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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Consignia: Nine letters that spelled fiasco
Dragon Brands image
Ellipses that helped in devising the Consignia name

A duffer. A howling waste of money.

The most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Think "Post Office Group", think trust, honour, gritty postmen braving blizzards to save a child's smile.

It's got consign in it. It's got a link with insignia, so there is this kind of royalty-ish thing

Keith Wells
Dragon Brands
Think "Consignia", the name which replaced it. Think, um, Roman general? Footballer? Tummy bug?

"A good name is better than precious ointment" - Ecclesiastes 7,1, to return to the biblical theme.

And Consignia, judging by public outcry, ranks a poor second to a dab of cabbage water.

Even Allan Leighton, Consignia's new chairman, abhors the brand and has pledged its demise.

So who pulled off the most notorious ever Post Office robbery - that of the name itself?

Seated before BBC News Online is Keith Wells, who led consultancy Dragon Brands on the two-year trail which ended with the dreaded four-syllable word.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?"

So Mr Wells addresses himself to open the interview.

And thus begins a story of three silos, three p's, three overlapping ellipses, several MPs, lots of focus groups and, oh lordy, Stephen Byers.

Mail domination

What Mr Wells says he was doing the day Post Office directors were told of the fated nine-letter word was to help prepare the company for a new era of semi-independence and diverse operations.

Allan Leighton
Allan Leighton is to ditch the Consignia brand

The Post Office Group was being repackaged as a plc, at arm's length from its sole shareholder - the government.

Also apparent was that the firm had travelled some distance from its 300-year-old roots as a domestic, mail-only concern. It boasted logistics and customer call centre operations, and was planning acquisitions abroad.

"We were researching hard into what this organisation called the Post Office was facing," Mr Wells says.

Postal workers, MPs, clients, customers and businesspeople were interviewed as Dragon sought to define the organisation's "desired reputation".

'Silo thinking'

What Dragon discovered was an organisation steeped in imagery of trust, honour, blizzard-braving valour, etc.

Dragon evaluation tools
3 p's: Physique, personality, presentation, help define a brand
3 ellipses: "Make us all think properly"
D.R.E.A.M: Define, retain, evolve, acquire, manage, help ensure proposals relevant
3 i's: Inform, inspire, involve, for gauging internal communication

It was also wallowing in confusion about what its various arms - post offices, Parcelforce, Royal Mail - actually did.

Confusion among the public, at least.

Internally, staff seemed well able to define operational boundaries, and consistently to ignore the work of other divisions.

"There was this silo thinking - 'we are Royal Mail, we are Parcelforce'," Mr Wells says.

Dragon dreamed of a banner beneath which postal workers could unite.

Of a single thread which could bind the UK postal trinity into a seamless entity capable of addressing e-business, call centres and abroad on top.

"What we needed was something that went above that, to help pull all the bits together."

Famous names

And what brands the group had to choose from.

John Roberts, chief executive, Consignia
John Roberts: Announced Consignia change

"Post Office", redolent of mud-flanked charges, drawing into wind-ridden staging posts.

"Royal Mail", dating back to Charles I, as, allegedly, an excuse for a spy network.

"Parcelforce", er, the other one.

Yet none of them were, in Dragon's eyes, up to the three-in-one job.

"Post Office - that was too generic. Lots of other countries had their own post offices, so it would have been a difficult name to protect abroad," Mr Wells says.

"Royal Mail - that has problems when operating in countries which have their own royal family, or have chopped the heads off their royals."

The unifying banner would have to be fashioned to a fresh design.

Closing in on Consignia

The suggestion of the name Consignia followed a tornado of brainstorming at Dragon's West London lair.

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Researchers assessed the Post Office's brand aims using measures such as the three p's - physique, personality, presentation.

They also used three bread-roll shapes bearing words such as "ambition" and "scope", and alleged to bring together "the hard and soft aspects of brand's desired positioning".

Out of the mix came hundreds of words, existing and made-up.

"There are something like 6,000 names applied for registration every day. That's one of the reasons you get so many made-up names - because they are available."

The team found itself leaning towards Consignia.

"It's got consign in it. It's got a link with insignia, so there is this kind of royalty-ish thing in the back of one's mind.

"And there's this lovely dictionary definition of consign which is 'to entrust to the care of'. That goes right back to sustaining trust, which was very, very important."

