Strategy & Mondays

It was inevitable that the announcement of Booz & Company’s new name, Strategy&, would be accompianed by derisory references to “Monday”.

The tone of the coverage has been one of “here we go again – what is PwC thinking? First the Monday disaster and now Strategy&.”

Monday, as you will recall, was the name for the planned spinoff of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consulting business. It was 2002, the era of Sarbannes-Oxley. Arthur Andersen had just gone down in flames after being implicated in the Enron scandal.

The day day that never dawned
The day that never dawned

The remaining “Big Four” accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG) were under pressure from investors, regulators and clients to separate audit from consulting work to prevent future conflicts of interest.

In what must go down as a miracle of timing and good fortune, Andersen Consulting had been involved in an acrimonious split from Arthur Andersen in 2000 and was forced to change its name. It became Accenture on January 1, 2001.

Ernst & Young sold its consulting practice to Cap Gemini of France and KPMG’s consulting services operations were demerged and renamed BearingPoint in October 2002 following an IPO.

Meanwhile, Deloitte was trying to whistle past the graveyard with Braxton, a firm it acquired in 1984, as the name for its consulting business spin off.  Braxton scarcely registered a blip on the media radar, which was probably the point. It has all the personality of an old tweed jacket.

It’s one thing dig up name candidates from the vaults, but quite another to turn what is basically a timid,  play safe strategy into a self-congratulatory blow for common sense, as it did on its website when it said: “Braxton represents a welcome return to common sense and a departure from the increasingly predictable tendency toward coined, invented, and whimsical corporate names.” Humbug.

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 8.24.25 PM

PricewaterhouseCoopers (now PwC) turned to Wolff Olins, the London company that created “Orange”, a mobile phone network named after a color that went on to disrupt the entire market. Presumably, PwC knew what it was in for and Wolff Olins did not disappoint.

Monday was no less iconoclastic. It drew the predicable gasps of disbelief, although the worst thing its detractors could level at the name was that “I don’t like Mondays” was the title of a hit song by the Boomtown Rats.

CEO Greg Brenneman said what was expected of him: “Monday is exactly what we want it to be as we create our new business: a real word, concise, recognizable, global and the right fit for a company that works hard to deliver results.”

It was left to spokeswoman Sehra Eusufzai to make the more telling and perceptive point: “With any new name introduction, there’s bound to be a wide range of reactions, and over time it will come to mean what people want it to mean.”

Whether or not Monday could have been the Orange of the consulting world we shall never know as IBM snapped up the business from PwC before the IPO happened and swallowed it wholesale, regurgitating it as IBM Consulting Services.

Still, even though that particular Monday never saw the light of day, it hasn’t stopped publications such as the Financial Times (which should know better) referring to Monday as a ‘miss-step’ and ‘ill-fated’ on the basis of no evidence at all.

Now, twelve years later with Enron receding in the rear-view mirror and audit revenues flattening, the Big Four are once again looking at consulting for growth. Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young have been investing heavily. Last year, PwC acquired Booz & Co, which was spun-off by its parent Booz Allen Hamilton in 2008 after it sold itself to the Carlyle Group.

All of which brings us back to Strategy&.

A condition of Booz’s spin-off was that it could no longer use founder Edwin Booz’s name if the consultancy lost its independence. So PwC found itself with another naming challenge on its books for its consulting business.

Far from being another attempt to break the consulting industry mold with an edgy new name, Strategy& (pronounced Strategyand) is as close as they could get to changing the name while making no change at all.

Booz

Consider: in the Booz & Co logo (also the handiwork of Wolff Olins) the ampersand is a prominent design feature. If the Booz part of the name had to go, which it did, the ampersand could be retained as a strong visual link of continuity. And then, simply by replacing “Booz” in Booz&Co with the innocuous word “strategy”, you have achieved the necessary change without the rebranding controversy.

Strategy&Co would have been an elegant solution. Unfortunately, if this was indeed the logic, they soon encountered a problem: Strategy&Co is already in use by another organization. Clipping off the “Co” gets round the problem but what PwC is left with in “Strategy&” is a name that is bizarrely incomplete. The snarks have duly had their field day, calling it the “worst marketing choice since Coke II.”

Cesare Mainardi, chief executive of Booz & Company makes a nice point in saying the name “invites a discussion about what we’re about and what we’re thinking and how we can help our clients transform.”

