Brand Name Discombobulation
Rod Davies, Orient Pacific Century
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Arthur Andersen and the British Post Office play with brand names
Those of you who have dealings with Arthur Andersen Consulting would know that they changed name this year.
And how many of you remember it?
I guess that very few of those with casual exposure to the company do, despite the brand building efforts so far...
Their new name is "Accenture".
A good move? Most initial personal reactions to seeing the new brand name is bemusement and negativity, and it will take a time for the new name to reach the brand recognition and recall boasted by the old one.
But let's start with the good parts and what we know of the characteristics of a good brand name.
Well, it's short. ...Relatively... But from there on, it gets increasingly cloudy...
It has a "techie" and "modern" appeal but hasn't "Arthur Andersen" always stood for tradition, reliability and solidity? Arthur Anderson may well be endeavouring to create a different brand altogether for their consulting division, freeing it from what may be seen as a stuffy and "old" name and giving it an image of being more modern and innovative. But what becomes of that hard earned brand equity? And "Accenture" is hardly memorable - or easy to pronounce for many non English speaking nationalities.
Nor is it image-evoking, though it gains some sophistication and classy cred from the French-Latin sounding name. But like domain names in the internet branding arena, as the number of short snappy Frenchy names run out, the more they all start sounding the same.
While a completely new corporate and virginal brand name provides a branding element which should survive whatever new businesses or directions the company may want to engage in, it also suggests a completely new company, losing considerable brand equity. But how durable is the current competitive advantage of being seen as a "new company". Our feeling is that the old ditty "everything old is new again" may well be on the verge of making a comeback with collapse of "new companies" daily.
Another traditional brand name is also heading for the morgue. From March 26th, the British Post Office becomes "Consignia" - another short snappy French-sounding name. It (only just) tops "Accenture" in the "meaning" department. Think about it twice and it suggests "consigning". But surely a good brand name should be interpretable on first thought?
According to AFP (whose brand name is another story of course!), "..the Post Office joins a growing throng of companies and organizations choosing mysterious and often largely meaningless neologisms as their preferred names."
We couldn't have said it better... From the red corner, a typically traditional boring dependable Post Office official statement reads -
"...The Post Office is a generic term that cannot be legally protected and does not differentiate the organization from other postal administrations. The new name describes the full scope of what the Post Office does in a way that "post" and "office" cannot. To consign means to entrust to the care of - which is what each of our customers does every day..."
The Post Office/Consignia, others already boasting similar names, and those considering them in the future may pause to consider the following:
Let's take a step back to my early times at a well known journal publishing company. According to my former boss, a founding director and now a landed gentry millionaire, there was nothing more important in developing a magazine or journal than the name. He didn't pay branding, advertising and research agencies millions to develop a name, though of course they didn't exist back then. His strategy was to wander around the corporate corridors of his customers and potential customers and note what they LIKED to call themselves. The key was the lynchpin of corporate pride and face - the titles on their calling card and their office door. Quicker than Erap pocketing a bribe, he raced back to the office and called his new products "Journal of TITLE". Occasionally resorting to "TITLE journal" or "International Journal of TITLE" if stung by a lapse of creativity, the company found they could charge top dollar just because if you were a TITLE, then subscribing to the "Journal of TITLE" was more or less compulsory to back up your title, regardless of content.
My former boss is now a millionaire while my own ego-driven "sophisticated aesthete" image and bank account lags somewhat behind.
Now of course we are referring to names of products and services here, rather than corporate brands that must reflect the portfolio. Sucessful corporate brand names usually stand by themselves, and associations are developed by years of brand building and advertising. But the actual name is the most critical first step, and later branding is limited by the power of the actual name.
He was right of course. A brand name must have meaning to its users, whether they be the owner, company employees, agents, suppliers, distributors and existing and potential customers. The world is more complex now, and brand names represent a massive risk that needs to be tested comprehensively. We wonder whether the current penchant for new age brand names such as Accenture and Consignia is being driven by the trendy opinions of advertising execs - or solid and valid market research?
Rod Davies is principal of Orient Pacific Century Market Research, which specialises in market research in Asian markets.