felt was less likely to alienate British customers. ‘In terms of the consumer, it was a disaster ,’ says Steve Irvine, creative director of branding consultancy LFH. ‘BA didn’t realise the reaction it would get from the Daily Mail-reading public. Sometimes branding experts live in this idealised, cosmopolitan, London-centric world, when they actually need to think beyond the M25 and see that it is a totally different world out there.’ Case study : PWC In 2002, the consulting arm of accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers was preparing to float on the stock market. The brand team, including head of UK brand communications Jacqui Rivett, had been working on a rebrand for months. When the name, Monday, was revealed, it sparked widespread criticism. However, the debate didn’t last long. Before Monday could be floated, IBM bought the company and ditched the name in a merger with IBM Business Consulting. Many critics claim this decision rescued the firm from the embarrassment of a disastrous rebrand, but Rivett argues that the rebrand was a great achievement in terms of boosting awareness of the company. ‘We got a mention on the BBC News, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity,’ she says. ‘Of course, there was lots of misquoting about how much we had spent on the rebranding - in some sections of the media it was reported to have cost hundreds of millions of pounds - but that sort of thing is inevitable.’

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