Why Yorkshire Bank is wrong to drop its brand name

The following article was written by Stewart Arnold. Stewart is a lecturer in Marketing at the University of Hull Business School. He is a long-time supporter of devolution for Yorkshire and was a founder member and former leader of the Yorkshire Party.

After its recent takeover of Richard Branson’s Virgin Money, Yorkshire Bank will be rebranded. By the end of 2021, the bank, as a distinct high street presence, will be no more. Should it matter that Yorkshire Bank will be subsumed into the Virgin Money brand?

I would argue it does and, that rather than replacing the brand, due to Yorkshire’s positive image, the company has missed an opportunity to build the brand.

This loss of the Yorkshire Bank brand is in comparison to the hundreds of companies across the region which use Yorkshire in their company name. These range from food and drink companies to suppliers of fence panels. Many will have markets in the UK beyond Yorkshire and, indeed, many will export overseas. It could be argued that the Yorkshire element of a company name is no more than a geographical identifier in the same vein as Newcastle Brown Ale or Maldon Sea Salt. However, it can be equally argued that ‘Yorkshire’ adds to the company certain values associated with the region and its people. In this way, many companies and organisations use Yorkshire in their brand portfolios whether it be Yorkshire Tea or Yorkshire Crisps.

In the report, the economic rationale for devolving to Yorkshire from September 2018 submitted to the government by the 18 Yorkshire Councils, it states:

 “The Yorkshire brand is considered a significant asset by business, both in terms of local and national markets and in international/outward focused activities, such as international trade and investment, and in sectors such as tourism, food and cultural industries where place-based characteristics are important-which suggests the potential to develop further the positive effects of the Yorkshire brand in growing Yorkshire’s profile and activity in international markets.”      

Lord Heseltine in a speech in Leeds in June 2019 said: “I would support a greater Yorkshire. It’s a world brand-you can sell Yorkshire across the world and so you should.”

More recently, John Grogan MP, co-chair of the One Yorkshire campaign quite candidly put it:

“Yorkshire’s potential can be achieved through building on the ‘Yorkshire’ brand, increasing inward investment, promoting exports, and improving transport and skills. However, this will only happen if we take back more control of our destiny from Whitehall.”

There is no denying that brands have become prevalent in our modern world. We are surrounded by brands and, in many cases, they have become short cuts to telling us something about their ‘offer’. For example, Rolex, TAG Heuer and Tissot give us cues about the perceived superiority of Swiss watches.

There are very many definitions of what a brand is. However, what is broadly understood is that a brand is complex. One definition (and one which is as good as any) has a brand having both intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic cues would generally refer to physical product attributes, such as shape, colour, weight, taste and performance.

On the other hand, elements of the product which have nothing to do with its physical properties are referred to as extrinsic cues. These include brand name, the packaging of the product, price, promotional support, country of origin, consumer evaluation, the provision of a guarantee and servicing and certain more indefinable qualities.

Olsen and Jacoby (1985), say that as these extrinsic cues are external to the product, changing them does not affect the physical product. Their studies show that the brand name (extrinsic attribute) is selected more frequently by the consumer than any other intrinsic or extrinsic attribute, including price. In their view, this provides information to the consumers, so it saves them time when searching for a product.

If this is true and the Yorkshire ‘brand’ does indeed comprise certain extrinsic attributes, what are they?

My research to find out what makes up these extrinsic Yorkshire qualities found them to be, in descending order: friendly; welcoming; honest; unpretentious; quality; good value; trustworthy; natural. When asked, over one third of people said they would be more likely to purchase a product with ‘Yorkshire’ in the brand name of the product.

We know that Yorkshire’s food and drink exports are worth close £1 billion. Yorkshire is seen as a reliable indicator for products in this sector. There is no doubt that having ‘natural’, ‘quality’ and ‘good value’ are key values when it comes to selling our food and drink products globally.

Some of the other attributes might lend them themselves more to different product areas. For example, ‘honest’, ‘friendly’ and ‘trustworthy’ could provide a company in the financial sector with the positive attributes they surely need after such a battering in recent years. For this reason, it is a pity that the Yorkshire Bank brand will be lost.

In the 1990s comedians Hale and Pace featured a spoof based on the fictional ‘Yorkshire Airlines’. The sketch by the two (southern) comedians drew on archetypal Yorkshire stereotypes: flat caps, whippets, mushy peas and Geoffrey Boycott. I am not that po-faced to think it wasn’t funny but seeing it now on YouTube I wonder if the largely negative stereotypes may be a product of their times. All the evidence is that Yorkshire, in a brand or product name, offers a great deal to companies when it comes to trading globally. The naysayers who attempt to diminish our move towards a One Yorkshire devolution deal call the attachment to the word Yorkshire ‘nostalgic’. There may be something in that of course but that does not tell the whole of the story.

Yorkshire is a globally accepted name with a huge range of positive attributes which, with the best will in the world, the city regions – preferred by some – will never have. Yorkshire Tea leads the way in gaining international brand recognition and we can see the renaming of Leeds Carnegie as Yorkshire Carnegie and the branding of Leeds-Bradford Airport as Yorkshire’s Airport as part of the same trend.

Yorkshire sells and we should be making the most of this given the changes in the commercial landscape that Brexit brings. A one devolution deal to the whole of Yorkshire can help us establish our county and its companies as even bigger global players.

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