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Marketing must be more than wishful thinking

In 1997, British Airways painted its tailfins in a range of designs to reflect the airline's “cosmopolitan” outlook. Within four years, after a hostile reception by the public, its planes were repainted in the Union flag design. Sixty million pounds went down the drain, and that's not counting the cost of humiliation to the brand.

In 1991, British Telecom became BT and its 'piper' logo design - commissioned at a cost of 50 million - was seen everywhere. Did it help the company? No - it almost failed not long after, and paid a further 5 million for a new design. More recently, The Post Office re-branded itself as Consignia, but in the face of widespread mystification and derision changed again to Royal Mail Group after just over a year.

Years ago, Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) adopted marketing to improve its poor reputation with customers and investors. It wished to be known as 'The Listening Bank' and bombarded customers and the public with this message. But it didn't have the effect the directors intended. The gap between image and reality was too great. Customers and comedians made a laughing stock of the Bank and business suffered. The tagline was dropped.

In our industry budgets are smaller, but the story is the same. Design agencies are only too happy to charge for a new logo to please the Chief Executive or his wife who fancy a new look. But spending money on re-branding and new advertising to communicate a new reality, when there is none, is futile. If underlying problems remain, it's a red herring. If essential changes are postponed such wishful thinking can harm the company.

But within the window industry companies are changing their products and service as they diversify into conservatories, roofline and flat roofing. 'Bob's Windows' may no longer tell consumers what Bob does, so many change their name to reflect this change of direction.

There are many ways to re-brand. Sub-brands ('Bob's Conservatories'); brand extensions ('Bob's Windows, Doors & Conservatories'); brand umbrellas ('Bob's Home Improvements') or a separate brand altogether 'Conservatory Dreams' are all possibilities. But be careful about creating new or additional brands - can you afford them?

There is no formula, or single answer. You have to think about the implications for you and your customers. Brands cost money, and they need maintaining and developing. It's something companies frequently overlook. Many firms invent fresh brands at the drop of a hat, but brands must have meaning and substance. If service and products are failing, customers won't be fooled by a lick of paint. Think hard before you brand.

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