It's quite a surprise, and certainly a rarity, to see one of the best brand executions of the year get together with one of the worst brand strategies of the year. To savour this special occasion, I'm going to take you to Wales.
A new body called Transport for Wales has been created to act as this central, single organisation. Following the "Transport for…" nomenclature created by Transport for London and copied elsewhere, its remit is to manage (at least some of) the public transport in the country, starting with its train service.
The idea is that TfW will manage the overall commissioning of services, with a private body running them. Previously, commissioning was done from the UK Government in London, spawning the turquoise wagons of Arriva. Now, it's done by Cardiff and the trains themselves are run by a consortium of Amey and Keolis.
Here's the new TfW logotype. As with all public sector bodies in Wales (I should know, I used to work for one), both the Welsh and English languages must be present and certainly there is an increasing desire, rightly in my view, to have the Welsh language appear first.
The logo is frankly stunning. The industrial-style font is excellent, and is extremely striking. Whoever designed the identity could have made the logotype as a cliché – a dragon, or the Welsh coastline – but the T in a circle is genius. It's really simple and extremely effective.
Look at the treatment on a train. Just look at it. Gorgeous.
I really hope that TfW extends the brand identity as far as it can go, and make it as symbolic to Wales as London's transport identity is to it. I don't know if TfW will end up branding buses, or being in charge of roads (as Transport for London is – my view is that it should be) but this could be a really striking, solid execution of a brand identity that could change behavior through its ubiquity.
Aaaaaand… this is where it falls down. I'm deeply saddened to say the next bit, given that the identity is so, so good.
TfW has permitted the train operator, Keolis Amey, to have its own website. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. But, conceptually, TfW is the identity of both the public sector commissioning organization and the train operator. Unlike Transport for London, which handles this sort of thing sensibly, both the commissioner and the operator have separate websites.
Search for "transport for wales" or any similar term and you get the results below. The first result is for the train operator; the second is for the commissioning body.
Which one is correct? How are you supposed to know? If you're an irregular train user, then how the hell are you supposed to tell the difference?
Here's the public sector commissioning body's website (just before it kickstarts a nice animation).
... and here's that of the train operator. The brand identity is the same.
It's absolutely insane. I can't think of anything like it.
Already, when people are tweeting one account, they are being told to tweet the other, and vice versa. The confusion is already abundant on Twitter, so imagine how this is going to snowball in coming years, and think of how many people will simply give up on this ridiculous confusion, think "bollocks to this" and jump in the car.
The fact that these two sites exist only means something to a very small number of people. That very small number of people is probably not the target customer for TfW. It is an ill-judged move which totally fails to infer a "customer-first" attitude. The attitude seems to be: "well, this is how we're structured; over to you to figure it out."
Time and time again, customers have expressed their don't-give-a-shitness to corporate structures. They want to have easy access to information with little friction. If they don't understand the differences between internal organisation A or B then they just give up. They don't have the cognitive abilities to bother working out why these delineations exist. They shouldn't need to.
Please Wales, don't shoot yourself in the foot. And please, everyone else, take heed of this example.
Paul Squires is the Publisher of Imperica.