Biggest branding event of 2010: T-Mobile+Orange

Big news announced on Tuesday is the planned merger of T-Mobile and Orange in the UK. This will create a £7.7 billion business, with 27 million customers (almost 1/2 the UK population) and a 37% share of the UK mobile network market. I don’t think any other brand, apart from Tesco perhaps, will have such a customer reach.Interesting to see the brand naming of this new business is not clear yet, as the press release explains:

  • The T-Mobile UK and Orange UK brands will be maintained separately for
    18 months after completion of the transaction. During that period
    management will review branding alternatives for the joint venture and
    will develop a new branding strategy
    recommendation for shareholder

First thing to say is of course this should be about ‘brand-led business’, not brand as image wrapper. In other words, what customers care about is “what’s in it for me?”, and not the brand name. The good news here is that there could be some good sausage/service benefits:
– Better coverage, including rural and in-home
– Possibly better value, if at least some of the cost savings are passed on to customers
– Pooling of R&D should mean better services and products

Also, I hope that the 18 month period is actually not to sort out the brand naming, but rather to sort out the customer service of bringing these two huge businesses together. So, what if we had 18 minutes, not 18 months, to decide what to do? Let’s look at some options:

Picture 2 1. T-Mobile
We posted here on the T-Mobile brand manifesto, about being the peoples’ champion, simplifying the process of staying close to people and information. The challenge was that as a number 4 “follower” brand, there was a lack of scale and budget to really deliver this fully. The “Dance” viral ad we posted on this year allowed T-Mobile to get more bang for their limited buck. But T-Mobile is still a smaller brand compared to Orange. Little chance of becoming the new brand.

Odds: 20/1

2. New brand
This sounds a bit of a wild idea. But it is what France Telecom did in France, when they merged Itineris, Ola and Mobicarte and used Orange as a brand new brand. The same approach could help create a new brand for the combined T-Mobile/Orange business. It could be used to “provoke re-evaluation” of both brands. Also, it would mean that no group of customers (or employees) would feel pissed off at their brand missing out.

Picture 4

A hybrid approach being floated by the leaders of the new company is to create a new brand or brands, and use “Powered by T-Mobile and Orange”, a bit like Intel Inside. But Intel powers known brands, like Dell and HP. Why create a new brand, and relegate the existing brands to an endorser role?

Also, Orange is the lead mobile brand for France Telecom, and is also used in the UK for broadband. Would they really consider giving this up? Seems unlikely.

Odds: 10/1

3. Orange
Third option, and the one I think is most likely, is to go with Orange. Probably with a transition period, that has been well used by consumer brands: T-Mobile (about to be Orange), then Orange (formerly T-Mobile) then Orange.

I’ve been pretty hard on Orange in the last couple of years, as they have chopped and changed so much. And the latest TV campaign (“I am”) went over my head: the emotional “sizzle” seemed too divorced from the service “sausage”.
Picture 1
However, I believe that Orange does still have a lot of “latent” equity in peoples’ minds and hearts that is not fully exploited. The brand merger could be the opportunity to re-activate this equity. Current market leader O2 has done an amazing job with its brand identity. But the brand is a bit empty, and doesn’t stand for much apart from “big, blue and bubbles”, as I posted here. If the Orange team remember and refresh what made then famous, they could be onto a winner.
Odds: 1/2

The way forward: Remembering and refreshing what made Orange famous

Picture 3 Remember
What made Orange famous was the potent combination of sausage and sizzle. Or, as the ex-Brand Director Lizzie Palmer said, “Head in the clouds, feet on the ground”:
– Sausage: Orange was a real leader in service innovation. For example, it was the first brand to do billing by the second, not the minute. And first to text message numbers to your phone.  Also, the customer call centres were better.
– Sizzle: Orange also did the almost impossible of making a mobile network aspirational. It stood for optimism and positive thinking: “The future’s bright. The future’s Orange.” And the lower case, minimalist black and orange logo by Wolf Ollins was the iconic brand identity of the 1990’s.

The brand also had a distinctive brand style of communication, never showing a mobile phone, but rather showing the human emotions that Orange facilitated.  They made one of my top 10 favourite ads of all time to promote text messaging, which was still quite new at the time (2001). Click below in the blog, or here if you’re reading the weekly email.

– Sausage: Get back to leading the way again in service innovation. The iPhone was made for Orange, but O2 beat them to it in the UK. With the new scale, the next big thing could go Orange’s way thanks to more negotiating muscle. On the customer service front in Orange’s favour is that CEO Tom Alexander will run the new business. He joined Orange from Virgin Mobile last year, along with his right hand man, Steven Day.  They made Virgin market leader in service, and are busy trying to get Orange service back to the high levels they had before in the pre-France Telecom days.  Now they have an even have an even bigger challenge in doing this with 2 combined companies (They know T-Mobile as well, as Virgin actually uses the T-Mobile network)
– Sizzle: get back to using emotion to communicate Orange’s unique approach to mobile communication, rather than as an end in itself. The brand could touch a nerve, being more human and less clever. The identity could also do with a refresh. The orange, white and black feels quite flat and 2-dimensional, especially in contrast to O2’s more 3-d blue and bubbly brand world.

So, there’s my vote. What about yours?