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A bit of smoke and mirrors online doesn’t actually fix brand as a whole has to fix: it just lets you think you’ve found a workaround for it.
Unless you work in the travel sector, I suspect you missed the story last
week that two brands in the Hoseasons group, Hoseasons and cottages4you, launched a user-recommendation travel site called iVizit.co.uk.
It carries no brandingbut alongside the recommendations for, say, British
Lawn Mower Racing, it offers links to cottages that you can stay in on
offer either from, yes, you guessed it, Hoseasons or cottages4you.
Nick Smith, Hoseasons head of marketing explained the lack of branding: “We don¹t want to make it overly branded or corporate because we want it to
remain independent with recommendations supplied by customers,” said Smith. “Also we are a big group and so this way we can see it as an aggregator without actively promoting one or the other.”
OK, so travel brands launch a website is hardly the stuff of sensation
but in this little story, and this quote, is a world of branding trauma that
so many of us have walked through over the years, that it leaped out at me.
This all starts when someone, with all the best intentions in the world,
decides they need to do something that’s really of the internet. Just
launching a functional website for their brand/ business and effectively
promoting it and optimizing it, is way too boring.
So, up comes the plan for something truly web-tastic [or these days probably
something app-tastic]. Then, they ask, what will we call it?
Now we’re in trouble. For two possible reasons.
First, there is a bit of challenge in businesses with multiple brands to
look after [In fact, we often get here just from wondering what to do with
multiple brands]. In which case, someone comes up with a new umbrella brand.
Magazine publishers live in this world, and have gone backwards and
forwards. Future has done a good job with it’s Radar brand [eg:
BikeRadar, GamesRadar]. IPC failed when it brought its women’s brands
together under BeMe.com but seems to be making a much better stab at it with goodtoknow.com and housetohome.com.
The point is that you can create a new brand aggregating your separate
brands and it’s much more efficient. But the cross promotion between the twoneeds to be incessant, and clearly explained. And the new aggregate brand has to become a real business in its own right.
The question you have to ask is whether you believe you can create something that truly becomes more than the sum of its parts. If the answer is no,then stop now.
Now, were iVizit to be clearly brought to you by Hoseasons and
cottages4you, then I would accept it as a simple attempt to deal with the
challenge of multiple brands. But no, I suspect something else is at play
This is the second reason why people come up with new names. Everyone gets so excited about the sheer awesomeness of this idea and its potential to take the world by storm that the single most important thing is that it has
to happen really quickly and not be held back in any way.
So, you don’t use your existing brand because that brand has strengths and
weaknesses and being attached to our brand it might put some people off. No, you come up with something new. Something now.
It’s risky, you say, but it might just work.
OK, a quick sanity check.
Does anyone remember house.co.uk? This was British Gas’s decision not to
have an online presence that carried its name, because it was about so
much more than gas. So it paid for a lovely URL that no-one in the world
actually associated with it. Type it in now and you go straight to good old
Or GetCloser.com ? HMV’s social network that was deliberately not HMV
branded but then linked back to its store. Didn’t last long, did it?
Or the fact that when the Guardian launched as Guardian Unlimited , all of
its individual sites were called things like Football Unlimited, and News
Unlimited without reference to the Guardian brand? [yes, I take my share of
the blame for that clanger].
Or the fact the Evening Standard¹s website was called ThisIsLondon
[which strangely is still the URL although it’s never referred to]?
Or the fact that the Sun¹s website was once called CurrentBun.com with a
separate football site called FootballFC.com?
The point is that in all cases there was an exciting and brave attempt to
break out of the restraints of the traditional brand.
And in all cases, they have had to retreat because after a while, and
after baffling customers by promoting this brand that bears no obvious
connection to your own, it becomes clear that you have created nothing but a distraction and your real effort should be on building the best possible
digital presence for your brand.
This is what I suspect lies in Nick Smith’s quote about not being too
corporate. The subtext is we want to do something smart and modern and
bring our service to a new audience which means we have to sneak our brand in rather than ram it down people’s throats.
But that infers a problem for the brand as a whole and it’s a problem
the brand as a whole has to fix. A bit of smoke and mirrors online doesn’t
actually fix it: it just lets you think you’ve found a workaround for it.
Of course, if iVizit flies I will have to eat my words. As a standalone
site, there is little that is wrong with it.
But, the natural lifecycle of these things goes: Shiny new toy > Something
we have to get behind > Bit of a distraction > Can we make it a section of
our core site? Let’s see how it does.