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Is your brand a dud?

July 7, 2010
Image of a Green Line Bus

Those were the days - solid branding, solid service and great aesthetics. Proper service - proper brands!


One of the results of the 1980s and 1990s in Britain was the growth of private companies as both central and local government contracted and services were privatised. Out of this came a most curious development – that of the dud brand. 

Rail privatisation is a classic case. Every five years we have the meaningless re-branding of underperforming railway companies as a new owner takes over the business responsibility. We are promised cleaner carriages, brighter stations and liveries etc etc. but we are never promised, nor do we receive, a more punctual service or a service where customers are not treated as criminals first and customers second. 

Similarly, the bus companies which arose out of the privatisation of bus services offer an equally poor passenger experience. Buses are re-sprayed, drivers get new ill-fitting nylon uniforms, yet the buses themselves are ancient, prone to breaking down and are little better than cattle wagons. Not surprisingly, out in the provinces, most buses are empty. 

Today, the Royal Mail, which until recently made two deliveries a day and managed to deliver before 9am has become a shadow of its former self. Deliveries can occur at any time, postmen and women seem to take pride in sartorial inelegance, and the whole business gives the impression of meltdown due to lack of will. 

Such is the fate of businesses where stakeholders abandon the drive to keep them going. Brands, as we know, rely on a complex array of emotional touchpoints to ensure they survive but the key to any brand is delivery. This is why privatised railway and bus companies are treated with disdain, for their brands are nothing more than dust rearranged. 

Ask any passenger what he or she thinks of being criminalised by a barrier inspector at any London terminus and you will see just how far these services have declined in our estimation. Or try catching a bus in the provinces and experience the horror of a cancelled bus and then having to wait over an hour for the next one to arrive. 

If you run a brand which offers little more than visual gloss covering barely disguised money-making, you may well find that customers begin to walk away. This is particularly the case with legacy brands, where owners have lost touch with what their brands are about and end up cutting corners, cutting costs and cutting deliverables in the pursuit of profit. 

 In the end, such companies become focused on profit alone and lose their way. No one begrudges profit but naked greed disguised as service engenders only contempt. If customers can see what you’re up to and realise that the service they used to get was considerably better than what they get now then they will seek alternatives. 

A truer, moral, brand is one based on mutuality: service delivery at a price people are prepared to pay based on the value they receive in exchange.  If your brand offers nothing but modules of questionable value you may soon have no brand left. Or business, for that matter.

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