It was Consignia which was chosen by Post Office chiefs from a final shortlist of three - Mr Wells declines to reveal the alternatives.

Group chief executive John Roberts announced the name on 9 January last year as "modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate".

The rest is history, if what promises to be a short one for the Consignia name itself.

Mr Leighton has set a deadline of 2004 for the brand's replacement - by Royal Mail, if rumours last week are to be believed.

Consignia for ever

Whether the crowning of the UK's postal operator would be a positive step, Mr Wells is uncertain.

Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers: "Approved"' name change

"Royal Mail is a fantastic brand in its own right. But can it do things like cash management? Can it do thinks like logistics? Could it stand to comparison with TNT and DHL?"

Indeed, despite the controversy, he stands by Consignia.

"It fulfils the criteria we set for it. I believe in it as a name that ought to work."

External factors, such as a lack of consumer advertising of the brand, lie behind its relegation to a name boycotted by unions, and reviled by customers.

"We thought 'what would be the point of advertising if all you would be saying is this name change is happening which is not going to affect you?'," Mr Wells says.

The brand has also been damned by its coincidence with a dismal period of corporate performance.

"The name has got muddied with the comments that business is doing appallingly - this idea that nothing has been the same since the name change. It is a soft target."

Cynics may associate the brand's downfall with the involvement of the star-crossed Mr Byers, then trade secretary, who, Mr Wells says, cleared the name on behalf of the government.

"It had to be approved by the DTI. Mr Byers approved it."

Future promise?

The irony is that, thanks to the hours and acres of media hoo-ha, Consignia has become a household name. Or, at least, is no more obscure than Parcelforce.

Given time, Consignia could yet follow the outcast-to-icon trail of Winston Churchill, Abba, Sunday shopping, Notting Hill, Newcastle Brown, Ferrero Rocher chocolates and post-decimalisation "new" pence.

Given time, it could come to represent the delivery of a blizzard-beating service both in the UK and abroad.

It is time Consignia will not get.

In dumping the brand, Mr Leighton gains the opportunity to ditch the loss-making, job-cutting imagery with which the Consignia name has become associated.

He gains the chance to distance his new model postal service from the troubled operator of late.

Mr Leighton, like the author of Ecclesiastes, knows the value of a powerful brand.

And like St George, he has found a Dragon around which to base a public relations coup.

So what would be the best name for Consignia - especially as the firm wants to expand internationally, where names like Post Office or Royal Mail might be confusing?

Have your say

Letters R' Us
C. Bishop

How about Redline - it's as meaningless as Consignia, and a lot easier to spell.
Chris Shaw, England

Consignia doesn't sound like the national institution that Royal Mail does. Instead, it reminds me of that brand of anti-perspirant, called Insignia. I also think it sounds dreadfully 80s, and therefore just a bit naff.
Jonathan Talbot, UK

How about British Mail? When we become a republic there won't have to be an expensive rebranding exercise.
Pete, UK

Having just come back from holiday I noticed that Consignia means lost luggage in Spanish - how appropriate is that?!
Melanie, UK

Royal Express. REx.
Paul Kelly, UK

Call it T-mail. A modern competitor to E-mail. T stands for terra, as in earth as opposed to electronic. If they use this then I would expect as much money from it as the clowns that thought up Consignia.
Robert Tiffney, UK

The controversial brand name "Consignia" hasn't replaced the much loved names such as "The Post Office" and "Royal Mail". These names still exist. Consignia is simply the umbrella term, which describes them as an entity. Other companies that are part of "Consignia" include "Parcel Force", "Romec" and "Cashco". It would seem stupid to use "Royal Mail" as the umbrella term as it wouldn't do justice to how diverse its services actually are. Consignia is as good a name as any.
Rosie Glow, UK

Unfortunately they obviously forgot that a more common use of "consign" is to consign to history, consign to the rubbish bin... more a term of throwing away than taking care of. They should throw away their dictionaries and think about how real people actually use language. Royal Mail has a huge history and therefore degree of trust. Whether a royalist or republican one can't forget a hundred years of service. Do we want to throw away these "real" words in favour of some meaningless fudge of dictionary definitions?
Gabriel, UK

Still can't see what's wrong with the old name GPO (General Post Office). Or, in the US, they call theirs US Mail - what about UK Mail? Keep It Simple, Stupid.
M. Drazin, UK

