Why no-one cares about subtle brand differences

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail made an hilarious attempt to distance itself from Katie Hopkins by saying it’s completely different to the Mail Online website.

Naturally, it’s been heaped with ridicule from the twitterati and wider commentariat, with former Mirror Editor Roy Greenslade making the clearest and most withering point.

I have some experience of this. For the past seven years, I’ve worked for Age UK — the largest UK charity dedicated to helping older people.

Age UK is a national charity with its own website, but is also a network comprising around 150 local Age UKs as well as Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland— all of which are independent charities, fundraising on their own behalf and running their own individual services.

All the charities have a common goal and deliver similar, but not always identical services and activities, but the clue here is — and I’ll repeat this — they’re independent.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s this all got to do with the Daily Mail?

Ahh, yes, sorry. Got a bit carried away there…

Right, one of the first things I learned on joining Age UK was about the importance of brand reputation.

Most people haven’t got a clue that Age UK Brighton & Hove, Age UK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Age UK (the national charity) are all independent organisations.

If one of them gets into the news (for both right and wrong reasons), the average punter will see Age UK and not know the difference.

So something good or something bad affects everyone.

(Here’s the Mail analogy finally!)

And here’s where this links back to the Mail. If you work inside DGMT, it probably matters enormously that the Daily Mail, the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline are all completely different and have varied worldviews.

But that’s only a teensy-tiny fraction of the general public. The rest of us read the MailOnline website and assume it’s the same as the newspapers, no matter how much bluster one side exercises.

It’s all about brand reputation, you see. You choose to be part of a group that share the same name and you’re all in it together, no matter how different you are.

Here’s another useful comparison

We all know Richard Branson, right? Back in 1968, he started Virgin Magazine and a worldwide brand was born.

Virgin’s iconic logo

Over the years, Virgin has taken in music, airlines, cola, money services, health clubs, casinos, hotels and wine (to name a few).

(Here’s a list of all the companies that are currently trading under ‘Virgin’)

Admittedly, it’s unlikely that having a bad experience at a Virgin Active gym is going to put you off flying with them next time you head off on a Virgin Holiday or a Virgin Atlantic flight, but it’s a bigger risk than if you have a poor time at a David Lloyd gym, isn’t it?

Yes, they’re all independent companies, but they all share a common brand and — with it — a common sensibility.

Mutual benefit

At Age UK, the relationship is beneficial most of the time.

The wide network means that Age UK has a broad reach at a very local level in a way that lots of other large charities don’t.

Equally, the local Age UKs benefit from the influence and brand reputation/visibility the national charity has, either by the influencing work and research it carries.

But when something negative does happen (and it does for pretty much every organisation, even on an individual level), the impact is magnified.

— — —

So the Mail hasn’t really got a leg to stand on. It can huff and puff till it’s blue in the face, but it really just needs to suck it up and move on.

Prolonging the argument merely makes the absurdity of the situation even greater.