Solicitors Journal

Beware The Brand

We have recently emerged from a rebranding exercise in the office. Overnight, a transformation occurred: from the replacement of letterhead paper and the launch of a new website to receiving a collectible umbrella in a choice of two colours (red or blue) branded mugs, pens, pencils, post-it notes and mouse mats. Each item is emblazoned with the BDB logo, predominantly in navy blue.

Although with any change comes an element of scepticism, in the main the rebrand has been embraced and there is good reason for that. The rebrand hasn’t been just for the sake of it. Instead, it has been prepared for and working in the background for many months. Although it may not have been obvious on a physical or visible level, the foundations were being laid – not just for a change of logo, but for a change in the way the firm works internally and with clients, how it is perceived, the standards it values and the behaviours it encourages. Only once that had been achieved did the brand manifest itself and appear to the world at large.

I have little doubt that the whole exercise was expensive, and, in part, the product of many hours of meetings unintelligible to those not fluent in PR and management speak, but I think it has been worth it. On day one, there was a genuine lift in the office as the dishwasher filled with identical mugs and desks were decorated with pens and colourful mouse mats. Across each floor, security passes are now worn with pride, like Olympic medals, around the neck on freshly branded lanyards. There has also been positive feedback from clients who were reminded that it was still the same firm that they know and cherish, but with a whole new look. A bit like Sharon Osborne after surgery – a little less dowdy with a new waist and wardrobe.

Falling short

But not all rebrands have been so successful. The most famous example of recent years was the launch of Consignia, formerly (and subsequently) known as the Post Office Group. The problem was that there were three parts to the group: post offices, Royal Mail and Parcel Force. Did anyone know (or care) which one provided which service? And would a new name really change that? Described at the time by one business commentator as “the most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birthright for a bowl of stew”, the exercise did not meet the expectations of its originators. One of the problems the Post Office had was its history, its place in the community and – good and bad – its reputation. The problem was, by forcing the consumer to make this paradigm shift in logic, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

There have been some success stories, I am sure, but they are simply not memorable. Opal Fruits will never be Starburst to my generation; Marathon bars still look the same (if smaller) but are called, oddly, Snickers. And in 1999, mothers’ favourite the Oil of Ulay became the Oil of Olay causing confusion to many kids and dads searching around Boots in the run up to Mothers’ Day. You might be interested to know that it was the Oil of Ulan in Australia and variously the Oils of Ulag and Ulaz around the world. In Hong Kong it went by the Oil of Ulan (as Ulay sounds very close to a Cantonese expletive, apparently).

Then, as if it were timed to take some of the pressure from my own firm, old father Murdoch launched The Sun on Sunday. Yes, it looks the same as every other red top every other day of the week, but this one has a unique selling point: a weekly column (allegedly) written by Katie Price. The front page may as well have read ‘what phone hacking scandal?’

Bold v understated

Other recent rebrands have included legal education providers BPP and the College of Law. In a bold, courageous statement BPP elected for a lion to represent their no-nonsense approach to training solicitors to have teeth. Either that, or, taking their lead from the Wizard of Oz, adopted the same approach to branding as to their fees (put ‘em up, put ‘em up). The College of Law took a more subtle approach and now presents itself with a slick, 21st century font and neon website. Whether either of these will give them an edge in the super-competitive education market is yet to be seen, but at least we know where the money is being spent.

The best way to approach a new brand is to identify who or what you are, what you are looking to become and working to your strengths. Conservatism (with a small ‘c’) is not something to be feared. In fact, it can often be a reason why clients stick with law firms especially. Familiarity too. So, before you think about relaunching yourself or your business, stop, have a think, and ask yourself: is a Magnum just an expensive choc-ice on a stick?

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 13 March 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission

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