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Abrdn: bold branding or flawed strategy?

Greenwich Design

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The new identity is a step too far for existing Standard Life Aberdeen customers argues our MD, Simon. 

The financial services company Standard Life Aberdeen made headlines recently with its rebrand to Abrdn. According to the company’s website, the new name and brand identity represents ‘a modern, agile, digitally-enabled brand’, but the media frenzy that followed the unveiling had everyone wondering  whether Abrdn’s customers were ready to be disemvowelled!

It’s not necessarily the lack of vowels that bothers me – we’re used to the likes of Tumblr or Flickr dropping their vowels – it’s more about the strategy of how they got to that point. One would assume  they’ve invested heavily in brand strategists and visual identity specialists to reach their current position, but have they gone too many steps in one go? There’s a delicate balance between being ‘brave’ and ‘adventurous’ and being ‘over-confident’, missing the pragmatic point of taking your customers on the journey with you.

Many clients have a habit of thinking internally. They assume that customers are somehow as familiar with the brand journey as they are. It is always safer to assume you’re talking to a customer who’s new to the brand (even though they’re not) to make sure they’re fully informed and on board with any changes.

As a customer of Standard Life, I vaguely knew the company was based in Aberdeen but wasn’t aware that this was, in part, due to a merger with Aberdeen PLC. It’s therefore not just a change of identity, it is a complete change of name for me. From a position where ‘Standard Life’ was the hero part of the business name, and Aberdeen a secondary element, they have placed all the equity in Abrdn and, in doing so, may have caused a great deal of confusion with many customers.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d tapped into the design/rebrand element of this story from a professional perspective, I’m sure I‘d have dismissed any communications from Abrdn rather than Standard Life, simply on the basis that, in my mind, I’m not a client of Abrdn. I would have liked to see an extra step in the transition from ‘Standard Life Aberdeen’, to ‘Aberdeen PLC’ first, before eventually moving to ‘Abrdn’ – a step that gives customers reassurance that they are talking to the right people. This is essential in a world where online fraud is becoming frighteningly sophisticated and we’re advised to treat anything unusual as suspicious. This rebrand ignores that – is that brave or stupid?

As for the design solution itself, it’s bold and aligned to a lot of current thinking, but whether Aberdeen is the right brand to leverage the zeitgeist is more questionable. There’s a danger that, in its efforts to be modern and forward-looking, it’s seen as frivolous and quirky. While that may provide some standout initially, it needs to be balanced with the deeper qualities that customers associate with a reliable financial services provider. What you leave out of your brand name often says as much as what you put in. If, like Abrdn, you’re considering a bold disemvowelment, make sure it’s not a torturous journey for your existing customers.

What did the rest of the team think?

We took a straw poll in the studio to see what the rest of the team thought about the Abrdn rebrand. According to Dan, our creative director:

Quote from Dan describing the ABRDN rebrand

Conrad thought it left too much to the viewer to interpret. His interpretation:

Quote from Conrad describing the ABRDN rebrand

 Samanta, one of our designers, also thinks the design is flawed:

Quote from Samanta describing the ABRDN rebrand

Not ideal when the new brand identity is specifically designed for the digital age!

Love it or hate it, the design has certainly got people talking!

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