Monday Morning Moan - Branded! You don’t become digitally-enabled through ritual disemvowelment

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan April 26, 2021
A simple way to get more digitally-enabled - some alphabetical colonic irrigation is in order to purge your vowels. Srsly!


How do you become digitally-enabled? Spend millions of dollars/pounds/euros on transformation services and technology from expensive consultants, IT vendors and US ‘on the meter’ systems integrators? Well, that’s one way. Or you could just drop part of the company name and nuke a pile of unnecessary vowels from what’s left.

The latter option seems to be the direction of travel from Standard Life Aberdeen which is dropping the ‘Standard’ and the ‘Life’ bits of its identity and just going with Abrdn. (That’s pronounced ‘Aberdeen’ as the official announcement feels it necessary to explain.)

The reason for this ritual disemvowelment is in part to reflect that that firm, which can date its origins back to Standard Life Assurance in 1825, is now a “modern, agile and digitally-enabled brand” - or so it says in the press release, where Abrdn Chief Executive Stephen Bird explains:

Our new brand Abrdn builds on our heritage and is modern, dynamic and, most importantly, engaging for all of our client and customer channels. It is a highly-differentiated brand that will create unity across the business, replacing five different brand names that have been each been operating independently. Our new name reflects the clarity of focus that the leadership team are bringing to the business as we seek to deliver sustainable growth.”

Apparently the new brand identity marks the “next stage in the reshaping of the business” and its focus will be on three areas - asset management, technology platforms for advisers and UK savings and personal wealth. It’s the latest move by the financial institution to shake off its roots, following the announcement back in February that the Standard Life brand had been sold off to its asset management partner Phoenix.

Dgtl thnkng

It’s got to be said,  choosing to emphasise your digital-enablement by dropping the ‘e’ does make a refreshing change from all those companies that have so long thought that sticking an 'e' in front of whatever area of life you’re attempting to colonise makes you sound all digital and stuff - e-commerce, e-books, e-fitness etc etc. Sort of like all of those firms that thought sticking 'i-' in front of anything made it sound more like Apple - until Apple’s IP lawyers started paying too much attention.

At this point it is of course compulsory to dig up the clip from sitcom W1A about the rebranding of the BBC logo by PR agency Perfect Curve so that it sounds less like a broadcaster and more like an app, where one of the main issues to overcome in the “major brand surgery” was that there were too many letters in BBC:

Of course, it’s hardly the first time that companies have embarked on brand overhauls in an ill-fated attempt to emphasize their modernity. One of my favorites was the decision by The Company Formerly Known As WeightWatchers to take one of the most instantly recognisable brand names on the face of the planet, one that really did ‘do what it says on the tin’ and gut it of its vowels - what the hell is it with purging your vowels that’s so appealing? - and most of its consonants as well, opting to go for the ultra-slimmed-down WW instead.

As I noted at the time:

Apps play a large part in this latest iteration of the reinvention of WeightWatchers. Just that very ‘double-u, double-u’ is clearly intended to appeal to a different demographic than the one that has been most associated with WeightWatchers. Objective - get the app-happy millennials talking about going to WW as a destination. (That’s fine in theory until someone points out it sounds a bit like going to AA and then you’re in line for dirty looks from the marketing department…).

Six months later and the new digitally-enabled branding wasn’t clicking, as CEO Mindy Grossman conceded:

The launch of our new global brand rollout and campaign needed a more overt bridge between WW and WeightWatchers and between weight loss and wellness.

To be fair, WeightWatchers was seeing increased demand for consumers using its services to tap into its app and its business model was/is one that is ripe for digital enablement.  And the firm has made it work, with the current branding of 'WW - weightwatchers reimagined' now much more recognisable.

Some re-brandings do find traction, even if they’re not initially popular. Some of us in the UK still struggle with calling Marathon chocolate bars Snickers, for example - and don’t even get me started on the subject of the decision to rename Opal Fruits as Starburst! - but that's here to stay. 

But the danger all too often with such logo and branding redesigns is that they are launched in a blaze of glory with lots of Perfect Curve types toasting the onset of a tidal wave of modernity for their ageing icons, only for all the effort - and cash spent - to be tossed away within months.

Remember when Coca-Cola decided it was a good idea to change Coca-Cola Classic to New Coke? Maybe you don’t - it only lasted for a few months in 1985 in the face of massive consumer resistance to the change. Or when the UK national airline British Airways thought it would be sensible to paint over all of its trademark Union flags on the tail fins of its fleet. That started in 1997, was put on hold in the face of complaints in 1999, and reversed in 2001.

Tch frms glty

Tech firms aren’t immune from brand and name changes. I’ve lost track of how many BTs we’ve had over the years. Research in Motion became Blackberry to better effect, MongoDB started as 10gen and Twitch was once There was also once a firm called Softcard, now part of Google, that started life rejoicing in the name of Isis. Sometimes change is a necessary thing...

But choosing names that mirror and extend brand values isn’t always easy. Most recently we’ve seen IBM, again already one of the world’s most immediately recognisable brands, choosing to spin of its Managed Infrastructure business as Kyndryl, a totally made-up name that is so totally made-up that it requires the firm to explain its derivation. Cue ‘Siobhan’ and team:

Kyndryl is a modern adaptation of two words that are central to the new company’s identity and mission.  ‘Kyn' is derived from the word kinship, referencing the belief that relationships with people — employees, customers and partners — are at the center of the strategy, and that long-lasting relationships must be built and nurtured. ‘Dryl’ comes from tendril, bringing to mind new growth and the idea that — together with customers and partners — the business is always working toward advancing human progress.  

I mean, yes, no, yes, I mean, absolutely, I mean you’ll have a better idea on this I do, sure, yes, absolutely.  I mean kin is actually spelled with an ‘i’ not a ‘y’ and so is tendril, but yeah, losing that vowel like that makes it all really edgy and modern and digital and stuff.

So good luck to Abrdn in its pursuit of name-change-enabled digital agility. One last thing though - when you literally have to explain how to pronounce your new name in the official announcement, I do hope that someone at some point said, ‘Er, does this really slip off the tongue?’ And put that to some A/B testing.

Or is that just wishful thinking? Or as I should rephrase it in a bid to be more digitally-enabled, 'Are we sure this isn't a load of old bllcks?'. 

The Twitter verdicts are coming in. And as one person has pointed out, they could have done worse than Abrdn: