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H&R Block Brand Identity
 

H&R Block - angling


  H&R Block
angling
by Peter J. Burger
April 11, 2005

Spring is in the air for the northern hemisphere, and that means tax preparation in the US. Along with the green of new buds on trees, financial services and tax preparation firm H&R Block hopes you'll notice its own striking green retail locations.

 
 

Founded in 1955, H&R Block's former identity included three different logo versions of the name: one red, one blue, and one black. In 2000, the company rolled out a new identity consisting of a snappy, neon-green block next to the company name.

The quest for a new identity began July 1999, when H&R Block decided to align its brand image with its business strategy and reposition the company for expansion. Known as a personal income tax preparer, H&R Block now wished to promote an array of financial services besides tax prep, including home mortgages, financial planning, and investing advice.

However, research showed that, while the H&R Block brand was strong, the company was known solely for its tax work in a market that included American Express Tax and Business Services, Intuit, and Jackson Hewitt. To compete against its new rivals in a financial advisory world populated by names like Dean Witter, Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, the company needed to stand out.

The idea was to breathe new life into the H&R Block brand, to make the customer stop and say, "That's not the H&R Block I think I know."

The fresh, contemporary green (a contrast to the dark green of another American classic brand John Deere) is intended to communicate a progressive identity and reposition H&R Block as a full-service financial provider. With a core market in the US and Canada, H&R Block also offers services in the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. The company's visual look needed to play well globally.

Green, but Not Unseasoned
Why green instead of a more traditional business color like blue? Color impacts the senses immediately, and H&R Block needed to look different from its competitors to stand out.

Indeed, color is a tool many companies use to duke it out in the market. Think of UPS ("What can brown do for you?") and its competitor DHL's response in advertising ("Yellow. It's the new brown"). Not to mention ING's orange, Pepsi's use of blue against Coke's red, and FedEx's color-coded divisions. Some companies even own their color in casual reference (IBM as Big Blue).

But aside from being "different," what are the benefits of green? In their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al and Laura Ries identify green as a color to depict the environment and health. H&R Block's green, one can argue, associates the company with health—financial health.

Grounded in Tradition
While green may seem an edgy ingredient of H&R Block's visual identity, the block logo does not. A graphic representation of the company name, the square element stands in stark contrast to the original logo, which featured the name but no block. The square, according to the designers, balances out the edgy green, by grounding the company's new brand identity in H&R Block's traditional role of tax-preparer. The Block name remains but the green square offers a new twist.

Winning the Name Game
While color and shape are critical elements of brand identity, so is a company's name. Company founders, Henry and Richard Bloch, named the company after an easy-to-pronounce, slightly altered spelling of their last name, to allow the name to roll off the tongue. The layout of the block and name adheres to the Ries's suggestion of "Law of Shape." Since our eyes are positioned side-by-side on the face, it's easy to view the horizontal layout.

More than a Logo
Five years ago H&R Block's business goal was to expand its service offerings to target a wider range of financial needs and individuals with higher net worth.

Today the tax unit still represents nearly half of the firm's US$ 4.3 billion in sales. This year, the company estimates that more than 19 million taxpayers will file through its tax preparation services at one of its more than 11,000 tax offices throughout the US.

However, competition from cheaper preparers and even do-it-yourself options like Turbo Tax from Intuit, dig into H&R Block's core business, placing more urgency on the goal to diversify. Unfortunately, not all the divisions at H&R Block are producing. Particularly hard hit have been the mortgage division and the financial advisors unit (which is under evaluation for a new plan of action).

On a positive note, H&R's stock price grew more than threefold (from about US$ 15 in early 2000 to just over $50 in early April 2005). But it remains to be seen whether the company will see more green across the organization as a whole in the near future.

 
     
  

Peter J. Burger, a strategic communications professional at Ernst & Young, develops articles like this to broaden understanding of marketing within the firm and build compliance with the company's brand identity system. Peter can be reached at peter.burger@ey.com.

H&R Block's company chairman, Mark A. Ernst, descends from the same Ernst family that led to Ernst & Ernst, a predecessor to Ernst & Young, in 1903. The Ernst family emigrated from Germany to the US in the 1850s.

  
     
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