Standard Life Aberdeen rebranding as Abrdn shows why firms should be proud of their base - Mark Casci

The annals of business history are littered with failure. The very essence of capitalism is to encourage competition and so, as such, there will always be winners and losers.

Many of those who fell by the wayside could attribute their failure to circumstances that they either ignored or failed to deal with and innovation will always pose a problem to industries and enterprises that do not keep pace with the times.

But the bitterest defeats in business often come when they are self-inflicted.

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We all know of the infamous story of how, around 20 years ago, video rental giant Blockbuster, with its thousands of outlets nationwide, literally laughed Netflix bosses out of its offices when they offered to handle their online complaints for them. Today one of them is being nominated for Oscars while the other is a footnote in history.

Consider also how Kodak, once a titan of the camera market and who first patented a digital camera in the 1970s, failed to bring their technology to market quick enough and rapidly lost ground on their competitors.

Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes but as I type social media is positively alight with mocking and derision of Standard Life Aberdeen’s recent rebranding, one which it appears has a personal grievance with one particular vowel.

The asset manager, which has endured a torrid time since its merger in 2017, is to be known as ‘Abrdn’.

The rebrand is expected to be completed by the time it publishes its interim results in August, a time when I imagine it will be no less unpronounceable.

Aberdeen

I nearly spat my tea out when I read the remarks of its chief executive Stephen Bird upon making the announcement.

The new brand would, he claimed with no hint of irony, “build on our heritage” and went on to say the Abrdn name was “modern, dynamic and, most importantly, engaging for all of our client and customer channels”.

Quite how a brand which, when attempted to say out loud makes you come close to suffering a coughing fit, is going to achieve all of these goals is not readily apparent.

The strategy has not been done internally. The artist formally known as Standard Life Aberdeen hired Wolff Olins to do the job for them, an agency no stranger to controversy.

Yorkshire Bank has been rebranded.

It devised the branding for the 2012 London Olympic Games, something which was unpopular with the man in the street at the time but has since been forgotten following the event’s outstanding success both on and off the track.

Mockery aside, I found the news unpalatable on a more fundamental level.

Going down in letters to acronyms is understandable. I would posit that PwC and EY suffered little ill effects from dropping Price Waterhouse Cooper and Ernst & Young as their brand.

HSBC has more of a ring to it than Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. It is snappier and more modern.

But the gradual disappearance of place from company brands is gathering pace and with it the loss of identity in Britain’s corporate ecosystem.

Just last year the Yorkshire Bank brand vanished from our high streets forever following CYBG’s acquisition of Virgin Money and the adoption of its brand that followed.

Judging by the countless letters and emails I received on this front I can only judge that this move was unpopular with consumers. Some even advised me they were closing their accounts and going elsewhere.

Many big firms in the region have the location of their headquarters in their name. I think of our strong mutual sector in Yorkshire, with Skipton, Leeds and Yorkshire building societies all proudly bearing their name.

Similarly Halifax still appears up and down the nation as the name of the bank which boosts Lloyds’ performance so well.

However, it is increasingly commonplace to drop the location.

And in an era when trust is so valued, what does it say about your business if you are not proud of where you came from?