Rebranding – how not to do it

Recently the Victorian metropolitan train system has not been working very well. So much so that the incumbent Connex trains was sacked and replaced recently.

It’s created an interesting example of how not to re-brand something. And before I rant further, I’ll remind you of the startupblog definition of a brand:

Brand: A cognitive shortcut from which informed decisions can be made.

The brand is always the acummulation of the many interactions consumers have with the product or service. So with Connex, the brand was the overcrowded, delayed, cancelled, crime ridden, dirty train service. In fact much of the bad experience can be attributed to the inherited infrastrcutre. And it’s here that the key lesson lies. Whenever a re-branding event occurs, the brand custodians can’t wait to tell everyone how it will be different this time. They go off and implment a shiny new logo, make an advertisment, and paste the new brand, word or design on all the physical elements that represent the brand.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason the brand sucks, is because of the experience people are having with it. A new word or logo will never fix this. Re-branding should go all the way back to the start. A total product / service re-design, or maybe even an infrastructure update is needed – as in the case of Melbourne trains and Connex. If we want to re-brand anything with success, first we have to prove it’s better with real evidence. Slapping a Metro logo on the broken Melbourne train system will only damage the brand before it even begins. They should have fixed everything first. Even if it means not branding anything for a year or two. Having no name trains running on the tracks. Radical, maybe. Correct, no doubt. Fix the experience first, create cognitive associations later.

For entrepreneurs the idea is simple. Our brand will only ever be the memory of the experience our people had when interacting with us. If we want a new meaning, we need to create new experiences.


14 thoughts on “Rebranding – how not to do it

  1. I think this is very true. I’d also like to add culture. Perhaps the most important part, why? Because its the people.

    During our last hot summer, when the trains failed because of the heat that 100 years ago I came across an interesting tidbit. Melbourne moved more people per day in our early 19th century train system than we do today. The technology was kinda simple back then.

    What’s the difference? People. To be a stationmaster, an engineer, a conductor was a job of pride, these days, it’s not just the train in the picture that has a few issues.


  2. That is an amazing fact regarding the number of people moved. I didn’t know that. I’m also guessing it gets hot every summer…

    Thanks for the additional info Sam. Great stuff.

  3. Cool idea. A brand, in this scenario, becomes something earned – like a medal.

    Metro’s blurb on their website:

    “Metro will meet Melbourne’s transport needs with unprecedented efficiency”
    “Metro is a crucial part of Victoria’s 21st century social and economic fabric.”

    Easy to make grand claims dressed up in a shiny wrapper. Let’s hope they can deliver.

  4. Actually I never thought about it that way – you put it so perfectly. A brand is a medal – we have to earn it. That’s a brilliant way to describe it Ryan,

  5. Perhaps it comes back to service primarily.

    A few years ago people didn’t look on ticket inspectors disfavourably, as they could buy a ticket from the guy and have him punch a hole in it, etc. Nowadays the main interaction people have with inspectors is fines, feelings of intimidation and negativity. Not the way to inspire customers to purchase.

    Perhaps re-evaluating the system for how these services take place might be a good start?


    PS: Steve, I copied the main tweets from start up school that you, rented and Luke sent out. I’m compiling into a PDF. Want me to send you a copy when it’s done?

  6. Yep – that would be great Josh. If you could send me a copy of that PDF I’ll publish here and link back to you / one of your websites. Just let me know.

  7. I agree with what you say, a brand is more than a logo and a name. The brand is the experience. The problem is the exprience on trains is generally ordinary.

    I think you might be a little hard on metro here though. Firstly it wasn’t their decision to rebrand. As i understand it ‘Metro’ was the brand that anyone who won the tender would be forced to use. – the brand is ‘owned’ by the government now not MTR who run the system. Just like the infrustrure is woned by the government not MTR.

    Perhaps more concerning is for whoever comes takes over the contract next. As no doubt the trains will still be stuffed in 7 years or 10 years or withever the contract is up, therefore it’ll be a case of ‘all change’. The government are saying at this stage that the Metro name will stay whoever runs it.

    I too am interested in the stat that the train system moved more people in the 19th century in Melbourne than today. Although I would be interested to know passenger Kms. I have a feeling in 1880 a more people were catching trains from Melbourne to Port Melbourne rather than Melbourne to Frankston. Andre you’re a train expert, can you enlighten us?

  8. I have heard that 19th century stat thrown around a few times.

    I’ve just pulled the Victorian Railways Annual report for year ending June 30 1900 from my filing cabinet (seriously!).

    On page 6 the passenger count for the year is 49,332,899. Average miles open over the year was 3,186, Train mileage was 10,107,549. The annual passenger numbers back to 1871 are given (p.45). The peak was in 1889-90 at 58,951,796. Train miles peaked a year later at 12.2m. These are both country and suburban journeys. I can’t any breakdown of the figures into country and suburban (i can tell you the suburban network was defined as any journey of less than 20 miles from CBD).

    Returning to 1889-1900, the then called Princes Bridge(soon to be revamped as Flinders St) was busiest station with 2.19m outbound suburban passengers and 251k country passngers. Spencer St had 1.18m country, 690k suburban. Footscray had 1.42m (Yarravile 612k) . Ascotvale 1.36m. Hawksburn 1.31m. Glenferrie 1.15m, Camberwell and Auburn >1m. Caulfield 364k. Frankston only 23.8k.

    This was before trams started to have a big impact. The looped Collingwood line saw 400k passengers go through North Fitzroy.

    To knock the stat on it’s head, here’s the quote on JUST the suburban network these days:
    “in the 2008–2009 financial year, the Melbourne rail network recorded 213.9 million passenger trips, the highest in its history.”

    The only way I can imagine this difference being massaged is if you were to adjust the figures to reflect per capita journeys. The population of Melbourne was probably around 550k or so in 1900 and is around 4m now, so if the suburban journey count was saw 40m in 1900, those folks were taking considerably more journeys per head.

    Interestingly, the suburban network hasn’t grown considerably in terms of lines since the 1930s (that was the last burst of growth associated with electrification). Any increase in journey numbers is just about more trains on the same tracks going through the same numbers of stations, and more folks in each train.

    Having spoken to a few railways folks over the years, the elephant in the middle of the room in terms of rail efficiency (beyond poor rollingstock and infrastructure investments) is the constraint imposed on frequency of service by the pesky folks in cars. Level crossings and boom gates are the bottlenecks. Running twice as many trains (if we had them) would bring much of the road network to a complete standstill.

    (For those who are wondering, I did my PhD on employment practices in the Victorian Railways 1870-1921). (GEEK!!)

  9. I would rather stop the road network to have more trains. (Yeah, I know I am selfish.) Is that one of the reasons why the government still holds the decision making power on timetabling? I wonder?

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