Over the last 14 months the Post Office/Consignia branding experiment has been like your worst date ever – short, unproductive but very memorable. So how exactly did this train wreck happen?
The Post Office’s rebranding follows a long line of stodgy- and storied-sounding British organizations choosing to become less identifiable, including National Power becoming Innogy; British Steel, Corus; and Welsh Water, Hyder. However, the Post Office’s change to Consignia was met with the most outcry for a number of reasons.
The Post Office was in a quagmire before it adopted a meaningless name. Spanning the period of pre- and post-name change, Post Office/Consignia operations bled through an obscene amount of money, £1.5 million a day by some counts and for the six months preceding November 2001, £281 million (US$ 2.2M, 418M). The organization, which operates with annual sales of £8 billion (US$ 12B) and employs 220,000 people, quickly found itself between a cash-flow problem and a vocal labor force wise to labor-cutting quick fixes. During one point of threatened strikes in the last year, Consignia’s own workers’ union boycotted the use of “Consignia,” and called for a return to “Post Office.”
Post Office/Consignia chief executive John Roberts was – to be gentler than his scatologically gifted employees – a bit daft. In a 2001 pre-changeover BBC interview, Roberts said that Consignia evoked the word consign, “mean[ing] to trust to the care of. Which is what our customers do each day.” Not long after, in another mystifying demonstration of his PR/English expertise he said: “The name doesn’t actually mean anything.” A difficult re-brand even under the most surgical conditions, a veneer of flippancy and confusion at such high levels does not point to confidence, to say nothing of coherency.
In a market environ where affixing an antique four-digit number following the word since is practically sine qua non to instant brand respectability, the idea of disowning a link to a 260-plus year history seems only slightly less dizzy than discarding the beautiful cast-iron red post box icons adorning British sidewalks. The obvious logic of the since tactic – that if the brand’s been around for more than a century, it must be valuable/successful/worthy/profitable – seems to carry awesome value.
Brits are a proud, culturally-heritaged bunch. While general sounding, the Post Office (which includes the Royal Mail arm) is part and parcel of a culture that still maintains, to its great expense, an often-embarrassing royal family. But Consignia? Good grief, it sounds more like an Italian airline or, ironically, an American branding consultancy then the sort of organization the Queen would trust her correspondence with.
For God’s Sake Why?
Sometimes a branding overhaul is necessary, even after a long and estimable history – the Communist Party and New Kids on the Block come to mind, as does, for separate reasons, Andersen. And, several of the reasons Consignia gives for its change do strike with some validity.
To begin with, as the group looks to expand internationally, Post Office proves to be too vague. A Consignia website dedicated to answering questions about the name change defends: “The Post Office name would be confusing abroad and would also be difficult to protect.” Further, “The Post Office group did not fully describe what we do as a business.” And they’re right, as Consignia also banks, retails and tailors logistic solutions. However, the site adds a defensive: “The name was received extremely well in customer research.”
Royal Mail, a pre-Consignia proposed possibility and seemingly what Consignia has become, may not play well in certain former colonies or in nations where not-so-benevolent local royals were violently separated from both throne and head.
You’ve Got Consignia
It is not surprising that calls have gone out far and wide for the resignation of top Consignia executives and directors, with one postal employee online mocking, Resign-ia.
What’s not funny is that the Beeb has reported that Consignia/Royal Mail/Post Office, most likely as a result of further losses, is launching a £1.2B restructuring plan that will cut at least 40,000 jobs over the next three years (US$ 1.8B). The Financial Times reported on June 13, 2002, that already the company has announced losses for the year at £1.1B (US$1.6B) and 17,000 job cuts.
The real irony here is that the rebrand absurdity has made Consignia a highly recognized name in some warped turn on “all publicity being good publicity,” like a celebrity criminal or a naughty royal. The company promises a rebrand – hopefully one that will help the Post Office put all this behind and get back to delivering a public service.