The general consensus is that branding is vital in the modern marketplace, that a recognisable brand name will sell large volumes of products and services. Richard Branson, for one, has exploited this for all that it is worth, and in general I suspect that the theory holds good.
But what about when a decline in standards or some other factor threatens to bring a brand into disrepute? Recent history offers us a number of examples, from the spectacular commercial suicide of Ratners, through the recent demise of Woolworths to the significant decline in standards at Little Chef restaurants. There are three other examples close to my heart which it occurs to me might conceivably be attached to the above list if those in charge are not careful.
First of these is the Church of England. Whilst not what many might readily recognise as a brand, here is certainly an organisation with a long and distinguished history latterly fallen on harder times. This thought occurred to me whilst listening to Ian Bishop, the Archdeacon of Macclesfeld’s thought-provoking sermon at the Archdeacon’s Visitation at St Andrew’s, Cheadle on Tuesday night. Whilst rightly condemning the increasing secularisation of society and the triumph of materialism over spiritual values, he equally rightly made brief reference to the impact the Church itself has had on its own relative decline.
Whether reflected in arguments over women priests and bishops, issues over gay clergy or, in a wider sense, failing to give a clear spiritual lead, the Anglican Church has to some extent been the agent of its own downfall. The new Archbishop of Canterbury will have a formidable task in seeking to give a lead in reversing this process, which may require a closer element of co-operation between communities of faith against the rising tide of secularism.
The second example is Metrolink. When I returned to Manchester in 1998 I was hugely impressed by the quality of the tram service linking my home station of Altrincham to central Manchester and on to Bury. It was reliable, relatively cheap and hugely convenient.
However, now Metrolink is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Numerous new lines have been opened, with more promised, but the system is creaking at the joints, not to say falling apart at the seams. New trams have appeared, but rather cynically these have fewer seats, apparently in the interests of cramming in more standing passengers (no discounts on inexorably rising ticket prices for standing).
Also, the section of track between Piccadilly Gardens/ Market Street and Cornbrook is hopelessly over-burdened with the proliferation of trams heading not only to Altrincham, but also to Eccles, Media City UK and St Werburgh’s Road. Who thought it was a good idea to have separate Media City trams rather than slightly diverting Eccles trams to call there? The knock-on effect of these delays is increasingly to irritate passengers by terminating trams at Timperley to get them back on schedule.
I see no way of resolving this problem as the network expands further, as there is no obvious way of adding a second line at this pinch point. Meanwhile a second city crossing between St Peter’s Square and Victoria is planned, which with the best will in the world will not solve the worst of the problems, whilst no doubt costing a fortune. So once again a respected brand finds itself in difficulties.
And so to the third brand in trouble, HM Revenue & Customs (which again some may have difficulty in seeing as a brand). The organisation was once a by-word for technical tax excellence and for effective communication with taxpayers and their agents, but no more. Swingeing staff cuts have resulted in an organisation lacking in depth of technical expertise, fronted by hopeless call centres, with a shrunken inspectorate rendered inaccessible by central policy and subject to seemingly constant reorganisations which even we professionals cannot keep track of.
Given the clear importance of the tax take to the country’s economic health, particularly in current economic conditions, surely a greater investment in HMRC is required to make it once again an effective force in administering the tax system and collecting the correct amount of tax? It seems to me that this would be money extremely well spent.