Will the Orange brand really be killed?

The branding strategy of Everything Everywhere, the combined Orange and T-Mobile UK business, is taking a new twist. The Orange brand, one of the most successful ever created, may be axed, according to The Times. The business is now considering creating a fourth brand to replace all the others.

Good work for the brand identity boys. But is this really the most effective branding strategy?

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Well, its not an easy one to sort out, as creating the Everything Everywhere brand in the first place was a mistake:

– It added complexity, when a branding strategy should create simplicity

– It is the blandest of brands. Could you get a more generic, watered-down brand for a mobile operator?

– And even more basic, its just too long. Any name longer than 2-3 syllables gets shorthanded by consumers (e.g. British Airways = "BA") . But with this one you can't even do that.

The current CEO, Olaf Swantee, seems to share these views, commenting that "Everything Everwhere is not a brand, it's a silly name with a stopping effect".

So, I wouldn't have chosen to be here. But here we are. Where next?

Well, I'd still back the option I proposed back in 2009 when I posted on the branding options open the the merged business: unify the business behind the Orange brand.

1. Focus: this would focus talent and budgets on a single brand, instead of fragmenting them over three brands

2. Effectiveness: the Orange brand is stronger than T-Mobile. And I still believe that Orange has a lot of “latent” equity in peoples’ minds and hearts that is not fully exploited. There is still an opportunity to re-activate this equity.

3. Timing: one argument against adopting Orange at the time of the merger was concerns about the T-Mobile people feeling like they were being taken over.

Well, that's less of a problem now. When Swantee cut Everything Everywhere's top team from 26 to 10, guess how many ex-T-Mobile execs were in the team? Zero. The CEO of course came from Orange's parent company France Télécom, and so this wasn't that big a surprise.

4. International synergy: not a big argument, but the Orange brand is used in other markets like France.

5. Customer renention: But what about all the T-Mobile customers? Won't they leave if their beloved brand is replaced?

No, not really. What T-Mobile customers care about is value for money: what they get, and what they pay. So the key would be to ensure that the "new Orange" was not only bigger, but also better. It would be an opportunity to get back to the innovation that made Orange so successful.

The way forward: Remembering and refreshing what made Orange famous

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What made Orange famous was the potent combination of sausage and sizzle:
– Sausage: Orange was a real leader in service innovation. It was the first brand to do billing by the second, not the minute. And the first to text message numbers to your phone.
– Sizzle: Orange 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 here to watch it.

– 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.
– 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.

The alternative, as reported in The Times, is to get rid of all three brands and replace them with a new one. Ironically, this is how the Orange brand was launched in France. It replaced three brands with one. But this would throw away the equity in the Orange brand. And require a boat load of investment to create a new brand altogether.

In conclusion, branding should really deliver two things: efficiency and effectiveness. And the Everything Everywhere case is useful by showing us how NOT to deliver these.