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Do rebrands really work?

Windsor Life is the latest in a long line of financial services firms to opt for a name change but is a rebrand a sticking plaster for more deep-rooted problems or can it fundamentally change the public perception of an organisation? Rachael Adams reports

Closed-life book provider Windsor Life recently changed its name to ReAssure, as part of what the firm says is “a significant investment in the company” to help deliver “the right customer outcome”.

But can a change of name affect the way in which a company is perceived?

Lucian Camp Consulting director Lucian Camp says: “The commercial success of a business hinges on keeping customers and advisers willingly loyal. Doing that under a new brand will help ReAssure lose the Windsor Life baggage. From what I hear, its reputation could hardly get any worse.”

Worldwide Financial Planning IFA Nick McBreen agrees: “Windsor Life has an unfortunate history, particularly with customer relations, and, in light of treating customers fairly, it had to address this.”

Windsor Life’s recent history has not been a happy one for client relationships. It received 316 complaints through the financial ombudsman in 2009 and 245 in 2010, although this fell to 76 for the first six months of 2011. In 2009, a study by annuity broker Annuity Clearing House found that Windsor Life was taking the longest of any provider to vest pension funds – up to 10 weeks against an industry average of eight days.

According to Camp, if service standards fail to improve to coincide with the rebranding, then it is just a name change.

He says: “If people find out that the company continues to provide poor service, they will be quick to say, ’That was a lot of smoke and mirrors.’ There is more to a rebranding than just changing a name.”

There have been several rebrands of financial services in recent years.

Last year saw 1st The Exchange become Avelo. Camp says: “It generally did a pretty good job. The one mistake it made was that no one knows how to pronounce its name, which is a weakness, I suppose. ReAssure will not have that problem.”

Other high-profile rebrands include the launch of Friends Life as the name for the consolidated Friends Provident, Axa Life and Bupa protection business, as well as the decision to change Norwich Union, which was a household name, to Aviva.

TeamSpirit planning director David McCann thinks the new moniker could make or break ReAssure. He says: “Strong brands evoke emotions that people instantly associate with distinct products and organisations.”

If ReAssure has got this right, it could go some way to offsetting people’s perception of the old business.

Masius creative director of financial services Surrey Garland says one of the problems in renaming financial services businesses is the intangible nature of the service, which means it is sometimes hard to pick a name that stands for anything or feels authentic.

Garland says: “Because financial products themselves are often hard to judge, unlike a cereal or a car, the brands often struggle to stand for anything, so you end up with artificial constructs that feel phoney. The heart logo and ’love’ schtick for LV= feels false, whereas the visual ’hug’ and the name Friends Life feels more authentic.”

He thinks they may have got it right with ReAssure. “It is OK. It makes a clear commitment and there are lots of bad things the new name is not – it is not ugly like Ignis, eccentric like Octopus, artificial like Aviva or pompous like Kames Capital. It is certainly better than the faux-royal sounding Windsor.”

However, Garland is keen to point out that the success of ReAssure will depend on what it delivers.

“Names are only vessels for reputation. Some brand names are accurately descriptive – National Trust, Kleeneze, DirectLine. But Carphone Warehouse does not sell carphones and it is not a warehouse, the name just symbolises its esteem.”

Camp agrees that a name change is just that, unless there is something more to go alongside it. He says: “It is a horrible jargon word but in financial services, brand is fundamentally experiential. You can say what you like in an advertising campaign but it is the experience that makes the difference.”

McCann agrees ReAssure will have to deliver a different experience. “The public are wary of change and often question whether or not it is beneficial. When organisations rebrand, they must therefore be real about their purpose or the rebrand will raise more questions than it answers.”

It will also need to distinguish itself from the competition to make the rebrand a success, according to Garland. “In financial services, differentiation is about service. Advertising should only enhance that differentiation, not create it. The first thing an advertiser will say is, ’What makes your brand different?’ not, ’We will make your brand different.’ That way you end up with meerkats.”

Different companies face different issues when they change name. McCann says the Friends Life name change went well but it has not yet settled on a brand identity.

He says: “The change of design and logo passed without event but, in my mind, the company has not really established what the rebrand means for its clients.”

As a closed-book business, ReAssure faces a different issue. McCann says: “The issue over Windsor Life, on the other hand, is not whether or not it is successful but whether it was even necessary.

“As a closed book, not trying to attract new clients, its sole purpose should be on delivering value to its existing customers. If the rename was a legal requirement, fine. If not, we have to question why.”

However, McBreen says a name change, if coupled with better service, could be worthwhile. “Closedbook business still has to be profitable. Less time spent on complaints about service will save time and therefore not be a drag on the new operation’s financial health.”

Camp says: “The biggest threat to closed businesses is the rate of attrition. If you can slow that down and keep more customers for longer you have a success on your hands.

“Rebranding is an opportunity to put yourself in the spotlight and the only question ReAssure needs to ask itself is, am I going to look good in the spotlight or am I going to look rubbish?”


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