So another brokerage brand is about to bite the dust; this time it is St. Louis-based A.G. Edwards. It is part of a long line of regional brokerage names and banking names that have disappeared in recent years. Paine Webber. E.F. Hutton. Warburg. First Boston. Butcher & Singer. Chemical Bank. Marine Midland. Wheat First. W. H. Newbold’s. Interstate Johnson Lane. We could go on and on. And soon LaSalle. (At left, the old logo from a stock certificate. You can buy one at Scripophily by clicking here: Scripophily.
These were all great companies that had great “brand” equity, but they were killed off unnecessarily. The problem we have here at BrandlandUSA is one of a wasted asset; these companies had invested millions in these brand names in advertising and goodwill. These weren’t just tiny little mom and pop firms that had to change around a few business cards when they got bought out. Many of these firms have advertised and marketed themselves for over a century (in A.G. Edwards’ case with very slick marketing and donations and goodwill), and when the old name disappears, something big goes away. Something is lost. Much is lost that cannot be gained back.
The loss of A.G. Edwards is tragic; it is not just another investing brand. The brand connotes autonomy, un-flashiness and the thrifty values of upper-middle-class Americans. The loss is not good.
In 2000, Richmond, Virginia lost the firm nearly century old firm Branch, Cabell. It was a magical regional name, and it was swallowed up by Tucker Anthony Sutro, which is now RBC Dain Rauscher. When it was bought, many of the brokers left, and any equity the firm had built up over the years disappeared. Of course, when the name change was announced, there was the typical press release sort of blather that “oh, how great a company it was and how we will keep their traditions alive” kind of stuff. But what happens, always, is that the company disappears, and that memory is lost forever. Does anyone really believe that sort of thing?
We cannot begrudge a company that buys another company. That is part of capitalism. But that doesn’t mean that capitalists themselves are immune from making stupid decisions.
So what does Wachovia do? First, Wachovia needs to have a national brokerage brand. They bought the company. But the A.G. Edwards name can be used other ways:
- Many brokers inside the Wachovia system have their own regional brokerage office teams, much like real estate brokers brand themselves UNDER a major broker (the “Joe Smith Team” at Century 21/Anytown). Thus, three names are needed. The main brokerage company name (Century 21), the associated brokerage (Anytown) and the operating name of the staffers (the Joe Smith Team). Another ideal situation is the Scott & Stringfellow unit of BB&T. It advertises itself as a BB&T Affiliate. Both brands are thus held up as important. But venerable “Scott & String” has its own identity, website and structure, but gains stature through associating with powerful BB&T.
- Individual offices could operate under the same back end systems (economies of scale), but offices could continue to call themselves A.G. Edwards if they wished.
- Wachovia might consider creating some A.G. Edwards branded funds or investment schemes that use the A.G. Edwards brand.
- A “Doing Business As” approach. Allow and encourage the internal use of A.G. Edwards for brokers, including stationary, signage and such. When First Union bought Wheat First, many old line Wheat brokers had to identify themselves as being with Wheat, even though they weren’t supposed to. Thus they are, by all accounts, employees of Wachovia doing business as “A.G. Edwards.”
- Take the General Motors approach. Wachovia could merge most of the national A.G. Edwards offices into Wachovia, but keep open an A.G. Edwards office in St. Louis, so the brand equity could be preserved. It would, by all accounts, operate as a Wachovia on the inside, but be A. G. Edwards on the outside. This would please St. Louis, but then also create some competition inside Wachovia itself. It is always better to be your competition.
A name is a connector, shorthand. We don’t want to get too medical about this, but a word helps people remember things and takes the person back to the certain place in the brain. If the word disappears, what good associations that came with the brain place disappear too. That’s the trouble with killing off a brand name; what the brand stood for automatically disappears.