Jumping on the brand wagon

What’s happened to British Engineering plc? It has dropped both `British’ and `Engineering’, and now has a fancy-sounding Latin name. Paul Carslake and David Fowler report

Branding or rebranding engineering companies, whether for their customers, partners, or the City, has become a major preoccupation in the technology-led sectors.

As companies have been refocusing on their core businesses (which has brought about an unprecedented number of sell-offs and acquisitions), pressure has been mounting over what they call themselves, both in head offices and throughout their member companies and subsidiaries – which can go under dozens of separate, but often well-loved brands.

Over the past year, as the engineering sector has been neglected by City investors, a number of companies have dropped the word `engineering’ from their names altogether.

This happened at Senior Engineering last autumn, when it became simply Senior plc. The move was explained by the fact that Senior had moved almost exclusively into the supply of thin-wall flexible tubing for the automotive and aerospace sectors, and out of heat treatment and `tube products’.

Shortly afterwards, engineering group Carclo dropped `engineering’ from its official name too. It denied this was anything to do with the City, claiming the move was merely in response to market perceptions. Chairman George Kennedy said the company had moved from `traditional engineering’ activities to `higher growth areas.’

And if `engineering’ seems to be going out of fashion in corporate branding, then the word `British’ is almost extinct among the larger companies.

With British Aerospace and British Steel both dropping their `national’ identities, the purge is almost complete. More than three years ago, British Aluminium transformed itself into Luxfer, its point being that it was a global company not just limited to aluminium products. The past few years have also seen the creation of utilities BG, BT and, of course, BP Amoco. Before Corus was created, British Steel was already beginning to style itself BS.

Some have dismissed such changes as fickle, even smacking of desperation. But many companies have made major changes to their businesses yet have had constant battles convincing the City that they have really changed direction.

Of course, new identities are often the result of mergers. When the two engineering companies Siebe and BTR merged to create a global automation and controls company last year, an identity was required which reflected the essential image of the new group, but which was also entirely fresh. With this brief in mind, the Invensys name and identity was developed by Interbrand Newell and Sorrell.

Longer-term strategies for the new group include a move away from the heavier equipment side of the business, and towards more sophisticated electronics systems and services.

Simon Jones, Interbrand’s deputy chairman, says the choice of Invensys as a name successfully brings together ideas of inventiveness and systems expertise, but is also unique and legally protectable. Choosing a coined word rather than an existing one is increasingly being driven by the fact that most of the English language has already been registered as potential website addresses.

Companies must now tread a fine line between strengthening the new corporate brand and safeguarding the equity of existing sub-brands. In the case of Invensys, for example, the new group opted to keep the Foxboro name, which is well-known in the North American control and automation market. In other cases, the decision was taken to kill off sub-brands and make an immediate switch to the Invensys identity. This type of complex brand architecture seems inevitable where loyalty issues arise, at least in the short term.

Of course, sometimes the old names are the best ones. Marconi was chosen as the name of the rump of GEC after it sold its defence businesses to BAE Systems last year. The Marconi corporation had been absorbed by GEC as the conglomerate grew.

Stuart Gendall, head of internal communications at Marconi says: `We considered going to a branding consultant for a new name, but that didn’t last long. We were lucky enough to have the name Marconi already. It is redolent of the innovative, entrepreneurial values that we believe are embodied in the new company.’

Though the name GEC was well-known, it was widely perceived as representing a conglomerate, closely associated with the defence business. Marconi, by contrast, was much more strongly associated with the company’s chosen markets, especially in Europe.

In addition to making the most of its corporate heritage, the company hopes to capitalise on Guglielmo Marconi’s personal qualities, such as his innovative, radical outlook, to bring about a cultural shift within the new organisation. It is even using part of Marconi’s signature as the company logo.

Additional reporting by Paul Gander

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