It's a poor excuse to say that Royal Mail could be confusing when it takes a paragraph to explain what Consignia means.
Emma Taylor, UK

Simple. Call it "The Post Office" or "Royal Mail". Retain it's British identity. British Airways operates overseas by definition, and possibly the worst thing it did recently was to repaint its aircraft to disguise its British-ness, which was arguably its greatest asset.
Andrew Wilson, UK

Initials seem to work well enough for the commercial carriers. What about R.M.P. (Royal Mail Parcels) or RML (Royal Mail Letters)? Or go with an acronym for Post Office Deliveries: POD - modern, cute, and relates back to the package being handled. P.S. If Consignia wants to use any of my suggestions, I'll only charge half of what they paid Dragon in the first place, cheques accepted!
Chris, Somerset, UK

Why not try a name that is patriotic, and also simple instead of trying to be all modern and stylish. I think British Mail might work quite well, or else something like MailUK or UKPost?
Fergus, UK

As a brand name in its own right, Consignia is entirely suitable. It is a powerful and memorable name with relevant meaning that would work across different markets. The fact that the Post Office is a former public service and is used by millions of consumers every day makes it a sitting duck for public criticism. The new name needs to be less radical but should embody the core "deliverables" of the Post Office!
Abbe Paul, Origin Brand Consultants, UK

For reasons outlined in your article, a name change was essential if the Post office is to be successful abroad. It is not the name Consignia that was at fault but the premature timing of its introduction before the company was really ready for it.
Bob Wilson, UK

Given the current crisis within the Post Office, Consignia Plc seems like an excellent name. It is an anagram of Panic Closing.
Howard Morris

It should be renamed "Resignia". As the name ingeniously includes the key word "resign" which is what Stephen Byers did, and is probably what John Roberts and Keith Wells ought to do. I have extensively market researched this brand (with my next door neighbour's pet budgie) and I am pleased to report that it has met with an approval rating of 110%. My invoice for 1,000,000 consultancy is now in the post ready to arrive at your desk first thing next week for your approval. Yours sincerely, St. George Brands.
Roland, UK

Royal Mail. Going back to this says we are not scared, we do not need to hide, we are proud of what we do. No confusion, no evasion, no worry about which way the wind will blow next year.
Gustav Clark, UK

Martyn, UK

Con What? Just because other companies change their name, it doesn't mean that you have to change Royal Mail and Post Office.
Ken Ellis, UK

I believe that Consignia should be renamed as The Post Office Group, the reason being we were the first country in the world to have a Post Office, therefore we can be called THE Post Office.
Paulo Freitas, UK

Alison, Switzerland

Why not something simple like "UK Post" or "Post UK"?
Tony Ronan, UK

There was nothing - and is nothing - wrong with "Royal Mail". Keep the name and keep it in public ownership.
Richard Brennan, UK

My comments are largely unprintable but... my experience of management is people who can't do anything useful, wasting money and resources that should be going to people that actually do something useful. Angry medical advisor - insurance.
Louisa Morgan, UK

What's wrong with "The Royal Mail"? Overseas they will just have to think up a jazzy brand "look". E.g. That bright red colour and font etc they use over here. Even though some might think "Royal mail" might be confusing, considering how much recognition "The Times" has as a newspaper internationally, and how much people know of the British Royal family overseas, "The Royal Mail" will ring true with foreign people's image of England.
J Lee, UK

The Post Office, always was, is, and should remain our property, to serve our purposes. If it is losing money, then we should rationalise it, or update its systems, or maybe the cost of letters should be raised. The last thing that should happen is that it becomes yet another vehicle for investor speculation and profit-chasing. The name Consignia (just like Accenture and all the other pretentious self-aggrandising names) makes me immediately think of insincerity.
Blewyn, UK

The Post Office have pretty much proved that they are not competent to expand internationally so there's no problem. Stick to Royal Mail.
Merlin Magee, UK

Don't dump your history and heritage... There is nothing wrong with Royal Mail. In Australia we don't even have proper buildings for post offices, they have all been sold off. Instead we have sub-agents in lotto shops and newsagents. All sense of trust and reliability have flown out the window. I love your post offices and the fact that you have a Royal Mail. Maybe I am nostalgic but I am probably not the only one.
Michael Bowden, Australia

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