17 September 2001
It's been a good few weeks for brand fans. First, there was the mass of publicity which greeted BT Wireless's new name O2. End-of-silly-season hacks had great fun laughing at the new identity and the amount of money the company had spent without checking that a shopping centre in London and Oprah Winfrey didn't already have dibs on the name.
And then there was the strange case of Häagen-Dazs. After its recent campaign encouraging the ice-cream-eating public to explore their sensual side by eating Cookies & Cream, there emerged news that the company that had made frozen desserts hot was planning to baffle its punters. It seems Häagen-Dazs is thinking of repackaging its ice-cream in plain white pots so that consumers have no idea what flavour they are buying. The idea is not to give the consumers preconceived notions of what a certain flavour tastes like. Marketing Week reported that the company had conducted a blindfold study and that Geoffrey Beattie, professor of psychology at Manchester University, had "concluded that you get a better taste sensation if you 'verbalise' the taste rather than anticipating the flavour".
"Oh great," I hear you cry. "We've just got used to the idea that we're not a single practice. You've told us to come up with names for services. You persuade us to launch things with 'identities', and now we're being told it's all wrong "
Partners have found themselves in an ad agency boardroom for many a long hour being told that the name of an eminent predecessor or two doesn't turn the punter on, 'brainstorming' names and listening to the logic of the brand. And consequently, all manner of legal sub flavours, from stars to flags of all colours, have found their way on to the legal supermarket shelves.
One can take the parallels too far, of course. Legal services are not ice cream, no matter how often brand gurus tell you they can be packaged and sold as such, but there are issues to be thought through.
Häagen-Dazs has admitted that its customers arrive at their product with notions and ideas. They don't greet the name/flavour with a blank stare. It carries resonances that shape their eventual consumption. The same is true of your services. And it's not just the name that shapes those preconceived notions. Previous experience of the name 'lawyers' or what they take to be 'intellectual property' (IP), for instance ,will affect the way they 'enjoy' your product.
This means that if they have had a bad or good experience of another aspect of your firm or a competitor, they will bring that with them. If they've consumed an IP practice before, that has shaped their taste buds. Firms need to ensure that their services are branded, sold, and above all served with that sophisticated and complex audience in mind.
More positively, Häagen-Dazs confidently believes that the 'Häagen-Dazs' idea is bigger than the idea of mere 'flavours'.
No firm could, or at least should, be so cocksure. No one firm could mean "The Law", there's far too many other luxury law brands out there. But a certain confidence can transfer to the customer. This does not mean a return to the monolithic "take-us-or-leave-us" arrogance of the giant firm. But it can mean allowing that historic name to inform any other brand flavours you decide to launch. Your latest technologically-enabled property deal service can have its mysterious name that nine out of ten focus-group professionals found dynamic, but it can also have a family position.
Law firms have a history of managing partnerships between competing and sometimes egotistical individual names, the challenge is now to manage a partnership of brands. Either that or repackage them all in plain wrappers.