Telecom to Spark: what’s in a name?

Paul Brislen

My views on marketing are generally well known and scathing (just ask my colleagues) but I’m slowly coming round to a better appreciation of branding.

Words have power - names doubly so – and choosing the right way to promote your company through defining what it stands for is vitally important.

Names are like micro-elevator pitches. Forget explaining what your company does in sixty seconds – what about defining the entire company with its name?

Telecom had that – it was a phone company. These days of course it isn’t, and in a previous life I used to get calls from little old ladies complaining that “Telecom hasn’t printed my name in the phone book,” and asking “When is Telecom fixing my broken phone line?” and so on.

Telecom hadn’t been that company for several years – yet it was saddled with a name that implied it did. I wasn’t at all surprised when Simon Moutter announced the company was changing to Spark and connotations of the electricity industry aside, the idea of creativity, of starting something new, of instigating something is a powerful one.

Not all rebrands go well, however. Remember the expensive exercise of PricewaterhouseCoopers rebranding its consulting arm as Monday? That name lasted two weeks and ended abruptly when IBM bought the unit and quietly dropped it.

And then there was the Post Office (Britain’s aged postal service) which rebranded as Consignia as part of a move to privatisation, and then just as rapidly became the Royal Mail (something I always thought they were called anyway).

All of those rebrands moved the company’s name away from its core function to something else – generic, made up names that have no resonance with customers or staff. Tying in the company with the company name is vital if you’re going to reinforce your place in the market.

Xero has pretty much nailed it. What does the company do? It reduces accountancy pain to zero. Small business owners can get back to the job of being in business instead of spending time and energy on the managing of the business.

The name is genius because not only does it reflect what the company does, it’s also unique. Search online for Telecom and you’ll find millions of hits relating to the generic industry term. Search for Xero and you’ll find Xero.

It’s a funny old world where we don’t have Telecom and just as odd is one where I blog about brand and marketing. Good luck to Spark, I say, and when you’re coming up with your Next Big Thing spend some time up front thinking about what you’re going to call it.

Paul Brislen is Executive Director at Anthem.

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2 Comments & Questions

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Nice article.... You forgot British Telecom who rebranded to Open Reach and then moved back to British Telecom.
telecom New Zealand was a great brand that just left others in envy... Shame to see it go and that's not just an age factor. Does that mean that great companies like T-mobile and AT&T will rebrand also?!
The issue with TNZ rebrand is that with the name Spark... They will only be seen as another competitor in the market... May be the XT logo is their tie in to their legacy (I never saw it as a spark logo before) . Maybe a spark is leading to something.
Great that they have done this.... Maybe their strategy is more positive that the whole compAny will share.
Finally their foot into video on demand seems a little mis adventures... Are they reacting to what others are doing? They should have worked with Sky to get a new channel added for New Zealander to appreciate instead... I don't believe they can compete on content that free view can offer for free

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I agree - nice article. For some additional context: The name wasn't a tough decision as customers and our teams were already referring to our logo as "the Spark". They describe the word Spark as an "ignition point" or "something that starts inspiration" which felt pretty good to us and reflective of our ambition for the company. I don't think we need a unique name to be successful - just look at apple or orange (no we didn't consider continuing the fruit naming trend!) as names of impressive technology companies that used everyday words to name their businesses. However we do need to continue to deliver unique and seriously impressive customer experiences to nail this. As you outline Paul - we are now so much more than a home phone company - data centers, local business hubs, investments in Revera and Appserv, Lightbox, free WiFi, free 4G, free Spotify and seriously competitive prices are all transforming our business - but frustratingly many New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses who would be so much better off with us continued to stick with their current telco because the Telecom brand was just not relevant to them. It therefore would have been a mistake to continue to bring all of these great new initiatives to market (some of which we announced on Friday) under the Telecom brand. The plan is that Spark will see our existing customers even happier than they are today and get many of our competitors' customers seriously considering whether their current telco is the best option for them going forward.

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