Is it the right time for Santander  to ditch its heritage brands?

Is it the right time for Santander to ditch its heritage brands?

While other companies are trying to tempt consumers with nostalgia, the Spanish bank has said it will phase out its Abbey, Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester brands by the end of next year

Yes

Alison Sagar, Vice-president, global merchant marketing, American Express

Nostalgia is probably not the first emotion that would spring to mind if we asked consumers how they feel about the banking sector right now - disillusioned, worried or even angry might be more likely.

What people are really looking for is not a taste of the past (look where that got us), but a banking brand they can trust with their future. They want a bank that is financially secure, that borrows and lends responsibly, and that has attractive products in the market.

Opportunity can come out of adversity - and for Santander, this is an important opportunity. Following its acquisitions, it has a strong market position (second-biggest for residential mortgages and third-biggest for savings deposits), but a portfolio of disparate brands that will require investment.

Foreign companies that buy strong national brands face the dilemma of if/when to rebrand. If Santander is to come out of this turbulent period on a strong footing, it will have to do it as one brand not three. The big question is not when but how, and for that we'll have to wait and see.

Yes

Will Goodhand, Director, Ipsos ASI

As British consumers seek reassurance, is Santander's action typical of an out-of-touch ‘foreign' corporation?

No, probably not. A familiar name does not, after all, guarantee comfort (Halifax, anyone?). Scale and solidity, though, are critical, and Santander's communications have focused on this.

It has gradually been introducing itself in conjunction with the Abbey brand, and befriending the British public, rather than springing on them in a poll tax-style shock of rebranding.

The brands involved must now make a smooth transition with customers, explaining what the rebranding means and outlining the benefits.

So many brands are focusing on nostalgia right now to evoke feelings of comfort and security in these harsh, uncertain times. Not much different, in fact, from the reassurance that a customer derives from knowing they're banking with a big global player which is weathering the storm. Viewed like this, Santander's rebranding may leave customers more comfortable and reassured than before.

Yes

Amanda Mackenzie Chief marketing officer, Aviva

Twelve months further along the rebranding journey than Santander,
I would say there probably isn't a better time to change your name.

The challenge is not to ditch the heritage of the brands you have, but to become something bigger and better.

We know from consumers that financial strength and stability is vitally important right now. If you understand where customers start from, take your time, listen and learn and make sure the change goes beyond the name alone, then your ambitions will be realised and your customers satisfied.

I am not sure that customers want nostalgia at the expense of security. When we asked customers how they felt about leaving Norwich Union behind, three-quarters did not mind as long as the products and services remained as good (if not better).

Our company has roots going back 300 years but that does not mean we still insure people against highway robbery. Things move on and change, and bringing employees and customers with you can be highly rewarding.

Yes

Emmanuel Klotz, Group head of external marketing, Zurich Financial Services

In financial services, evidence suggests that past history has less of an effect than ever on choice, unless it can be related to a long-standing commitment to a set of values relevant to today.

The three Santander-owned brands are all British institutions. However, because they moved away somewhat from what made them special (for example, through demutualisation), nostalgia cannot work as a strategy.

On the question of whether an unknown foreign bank can succeed in rebranding such institutions, the success of HSBC with Midland Bank leads me to say yes, definitely.

Moreover, there is no better time than now to do this. Consumers are currently re-evaluating all their options; history and local origin are low on their list of priorities.

The field is open for newcomers with relevant, differentiated propositions to swoop, especially at a time when the reputation of incumbent players has taken a battering.