Bell’s future just got friendlier

Last month's column, 'Saving Ockham's Razor' praised the idea behind the famous Mies van der Rohe sound bite 'less is more.' This month we have a new sound bite: less is better.

Last month’s column, ‘Saving Ockham’s Razor’ praised the idea behind the famous Mies van der Rohe sound bite ‘less is more.’ This month we have a new sound bite: less is better.

I’m talking about Bell. This column has been critical of Bell more than once, because of the inconsistency between the brand’s promise and Bell’s delivery.

I tended to focus on the field experience, customer care and the lack of coordination between the two. Granted, these are the hardest things for any service organization to get right, but in the ‘making things simple’ days, the field experience was an almost offensive contradiction of the promise. Later, Frank and Gordon provided some distraction from that, but not enough had changed in the experience department.

So when the ‘er’ campaign launched, with its clever use of the comparative suffix as a stand-in for the whole idea of ‘better,’ it felt a little like Peter and the Wolf. I was still haunted by previous service experience nightmares, and in an unforgiving, cynical mood.

That perception changed today. So did the mood. The frequency of calls from our youngest daughter – who has been away at university for all of 14 days – inspired my wife to suggest we investigate Bell’s $25 Unlimited Long Distance plan. So, not without dread, I went to the website.

Wow. User friendlier. Really user friendlier. Dead simple, in fact. I was so blissed out by the end of the lightning-fast purchase process that I stayed to see if the rest of the online experience was going to be as simple and easy. It was. I have to say, the customer experience on the Bell website really did just get better.

Cleaning up the brand architecture was another manifestation of ‘less is better.’ Now it’s simpler – a classic masterbrand structure that focuses back on Bell with no more sub-brands.

For the time being, the service nightmares have been partially obscured. That may change the next time my Internet goes down, but by actually delivering on their promise with the online experience, they have inspired me to see what else they can do. By making the online experience simpler, they have also moved me more confidently toward self-care, which is the ultimate dream of every telecom.

The Bell website employs the same design principles that underlie the Telus site (including lots of white space, no more words than necessary and dead simple navigation). That’s no surprise, given its provenance in the minds of the former Telus (hence Clearnet) brain trust. The Cope-Seifeddine-Oosterman team is using lessons learned from past successes to reinvent a brand that was once a major competitor, proving that some branding principles are very portable, even within the same category.

Two of those principles are focus and consistency. Telus has one of the most focused and consistent brand images in Canada. The public never seems to tire of its use of cuddly zoology. It has stuck with its tagline from day one, yet continues to feel fresh.

Presumably Bell is hoping to achieve the same status, minus the critters, with a brand image that appeals to both consumer and business audiences – a challenge that Telus has grappled with over the years, and one that Frank and Gordon couldn’t overcome.

The real challenge, after all the brain trust’s lessons from the past have been applied, will be how to be truly different. That struggle for differentiation will return, as it always does, to the operational sphere: field service, customer care, billing, call centre, retail operations, etc.

If it doesn’t happen there, the only differences between Bell and Telus will be superficial. The word Belus would take on a whole new meaning.

Ironically, the new ‘er’ campaign will have to ‘get better’ itself in order to live up to its promise. Staying fresh while remaining consistent when all you are playing with are pieces of the logo against a white background is the ultimate Miesian challenge. Less may not be enough. But the brain trust has, in its past life, demonstrated that it can achieve this, so why not this time?

By beginning to deliver on its new brand promise with a powerfully simple website, Bell’s future just got a little friendlier. Let’s see if it can make that happen across the operation. That would be a real differentiator.

Will Novosedlik is a partner at Chemistry, a brand management consultancy that integrates strategy and experience to drive competitive advantage for clients in North America and Europe. He can be reached at