A rose by any other name… would smell of consultants

Brand consulting is a rich field for the triumph of style over substance. Like their management counterparts, many practitioners seem incurably wedded to overblown language that sounds impressive but is nothing more than meaningless platitudes.

Countless expensive hours are spent on formulating statements of ‘mission, vision, values’ that are read by few and remembered by even fewer. Countless millions of pounds, dollars, euros, or whatever currency you care to name go into the creation of this supposed foundation-stone of branding.

Yet most executives cannot even recognise their own corporate mission statements!*

Consultants trouser fat fees from re-naming projects that will miraculously transform a misfiring business into a well-loved brand. Almost invariably a waste of time and money. A fancy new name and a shiny new logo will not make customers any happier if they still get the ‘same old’.

If anything, they will be even more resentful that the money was not spent on giving them the kind of reliable products, services, and value for money that they really want. The qualities that lead to lasting customer satisfaction and are the true building blocks of a genuine ‘brand’.

Who remembers Consignia, the eye-wateringly expensive re-branding of the British post office? All incurred while that institution was falling ever lower in public esteem. The name change, announced in a blaze of publicity, did not last long – and made no difference at all to the continued decline in customer confidence.

BP’s re-branding is remembered – for all the wrong reasons. It redesigned its logo to look more eco-friendly – naturally, at vast expense. And equally naturally, nobody noticed – until BP was responsible for the largest oil spill of all time and the whole ‘eco-friendly’ exercise was derided as valueless corporate window-dressing.

Kraft Foods’ logo was globally recognised for decades. When it changed in 2009, consumers complained so vehemently that the company returned to the original. How many millions of dollars did that cost, just to learn about customers’ thinking?

MasterCard also had a simple and universally recognised logo, but somehow decided something more complicated would be better. Again the change was short-lived and the old logo came back. But at huge costs in time, money, and public ridicule. 

Ever heard of Qwikster? No, didn’t think you would. But for sure you’ll have heard of Netflix. Who hasn’t? But some genius thought a name change was essential. And a committee (probably) of even greater genius decided that Qwikster was a vast improvement. Consultants walked away with fat fees for this exercise in pointlessness. The client executives who approved the expense should also have walked away, or been escorted off the premises by the men in white coats.

Pizza Hut decided to rebrand as just ‘The Hut’, thinking that would be more appealing to a younger market. Cue cascades of cash for new logo, new signage, new advertising… the whole branding caboodle. Till somebody eventually realised that the only huts in pop culture are Jabba the Hutt and Gilligan’s Island. The rebrand was still-born. But what a costly pizza work for no return.

Gap is one of the best-known re-branding disasters – at an estimated cost of $10 million. Without warning, the logo that had done its job quite happily for 20 years got replaced. The typography changed and weird new ‘design’ elements were introduced. Within days, the internet and social media had made it clear that customers hated the new look. After just six days it was abandoned and the original reinstated.

Wouldn’t a little investment in customer research have helped mind the Gap – and the resultant gap in the balance sheet?

These are just a few examples of how branding and re-branding can go so badly wrong. Why? Usually a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Consultant arrogance in convictions of their own superiority and promoting novelty for its own sake; executive arrogance in following the consultants’ advice because they’ve already been paid big fees that must be justified by showing the outcome.

The ignorance is not far removed – failure to conduct even basic research and being totally detached from what their customers think and say about their brands.

*Research by the Financial Times has shown that most executives fail to recognise their own company mission statement when asked to choose from a selection. And they wonder why customers scoff at just how vapid and meaningless they are?

Here’s a little test. Can you match the statements with their companies?

A. eBay
B. Starbucks
C. Amazon
D. Falke
E. Ford

  1. “Heritage is history with a future.”
  2. “We are passionate about harnessing our platform to empower millions of people by levelling the playing field for them.”
  3. “Your bar raiser should also run the debrief after every hiring loop.”
  4. “Our dream is to grow our clients’ business by transforming human behaviour through uplifting, meaningful human experiences.”
  5. “Life performance solutions.”

(Answers: 1-E, 2-A, 3-C, 4-B, 5-D. Well done if you got any of them right.)

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