June 29, 2008

Name Dropping In Style

Thanks to the wheelings and dealings of commerce, it's not that unusual for a brand to change its name in order to meet corporate requirements in some way. Nor is it unusual for the name-change to be handled awkwardly, even ungraciously. Business-owners often show scant regard for the way in which we unconsciously register the names and other labels that help us make sense of the vast array of choice that's available to us across the board and blunder about insisting that we see the world their way (rather than ours).

I've written previously of the dog's dinner that's being made of the Campbell's / Erin Soup swap, whilst Halifax seemed to think that their changing-of-the-guard from Bank of Scotland, Ireland should be greeted with fireworks and street-party delight by the humble citizen-customer.

But I really like the way that Zurich has announced the change from Eagle Star to Zurich on posters across Ireland. I haven't been able to track down an image to show you what they've done but will add one to this post when I get the chance. The posters feature well-known personalities from various walks of life (such as Gordon D'Arcy, Samantha Mumba and Pete Postlethwaite) who tell us the different pet names and nicknames they've gone by in the past. The implication is clear and the point elegantly made: we most of us have introduced ourselves to others using different labels over the years depending on the context. Sometimes we outgrow a name, sometimes we only use it amongst close friends.

Over the years, I've variously been called Gerard (parents), Ger (close friends), Gouger (sister-in-law, then rest of family), Gau Jai (Hong Kong Police colleagues) and GT (business colleagues). I also, briefly and unwillingly, went by the name God at school (thanks to my very appealing habit of ordering team-mates around the football pitch rather than on account of any divine soccer skills).

The way in which Zurich has gone about it is really very attractive. They've neatly avoided any suggestion that the 'old' name, Eagle Star, is being abruptly terminated. Instead, they've invited us to get to know the business by it's new name whilst positioning the change in a way that makes great 'social' sense.

Of course, they stylishly imply, I don't introduce myself at a business meeting as either Gouger or God - so why should they?

June 15, 2008

Catching Fallen Stars

Oh no! It appears the Irish are politically incorrect.

I wrote in a previous post about how we Irish seemed to be dithering over our choice in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Well, I was wrong. It was apparent in the final days leading up to the decisive No result (and in the reactions afterwards) that those who came out to vote felt strongly one way or another.

It's up to the political pundits to pick over the entrails of the contest and tell us what it all means but it appears through my particular shade of glasses that the biggest failure of all was that of Brand Europe. As a business-owner, I'm often guilty of seeing things from the point of view of the economy in which I do business, but it seems others around me were prepared to look deeper and question the impact of a more streamlined but perhaps less accountable method of government on our role in Europe.

Despite studying both the wording of the Treaty itself and the commentary in our media a lot more closely in the last couple of weeks, I'm not sure that it was quite as black & white as champions of either hue would have us believe. Whilst a Yes vote was almost certainly a vote for Europe, I don't agree with the suggestion that a No vote was somehow anti-Europe. We'll hear a lot in the coming days about the 'ungrateful' Irish who are seen to bite the hand that feeds but my reading of it suggests that the No vote represents a failure above all for Brand Europe to relate effectively with its customers.

Too often, those who speak for the brand adopt a lofty and patronising tone. Too many times, those who act on its behalf appear to ride roughshod over the practical and common-sense concerns of the people who stand in their way. Just as well-meaning governments worldwide are often clumsy in their choice of phrase and heavy-handed when they take action, our European political leaders have failed to convince us that they act in our best interests.

Much has been made of the argument that we don't have to understand fully everything we sign up to (if that were the case, they say, we'd never board a plane or take out a mortgage); however, none of us would sign up to something if we didn't fully trust the intentions (or competence) of those behind the document requiring our signature.

One of the real powers of a brand lies in its ability to make the small print something of an irrelevance. It's designed to make choice that bit easier. Some would argue that branding should have nothing to do with something as fundamental as a decision on the future direction of a community of hundreds of millions of people. But people don't choose as they should, they choose as they want to.

And branding has a whole lot to do with offering people what they want.

June 02, 2008

We Who Hesitate

Who to believe?

We're in the throes of leading up to our referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and the Yes and No lobbies are out in force.

Our Commissioner in Europe for Internal Market & Services, Charlie McCreevy, has a well-earned reputation for straight-talking and he recently suggested that we don't have to read the proposed formula from start to finish to come to a decision. I've made a couple of half-hearted attempts to get to grips with the text so I'm naturally inclined to agree. Anyway, to this layman, it's not simply a question of understanding what's being proposed; there's the whole problem of getting your head around its true implications.

Christine often accuses me of being a fence-sitter. It's true. I'm challenged by being too able to see the merits of both sides of any argument. My head goes back and forth as I watch the serves, strokes and returns (front and backhand) of each of the players, and whilst I sit high on my umpire's chair, I'm reluctant to make a call.

Like many others, I'm sure, I'm inclined to shake my head in frustration and focus on the character and personality of the players instead. For me, here's where the real power of a brand comes into play. Too often, whether it comes to our choice of the shape of Europe (dahdah!), or secondary school for our children or conditioning shampoo, we simply don't have time to read the small print. Hey, sometimes we can't even find time for the bigprint. Instead, we look to the brand to guide our choice.

Here's the difficulty when it comes to the Lisbon Treaty. Neither side has much to recommend it and there's a real danger that this time out, it's going to come down to people's natural inclination to say Yes or No. Whilst I don't believe our vote is so much a question of whether we're for or against Europe (despite the efforts of the politicians to break it down neatly to this simple choice), I believe that just like the options weighed up in the supermarket aisle, it's going to come down to that rather simplistic view.

So how's that going to work? Unlike in other countries, where a contrary point-of-view is almost a birthright, I think that in the absence of a clearly branded choice, the Irish will follow our natural inclination to be agreeable and vote Yes.

There! I'm off the fence. How do you think it will play out?