Why is branding so bloody hard to get right?

HomeBlogWhy is branding so bloody hard to get right?

Last week football gave us a lesson in marketing failure and caterpillar cakes showed us a social media masterclass. Have we seen a textbook ‘how not to rebrand’ from finance and investments this week?

Yesterday Standard Life Aberdeen announced its rebrand to abrdn – and met with a torrent of industry mocking.

The rebrand comes on the back of the 2017 merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management and the subsequent sale of the Standard Life brand to Phoenix in February. It will replace 5 separate brands. But, did they get the branding right?

What is a rebrand?

There are a couple of options when it comes to rebranding… tweaking your visuals or an all-in.

The lighter touch effort that will focus on small modifications to your logo, colour palette, font and tone of voice is often used when:

– You have brand drift. You’ve lost track of your brand controls and inconsistencies creep in. This can happen if you use multiple agencies or have disjointed marketing and communications functions.

– Your brand is dated. You’ve been around for a long time and whilst your propositions are evolving your visuals haven’t and they need a new lease life.

– You’ve extended your offering. If you increase and/or improve what you sell you might need to adapt your visuals to reflect that.

– Your customer demographic has changed and you need a refresh to better align with their values and needs.

The full monty – a completely new name and visual identity is used when:

– You’ve gone through a merger or acquisition. When two brands come together you need clarity. In an acquisition the acquired brand generally falls away, but mergers are a different game. If you have 2 well established and respected brands you need to harness all that brand equity. How you do that is the cause of marketing nightmares across the globe.

– Your brand has evolved. If your mission, vision and values no longer match your identity you need to build a new brand which matches what you stand for.

– You’re entering new markets. International language and translation or cultural differences are the most likely drivers for this, but appealing to a different customer profile is also a catalyst for change.

When and how should you rebrand?

The million-dollar question! Rebranding is a marketing nightmare – there are far more examples of companies getting it royally wrong than hitting the mark. Branding or rebranding can also be a black hole when it comes to budgets. Creativity costs, and is also subjective – so whilst you’re busy analysing opinions, zero’s are being added to the final bill. Which is why many ‘rebranding exercises’ tend to go for the tweaking of visual and verbal assets than a full-on renaming exercise.

But here’s a couple of reasons that might make you take the rebranding leap:

  • – New market locations
  • – New (and different) products and propositions
  • – Merger or acquisition
  • – Change of purpose or mission

If you’re going for it… do it right! Know why you’re changing and put your customers at the heart of it. 

Research, research, research

Understand your market, your competitors, your existing customers and potential customers. This is the first and most important step. It takes time but is a critical step in any branding project.

Redefine your purpose

Using all that newly gathered data and insight set to work on articulating who you are, what you stand for and how you tell that story. Then test and refine – have you got something people want? It may feel arduous now but it’s better to spend the time up-front in getting it right.

Name, visual and verbal

The creative part of the rebranding exercise, it’s fun and time consuming and will involve – yes – more research.

Bring it to life

Brand guidelines, web designs and colour palettes are only half the story, bringing your staff on the journey and making sure your product or service delivers on your purpose is just as important.

Four short bullets don’t do justice to a project that is likely to take more than a year to execute, but if you want to talk branding – just give me a call…

Naming strategies and what to avoid

Ah, so the crux of all the fuss yesterday… how should you pick a name? Well, how long is a piece of string? There are common approaches to naming:

  • Descriptive – whether it’s names or products, geographical or historical, descriptive names explain a bit about the company.
  • Abbreviations – it could be initials or acronyms, but essentially a random set of letters put together.
  • Composite – two unrelated words put together to create a new meaning or indeed, identity.
  • Made up – invented words that have absolutely zero definition until your business defines it.

You only need to look in your house to find examples of all those. Forbes give 15 mistakes to avoid when naming a brand…here’s a summary of what not to do:

  • Too descriptive – you don’t want your name to be a complete sentence.
  • Too hard to read or say – you don’t want to have to spell it or explain every time you say it.
  • Too trendy – fashions never last.
But brand is so much more than a name…

Your brand is everything and everything is your brand – from your name, colours, logo and language to how you answer the phone and sign off emails. Your brand is as much about the feeling it evokes as it is about how it looks. Your brand isn’t a thing you can touch, it’s how your business, product or service is perceived.

For example if I say Apple -you may well think iPhone, Mac, iPad, Steve Jobs, swanky and spacious stores but also things like…easy to use, market leading, innovators…(confessions of an Apple fan!).

Branding is what creates loyalty, not just repeat transactions in a commercial sense, but going out of your way to purchase or use that one particular brand. And then sharing that experience with your family and friends – the ultimate goal of branding – advocacy.


Despite branding being so much more than name – the name is invariably the first thing your customers will encounter. The first opportunity you have to resonate, so it’s pretty damn important. 

It’s easy to get excitedly caught up on the creativity – a rebrand IS FUN, but the end result has to be relatable to your audience – if the research wasn’t spot on, the target will be off and all that creative energy (and budget) will be wasted.

Did they get it right?

I don’t think abrdn as a name works, the short term trend of dropping ‘e’s is something I’m constantly berating my teenage son for doing in his text messages. It’s not easy to read – the press release even had to say ‘pronounced Aberdeen’. So how will customers know what to type into Google – will it depend if they heard the ad on the radio or saw it on TV? Or are the audio ads going to say ‘Aberdeen spelt abrdn’?

If you’re going to go wild, own it, make it part of your story, and know why you did it and who you did it for – your customers!

But that’s just a name, the whole point is a brand is so much more than that. If you want to change your results, performance and customer experience you need to change the fundamentals of your proposition, service, audience (or whatever it is that isn’t working) – not just your name and logo. But by consolidating 5 brands into 1 there should be some spare marketing budget to focus on service and proposition!

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