Thursday, 7 June 2012

What’s in a name? The re-brand dilemma - Yellow Pages, or Hibu?

Nothing causes more comment and amusement than when a business decides to re-brand itself. The announcement by Yellow Pages that it is re-branding all its digital products worldwide to Hibu has achieved just that.

Now there is a clear difference between re-branding and re-positioning. Re-positioning is when a business tries to change what it, or its brands, stands for in the minds of its customers. Re-branding though is a change of position and also identity and is one of the most expensive and difficult things a business can do. Local examples of this are the re-branding of Norwich Union to Aviva versus the re-positioning of Bernard Matthews.

When Norwich Union wanted brand uniformity across the world it re-branded its entire business to Aviva. The universal use of “Aviva”, recognised now as a global group with a common brand, is testament to what Aviva achieved and the tactics it used to get there.

Bernard Matthews is still on the long journey of re-positioning themselves following a range of PR nightmares starting with Jamie Oliver’s Turkey Twizzler outburst in 2005,. Its actions over the years, changing to Bernard Matthews Farms and signing Marco Pierre White show that this is possible but can take time to change public perception back to being known for product quality and a healthier image.

Brands certainly should evolve over time or risk being overtaken by competition. Good brand managers know this but also understand that they are just custodians of brands that often existed before them and will do after them, our newspapers brands have taught me that.

For every Aviva though, with good reasons to take the difficult route, there are many more examples like the Royal Mail. It lasted 16 months being called Consignia before being forced to change back to the old name wasting millions in the process.

Yellow Pages is a big business, big enough to post an annual loss of £1.4billion with debts of £2.2billion. It is not just the yellow book but an international business who grew through acquisition (the massive loss caused by a £1.59 billion write down of businesses in the UK, US, Spain, China and Peru).

The change in Yell’s fortunes has, in the main, been caused by the impact of the internet. It is no longer the go-to place for directory listings and despite extensive investment in its online offerings, competition has hit it hard. It has tried to diversify, for example it now builds websites for its advertisers, building 337,000 for its clients worldwide in 2011 alone, but clearly this is not enough.

So to break with the past and try to revitalise its digital offerings, Yell is re-branding all its digital products across all countries, including in the UK, to “Hibu”, pronounced high boo. Products that have spent money and effort building up brand reputations and awareness are going to be changed. Of course having one brand across all your international markets and the consistency and savings it can bring can make sense, see Aviva for that.

But this is a very treacherous and difficult road to take with few making a successful change. Whether this works, only time will tell, something Yell is short on. Certainly this smacks of last throw of the dice rather than thought out strategy in good times. I hope they learn lessons from those who have done it well as well as those who now regret.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant - follow on twitter @timyoungman

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