Your business identity is the fundamental element in your corporate communications strategy. The business name and the visual identity are the face of your business and express your identity and personality to internal and external audiences.
But that certainly doesn’t mean you should be changing the name and your corporate style as often as you change your corporate plans. History is littered with examples of ill-advised identity changes.
Your business will (or certainly should) have invested heavily over the years in projecting its values in conjunction with its name and identity. Unless there has been some catastrophic reason for wanting to leave the past behind you, you don’t throw that away without some very careful planning and research.
One classic example of the folly of changing identity was Ever Ready, or the British Ever Ready Electrical Company to give it its full name.
When I was a lad, batteries were usually blue and had the familiar Ever Ready logo on them.
Somewhere around the 1980s someone in the company decided it was time to change. British Ever Ready Electrical Company became Berec and the familiar blue batteries were changed to white and brown and the unknown Berec replaced the time-honoured Ever Ready logo.
The consumer was, not surprisingly, confused. Ever Ready had disappeared and, if the company did try to carry brand loyalty to the new name and look, I must have missed it. Ever Ready’s apparent disappearance opened the door to companies like Duracell and Energizer who happily cornered the market.
One of the highest-profile renaming fiascos recently was the Post Office. In a rush of blood to someone’s head, it renamed itself Consignia and hurriedly changed back just a year later.
Not all name changes are a corporate communications nightmare. Google is so well known around the world that its name has become a commonly used verb – ‘to google’. Whether it would have got to that status with its original 1996 name ‘BackRub’, is very doubtful.
On a number of occasions clients have protested that they want to change their name to reflect how their offering has evolved. I have always urged caution. Established names can still preside over a changed product or service offering.
For the past 50 years or so, the Radio Times has been more about TV than radio. American Express no longer handles express deliveries. General Electric has diversified well beyond things electrical. And 3M has outgrown its original persona as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.
These, and many more examples, show that a company or brand name can outlive its relevance to current products and services. A version of this blog appears in the Institute of Directors Scotland Magazine
Another associated trend I have urged clients to resist is the move to use initials. It may be good for shorthand reference to the business internally, but in external communication initials are usually too anonymous. Unless you have a marketing budget the size of KFC, you are better sticking with your equivalent of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
But it is not just changes to the name itself that can throw customers. A change of the corporate identity design can cause confusion and simultaneously strain the bank balance.
If you have deep pockets to spend establishing a new look that expresses your company’s personality better, then a new look can, of course, be very refreshing. And it needn’t cost the $1 million that Pepsi reportedly spent on a revision of its identity.
But a good corporate identity is something recognisable instantly, even if you are not looking directly at it. That came to mind vividly, when driving through a small town in rural Texas of all places. Literally out of the corner of my eye, I recognised the well-known logo of Aberdeen’s Wood Group.
Many of us will have seen and marvelled how the name on well-known corporate identities can be changed, but remain immediately recognisable. That sort of recognition is not something you want to lose.
In a busy world where we are bombarded with marketing messages on all sides a good, established, recognised corporate identity is worth its weight in gold.