Rebranding must be done with a marketer’s foresight

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 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. Aviva is already a successful customer brand in more than 20 countries, and has gained significant worldwide recognition.

The Avivaa management is clear about 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.
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. You have to accept that there will be a few detractors. Awareness – whether positive or negative – was the key thing in rebranding.

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.

The 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, the repositioning was a huge success.

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 success could be achieved in the 41st year.

Some brand consultants have advised to reposition, it would be necessary to axe the Club 18-30 brand, but the director believed more in brand ‘evolution’. Club 18-30 has such recognition that changing the name would be to its disadvantage.

A lot of high-street brands tend to be superficial in their approach, thinking too much in terms of logos , brochures and shop fronts. Many rebrands seem to be little more than exercises in vanity.

Another company 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.

Rebranding, then, is a risky business, and 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.