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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Wheeler

What's in a name? Everything it seems - Abrdn shld knw

There’s a lot of value in a name, not just in terms of brand recognition and trust from your customers, but in the value of your company - or your share price.

Nearly 40 years ago when I started my company, I wanted my name - or rather my middle names - to be inside the collars of men worldwide, not because of ego, but as a constant challenge to myself to ensure the company lived up to high standards.

When it’s your name above the door - or “in the collar” - the stakes are high - and it keeps you acutely focused on maintaining the values - and value - of your brand.

I have had my fair share of Charlie Twits and Charles Who and despite reassuring people that “Tyrwhitt rhymes with Spirit”, most people still don’t quite get it! Some have been tempted, on setting up shirt companies, to run with “Smart shirts” or even “Aardvark shirts” (remember yellow pages – always good to come up first!), but overall, I’m content I picked ”“Charles Tyrwhitt” - and have stuck with it ever since.

Changing direction doesn’t always pay dividends (literally). When businesses change key elements of their brand, they risk diminishing its name recognition and the associated affinity.

In 2008, US clothing giant GAP spent $100m rebranding and faced major consumer criticism and mockery, later announcing a mortifying volte-face. The old logo was back.

When Elon Musk acquired Twitter, it wasn’t long until he put his own spin on the social media company, suddenly rebranding to X. IneXplicable.

Considering the fact that Twitter’s iconic blue bird had world-wide brand equity with associated words like “tweet” and “retweet” entering the vernacular, this decision was widely considered as madness.

Yet, Elon Musk discarded this accumulated value almost instantly, and in a rather disorganised and sudden manner. Industry experts believe this rebranding resulted in a staggering loss of up to $4 billion in brand equity.

To further compound Mr Musk’s woes, mutual fund Fidelity estimates that X’s value has dropped 71% since Musk’s acquisition of what was Twitter.

In the City, there has been plenty of mischief in the past couple of weeks around Abrdn’s change of name, with flames fanned recently by Peter Branner, the Chief Investment Officer at the business, who has accused the media of “childish” corporate bullying.

Abrdn, formed by the £3.8bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017, was pushed to rebrand in 2021 after it sold its UK and EU life insurance business, as well as its Standard Life brand name, to Phoenix Group.

An attempt to rebrand and reset a post-merger company that has been beset with problems may, on the one hand, seem sensible. New leadership, new name, new chapter.

But, it hasn’t worked out well with many commentators suggesting that the business is verging on being Abr-done, with sarcasm abound in the Square Mile.

To its shareholders' dismay, Abrdn has been booted out of the FTSE100 and its share price has plunged by almost 50% since 2021.

Of course there are a plethora of reasons for this, but the perceived identity crisis - and repartee at the loss of vowels, is widely considered to have been a significant driver. A costly mistake.

Unfortunately for Stephen Bird, Abrdn’s CEO, he’s joined the ranks of other major businesses who have risked their brand value in the pursuit of a new start, and has found himself, rather unfairly for an exceptionally credible executive, facing a major struggle to bounce back.

Do I think they will join the likes of GAP in a U-turn? Not at this point. They’d be well advised to turn it to their advantage by injecting some self-deprecating humour. But I think they - and many others in the City and beyond - need to firmly learn the lesson that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Nick Wheeler is the Founder and Chairman of Charles Tyrwhitt

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