When global business services and technology provider Xerox unveiled a new brand name and logo for its BPO offshoot Conduent, two words sprung to mind: mindboggling and confusing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the news, Xerox recently announced it would be splitting into two companies, one focused on its document technology (retaining the Xerox brand) and another on BPO. “Conduent” is the name they chose for that spinoff.
Now, the mindboggling aspect of this news is there’s already a key BPO player in the market called Conduit Global, AKA Conduit.
Conduit Global is a cloud-based BPO company providing multi-channel contact center, back office, and professional managed services. The company employs over 5,000 people globally and has customers in telecommunications, healthcare, financial services, utilities, and public sectors, with operations in the United States, Europe and Aisa.
The confusing part is, since 2011, Conduit Global has been providing Xerox with telephony managed services, and just last month announced their partnership was expanding. So Xerox must have been aware of the name, right?
We asked Conduent (Xerox) directly if they knew about Conduit before deciding on the name and they replied: “Conduent is a unique name and was inspired by several aspects of our company’s mission and strategy. The name is being very well received and we’re on-track with work to complete our separation from Xerox in early 2017.”
Even so, there is clear evidence that Xerox consciously decided to go for a name that sounded like the word conduit. The official Xerox press release states: “The name Conduent is inspired by the new company’s expertise in connecting clients and their constituents through seamless transactions.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conduit as “A person or organization that acts as a channel for the transmission of something.” I rest my case.
Risks to Brand Credibility
Xerox solidified its nearshore BPO presence around seven years ago, when it absorbed Affiliated Computer Services for $6.4 billion. Since then, it has continued to make acquisitions across the region and become a distinctive BPO player in the market.
If Xerox is trying to advertise itself – or Conduent for that matter – as a reliable, efficient BPO brand we can trust, this kind of branding decision is clearly a stumble out of the gate.
“It certainly sounds like this would be ripe for a case of trademark confusion,” said Rob Frankel, a Branding Strategist & Expert operating out of Los Angeles. “Based on the brand identity alone, I don’t think Conduit would have too much of a problem finding a lawyer to take on the case. Conduent is an offshoot, so it still relates to brand identity. My first inclination would be to agree on the potential confusion.”
Even if Conduit was to take Xerox to court and it survived a trademark confusion suit, the whole debacle will leave a Xerox with a huge, unflattering black eye. For Xerox and Conduent, there isn’t really an upside to this branding decision. “I’ve seen some really strange things happen in these cases, because, primarily, when they get into litigation, the people who make the arguments are lawyers, not brand strategists,” said Frankel.
Historic Case of Brand Confusion
A similar case came from tire manufacturers Goodyear and the now non-existent tire company B.F. Goodrich. These guys competed for a long time, resulting in a number of brand confusion suits instigated by Goodyear. Goodrich always won these cases because technically they were called “B.F. Goodrich”. They even ran an advertising campaign telling everybody that they weren’t the “guys with the blimp”. In this case, it was Goodrich’s responsibility to differentiate themselves enough to provide a viable distinction from Goodyear.
B.F. Goodrich. We’re the other guys, remember.
The above example shows how two companies could co-exist with similar names, but it still begs the question, why bother? Why go through all this hassle to solidify a brand if your competitor has been doing the same with a similar name for years?
In response to whether Xerox knew about Conduit Global and made a conscious decision to create a similar sounding brand, Frankel doesn’t see any nefarious moves at play.
“It’s much more likely to have been corporate stupidity,” he said. “I have seen product names go out into the world without having done the proper research and then just die. For Xerox, this “trick-‘em-and-grab-‘em” strategy would have been foolish, because the company has enough resources to launch a highly competitive campaign in almost any sector they want. Chances are, Xerox farmed this out to some “hacko branding” agency who didn’t do their homework. If that was the case, then the design firm better have some decent errors and omissions (E&O) insurance to cover their asses.”
According to a Conduent spokesman, they actually did hire a brand strategy firm to develop and select the final name. So what does that say about Xerox’s judgement in vendors? Whatever way you look at it, it’s definitely a broadside hit to the brand’s credibility.
In this report by Marketing Daily, John Kennedy, Conduent’s CMO, said “It took 100 years to build a brand as recognizable as Xerox. We want to build something that’s as substantial as that.” This is where the parallelograms come in.
According to the article, Xerox put a lot of thought into the shapes and colors of this part of the logo, pointing out their relative uniqueness in the world of global business services.
“Its connected parallelograms are intended to represent the three stakeholders of the company: clients, employees and investors,” reads the article. “The parallelograms are also meant to evoke motion, while the connected “N” and “T” in the company name signify “stability, trust and continuity,” Kennedy says.”
Clearly this depth of thought was not extended to the brand name itself.
“Xerox has always been terrible at brand strategy,” continued Frankel. “They’re clearly brand-blind and have been operating on a third generation legacy of brand awareness. They simply don’t know what they’re doing, strategically or tactically, so this doesn’t come as a shock to me that they’ve chosen to do this.”
When given the opportunity, Conduit Global declined to comment on the matter.