Three things brands must consider before pursuing a full rebrand

With HSBC set to rebrand its UK branches under a different name amid a company restructure and having suffered plummeting brand perception levels, here is what brands must weigh up before taking a similar plunge.

Whether it’s Thomson to TUI, RIM to Blackberry or Northern Rock’s transition into Virgin Money, there’s plenty of high profile examples of major brands pursuing a name change over recent years.

However for every success story there’s a Royal Mail to Consignia level nightmare.

While a rebrand might seem like a sensible way to signal a break from the past, experts suggest it can be a “lazy” strategy and that in most cases brands should to rebuild trust rather than take such drastic action.

Readdress consumer relationships

Following a global financial crisis it’s perhaps not entirely surprising to see a lack of trust in banking brands such as HSBC.

Yet HSBC’s issues are not as pandemic as YouGov’s BrandIndex ratings might suggest. According to the data, HSBC sits at or near the bottom of a list of 28 high street banking brands across a range of metrics with its buzz, a measure of the positive and negative things said about a brand, don by 13.4 points over the past year to -15.3, putting it at the bottom of the list.

Despite the worrying figures, HSBC was the most successful banking brand in the 2015 BrandZ top 100 most valuable global brands rankings retaining its position as the number one global bank with a value of $24bn.

“While we have seen declines in consumer trust in the banking category as a whole, brands that look to build relationships with consumers were able to overcome generic antipathy to the banking sector and become ‘the one I trust’ for their consumers,” says Sana M Carton, sector managing director at Millward Brown.

Brand Finance CEO David Haigh agrees and suggests that HSBC could be overcomplicating a manageable situation.

“HSBC has had no serious adverse consumer reactions against it and many of the things put against it are a bit arcane to the average person,” he muses.

Find a marketing message that connects with consumers

HSBC can learn a lot from how FMCG brands have responded to a crisis according to Nir Wegrzyn, CEO of BrandOpus.

He says: “Twinings suffered a sales decline but re-educated consumers on tea and rebranded its packaging, which has resulted in double digit sales growth.

“The chips category has also suffered due to healthy eating trends yet McCain’s shift to family based messaging has helped it beat the slump.”

Wegrzyn believes HSBC is representative of a growing trend among senior marketers who are turning to “lazy” rebranding strategies as soon as they encounter any negativity. He feels the issues are usually related to failing marketing.

He explains: “The whole point of identity and the way identities function is that a brand should be able to refresh the way people feel about it. HSBC hasn’t properly addressed its emotional connection with consumers and this feels like a knee jerk reaction.”

Haigh, meanwhile, says HSBC has parallels with the battered FIFA brand.

“The issue with renaming a brand before properly readdressing your approach to marketing is it can look like an admission of guilt,” he adds.

“People have said FIFA is a ruined brand but that isn’t true as it is a well known, well liked name and rebranding would cause even deeper trust issues.”

Global positioning

In May, when TUI announced it would be rebranding all of its European holiday brands, including the popular Thomson brand in the UK, to TUI many eyebrows were raised.

However the confidence of TUI co-chief executive Friedrich Joussen was striking as he announced: “Thomson is a successful power brand and we know people may categorise this as a risk, but this is like renovating a house as once you’ve done it and see the results, you wonder why you didn’t do something earlier.”

Over the next two to three years, the TUI brand will gradually be rolled out across the UK with the website set to be converted to www.tui.com/uk and airlines starting to carry subtle TUI branding to raise awareness among UK holidaymakers.

The TUI rebrand makes sense according to Wegryzn as it will create global synergies and be patiently delivered. HSBC should take note, he adds: “You can’t compare TUI to HSBC as if the latter rebrands the London part of HSBC as Midland Bank that messes up their whole global positioning. They are no longer the world’s local bank.”

And with financial brands such as Aviva ditching localised brand equities such as Norwich Union, Haigh believes HSBC could be moving backwards with its decision to move its London HQ to Birmingham suggesting a revival of the previously axed Midland Bank brand.

He adds: “When HSBC acquired Midland it was a toxic brand, rebranding to HSBC made a lot of sense. It is ironic they are thinking about changing back. I hesitate to say if it is the right move.

“All I know is that people’s subconscious has a long memory for brands. Rowntrees was taken over by Nestle in 1985 but people still remember it! If HSBC follows through it must believe its brand has suffered irreparable damage.”

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Comments
  • Ross Boardman 16 Jun 2015 at 11:52 am

    There is a huge difference between branding and changing the sign outside.

    Northern Rock got taken over by Virgin. There is a lot of emotional attachments to Virgin. That is branding. It’s about the emotion and not the logo, name or the pointless strapline (99% are pointless). Years of executive time is taken up each year in looking at new names or slogans. They must have put a lot of digestives in the middle of the circles for some of these !

    Changing Thomson to TUI is just as confusing as changing AirMiles to Avios. Most importantly, who cares? Jif to Cif? We now have a bathroom cleaner that sounds like a venereal disease. Well done on that one!

    Twinning is something you do when you match two cities together. Twining is tea? If re-branding is all about changing the name, then get the name right in the first place?

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