It’s all in the name – or not

Two Thamesdown buses
Two recent variants of Thamesdown bus livery
Thamesdown Transport have asked for opinions on their company name. It’s claimed they are only asking because people keep on asking them what will happen to the brand name. But it is very unusual for companies to spend money asking their customers about changes they genuinely have no plans to make. ‘Go South Coast’ — the part of Go Ahead Group that recently bought Thamesdown Transport from Swindon Borough Council — in 2012 rebranded their “Wilts & Dorset” services to “Salisbury Reds” in Wiltshire and “More Bus” in Dorset. Another Go Ahead subsidiary operates buses in South Oxfordshire using “Thames Travel” branding with a very similar colour scheme to Thamesdown. So what’s in the name of a bus company, and does it matter?

The original Thamesdown Transport livery
The survey explains the origin of the Thamesdown name (it was the name used between 1974 and 1997 for the council formed when Highworth Rural District Council and the former Borough of Swindon merged), then asks “do you think the name of your local bus company should have more reference to Swindon?” So far, so innocuous. It then asks a question popular with those that create surveys about brands and the marketing of new products: is the name Thamesdown in “Old fashioned and represents the past” or “Current and relevant to Swindon” as though a name cannot be both at the same time.

If you’re standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus, with both a Thamesdown bus and a Stagecoach bus approaching, are you really thinking — even subconsciously — about whether the name on the bus feels old fashioned or ‘current and relevant’? Might not questions such as ‘Which bus will get me to town first?’ or ‘Will the driver give me change for a £5 note?’ or ‘Will I get a seat or will I have to stand?’ be more important? And if the approaching bus has some new name on it that you don’t yet recognise — and maybe is painted a different colour — will that help you answer those questions? As there are still a few people around who refer to Thamesdown buses as ‘Corporation buses’ — which they ceased to be in 1986 — if Go Ahead do choose to change the name of Thamesdown Transport to something else, it could be years before the new brand becomes familiar to passengers and potential passengers in Swindon and the surrounding area.

Brand awareness and brand loyalty are fragile things — companies play with them at their peril.

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