Yes it does. But that conversation is better left to a brand campaign rather than a name. And this is exactly what Strategy& feels like – a campaign. It has the same catchy, transitory quality of something dreamed up in an advertising agency.

Like small talk at a cocktail party the Strategy& conversation will soon grow stale, and then what? It will run its course until it is finally absorbed into PwC as PwC Strategy. Which may be the whole point of the exercise.

Footnote:

Deloitte backed off launching Braxton in 2003 as the credit markets tightened. Under heavy acquisition debts BearingPoint filed for Chapter 11 on February 18, 2009 and was liquidated.  Accenture went on to become one of the world’s most successful multinational firms, with approximately 289,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. The company generated net revenues of $28.6 billion in 2013 and yet, for some reason that has never been made clear, Accenture has figured in numerous lists of “rebranding disasters”. Go figure.

See also: Accenture, accent on the negative here.

ACCENTURE: ACCENT ON THE NEGATIVE

What is it about Accenture that engenders so much negativity?

Time recently included Accenture in what it referred to as the ‘Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes‘, putting it in the company of Comcast’s new Xfinity brand, SyFy and Blackwater’s name change to Xe.

According to Time, the rebranding of Andersen Consulting to Accenture was “regarded as one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history”. The criteria seems to be that if any name change becomes remotely controversial (and most of them are to reporters) it qualifies as a disaster.

Then last week Business Insider, in conjunction with Method and Rob Frankel, a branding expert, came out with its own list – “The worst rebranding disasters in the past few years”. Accenture is in there again, along with a mixed bag including the Tropicana pack redesign, the London 2012 Olympic logo, and “The Shack’ advertising campaign.

Once again the criteria for inclusion is hazy although the writer, one Bianca Male, says earnestly that “successful rebranding involves overhauling a company’s goals, message, and culture — not just changing a name or a logo”.

Quite so. But that’s a lot to expect from an orange juice carton redesign. As far as Accenture is concerned I would (and do) argue that the rebrand succeeds at every level on this basis.

What do you think Tiger?

The worst they can throw at Accenture is that the name is ‘meaningless’ and the rebrand cost $100 million, suggesting the company has been extravagantly profligate with its shareholders’ money.

First the name: as unlovely as it may be, it is far from being the disaster that Time and Bianca Male insists.

As anyone who has been involved in global branding programs knows only too well, finding a name that is universally available and has a positive interpretation in many different languages practically mandates a manufactured name in the Verizon, Novartis, Agilent genre. As a global company, the Accenture name had to be cleared in 47 countries and acceptable in 200 different languages.

As for the cost, a $100 million is about par for the course with corporate rebrands these days, most of that going on advertising and media. If cost is qualification for a disastrous rebranding, where is the mention of Verizon, AT&T and Lucent? Those rebranding campaigns cost about the same.

The main fact that is so oddly overlooked in the criticism of Accenture is the name change was forced upon Andersen Consulting. Unlike the Bell Atlantic/Verizon name change, for example, Andersen Consulting had to change its name as a requirement of its acrimonious legal split from its parent, Andersen Worldwide. Neither did it have the luxury of time. Andersen Consulting had to totally reinvent itself globally within 147 days of the August 2000 arbitration ruling. The risk of getting it wrong was huge.

Whatever one might think of the name itself, Accenture today is very successful $21 billion global enterprise. Its brand has been beautifully and comprehensively executed and positively embraced by clients and 180,000 employees worldwide.

Where is the disaster? Where is the failure?

Try looking at Accenture’s competitors. KPMG’s consulting arm, for example, changed its name to BearingPoint in 2002. Ironically, a bearing point is a nautical term for setting directions to a specific destination.

BearingPoint ran aground: it went into bankruptcy in 2009 and was broken up. There is a disaster if ever there was one.

Name changes are easy copy for reporters – the cost, the unusual name, the reaction. Gasp! They need little research, just rewrite the last article on the subject, and ‘experts’ who will freshen the controversy with ready quotes about how rank the name is are easily found.

For me, it is somewhat depressing to see reputable branding companies and “branding gurus” complicit in this kind of shabby, ill-informed exercise at the expense of branding industry’s already damaged credibility.

For those interested in the facts, here is an excellent white paper on Andersen Consulting’s marketing strategy and its transition to Accenture.