Mark Ritson: Dixons Carphone and the branding question

After the M&A people have done their work, then comes the branding bit. With the Dixons and Carphone Warehouse deal complete, the newly merged leadership team must get to work on how they will brand their new beast.

At the corporate level the decision has already been made to simply conjoin the two companies into one and call it Dixons Carphone. That’s usually a holding move and foreshadows the trickier, more important decision of how to handle the consumer-facing brands.

Sorting out the brand portfolio, architecture and naming of a newly merged entity is always a marketing nightmare. The heady mix of corporate cultures, personal ego, brand associations and bottom line performance makes the identification, creation and naming of a new structure an unenviable task. In the case of Dixons Carphone it is especially tough.

This really is a merger, rather than a takeover, so everyone involved will feel their brand should have a future. Then there is the size of the brands involved. It would be easy, if you hang out with marketers all day, to sneer at 20th century brands like Currys, PC World and Carphone Warehouse that now face the chopping block. But escape from the social bubble that marketers inhabit and return to a quotidian reality where most people listen to music on a radio not the internet and watch content on their TV not their tablet, and it’s clear that these huge brands still have gigantic potential. Throw in the additional challenge that none of the brands involved, despite their big brand equities, have the right name for the years ahead (car phones died 20 years ago, ditto a world dominated by PCs) and you have a recipe for an almighty branding challenge.

So what are the options? I see three unlikely but entertaining scenarios.

In the first, Dixons Carphone could follow the advertising agency model for solving branding issues by just keep adding and acronyming forever. The initial name comes from just conjoining all the names of the founders into a single word which you later shorten into an acronym, adding more names as you evolve. That’s how we got AMV BBDO, VCCP and my favourite RKCR/Y&R. The ad agency solution to the Dixons Carphone conundrum would be to call the new brand either CPCWCPW or, the more catchy, CCWPCW/Dixons.

As usual, it probably pays to ignore how ad agencies organise their own businesses and just listen to their advice on how you should run yours. So let’s move to a more solid strategic place: the world of management consulting. If the people at Dixons Carphone know what is good for them they will follow strategic titans like PwC and Accenture and come up with a radical new name for the business. Finding a name that is still available from an IP point of view is tricky these days but consulting firms have hit on a number of innovative ways to solve the problem.

The first option is to make something up that sounds right but means nothing – Accenture for example. I’d recommend a vaguely Latin combination of purchase (emptio) and circa (connection) and call the new company Empticirc.

Alternatively, a more recent consulting twist is to use punctuation to render a potential meaningful name totally meaningless and therefore ownable – the newly minted Strategy& from PwC is the exemplar here. Using this approach Dixons Carphone could rebrand under the name Technology but add a bunch of hyphens and exclamation marks to make it distinctive. Probably something like #Tech???nol@gggggy. My invoice for 2 million quid is in the post.

A final option is to follow the two-step model adopted recently by fellow tech brands Orange and T-Mobile when they merged in 2010. First choose two equally attractive words – in their case everything and everywhere, smash them together and spend millions explaining to a baffled public why such a long, nonsensical name makes perfect sense. Then after two years, totally contradict yourself, acronymise the name and spend more explaining why a set of initials is definitely the way to go.

With so many impressive recent rebranding case studies to choose from, which branding path will Dixons Smartphone take? So many options, so much money to be spent, so much room for error.

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