Taking a name in vain

Coming up with a new company name is often a long and difficult process.

If the proposed demerger of the Transco Group – which incorporates BG Group, formerly British Gas – goes ahead next month, shareholders will have to adjust to the creation of a new holding company name following a rash of changes lower down the business. And its name? Lattice.

The rebrand is the latest in a series at the company since 1997 and part of a growing trend which sees old established names shedding their heritage and opting for something more upbeat. Lattice seeks to reflect the broad business area of the whole group, says David Millar, head of group marketing, BG Group.

“Crafting a new company identity is an art,” adds Martin Lee, pathfinder at The Fourth Room, the consultancy involved in the naming and strategic implementation of the Lattice brand. “But the name must be relevant at both consumer and corporate levels, while upholding the company’s values,” he says.

Corporate brand names, however, stand increasingly vulnerable to accusations that they are entering the realms of the intangible, as companies strive for greater visibility. The result can be a name and identity which tells the consumer nothing about what the company actually does. In this way, say those in the know, Lattice could be in for some stick.

Identities such as Elementis, Diageo or Innogy are, at best, manufactured words that carry little meaning for the consumer. At worst, they are combinations of plundered Latin and Ancient Greek words that try to achieve a paradoxical blend of obscurity and stand-out.

The result can be bewilderment – consumers and shareholders will be expected to make the connection between Transco, the gas pipelines business at the core of the new group, and something that sounds like a pie topping.

By way of explanation, Millar says brand managers are often at the mercy of forces working against them. “A new identity must be legally permissible, creatively accessible and [it must] stand out in a crowded field. Add to that problems with registering it as an Internet domain name – notoriously difficult as cybersquatters have often got there first – the result can be increasingly convoluted names.”

Millar strongly denies that Lattice has suffered from compromise in leaping these hurdles, suggesting the name is more relevant than it might at first appear. A literal interpretation of the group’s infrastructure technology, Lattice works well visually as well as metaphorically, bringing alive the physical pipelines and fibre optic cables used by Transco, he says. “Importantly, it is not a made-up word – a major factor in our decision,” he says.

Lee agrees the name Lattice works better than a manufactured word such as Innogy. “It has human associations, partly because it is a real word and partly because you can visualise what it stands for,” he says. A slightly more traditional brand name will also enjoy greater longevity. “Brands nowadays cannot usually enjoy the luxury of a long-established name such as Cadbury’s,” he adds.

CDT Design creative director Iain Crockart created the Lattice identity and is overseeing its roll-out. CDT also created the Centrica identity, the company born out of British Gas alongside BG.

Crockart says Lattice’s simple, one-word marque lends itself well to the development of subsidiary companies, such as Lattice Energy, and to a strong corporate logo. “The Lattice name works well visually and is ideal for creating a logo which is not overly corporate and stuffy,” he says. The logo, to be revealed on 18 September, is “timeless and memorable” in one colour, according to Crockart.

He says funky corporate names often fall short: “There are some truly meaningless brand names out there, but I’m not about to name and shame.”

Future growth, and the direction of the company, must also be taken into account when considering a name change, says Lee, because it must encompass all aspects of the business. With Lattice, this was particularly important, as it is a holding company. “If we had changed Transco into Transco Holdings,” he says, “we could have overwhelmed the growth potential of the company by placing too much value on the Transco side of the business. A fresh name, such as Lattice, opens out the business and puts it on a good growth footing.”

Millar agrees and says a name change can have an extremely positive effect on a company, as it forces the management to re-assess and freshen up its values and business proposition.

The last three or four years have witnessed a rash of new brand names, particularly in the utilities sector. According to Millar, this is driven by an increase in mergers and acquisitions, and growing competition as long established companies demerge.

Nick Pink, UBS Warburg utilities analyst, says there are two reasons for the growing number of new companies in this sector. Groups either voluntarily seek to increase their market valuation by down-sizing from conglomerates, or regulatory bodies create smaller networks under a parent company. Either way, there is a lot of work for design and branding consultancies.

Pink says the consumer-facing area of a utility business will often retain the “old-fashioned” name, such as Midlands Electricity, to maintain consistency for the consumer. The supply business, such as N-power, has a licence to be more unusual. “In this way, Transco is the trusted brand and will be kept – Lattice will only really be facing shareholders in the City,” he says.

Lee says businesses must recognise the power in a company name, and not undertake re-branding exercises lightly. That could include throwing away those Latin and Greek dictionaries.

Forgotten those re-branded company identities already?

Put your memory to the test and match this jumbled list of old businesses with their new names and the consultancy involved.

Answers: “DW200009150031”

As it was As it is now Those responsible
National Power Bright Station Wolff Olins
British Steel Invensys The Identica Partnership
Quantum Energy Innogy Interbrand Newell and Sorrell
The Dialog Corporation V-is-on Enterprise IG
Guinness and Grand Metropolitan Elementis Underground
BTR Siebe Corus Corporate Edge
Harrisons and Crosfield Diageo Cicero Marketing Comms

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