SK Telecom's rebrand is part of a broader abstraction within the telecoms industry

According to reports by the South Korean newspaper ‘The Dong-A Ilbo’, SK Telecom’s Chairman Chey Tae-won believes that the time has come for his firm to drop the ‘telecom’ part of the company’s name.
“A term ‘Telecom’, which gives an impression that the company is a common carrier, should be excluded from the company name,” he said. “The name needs to be changed so that the company can be thought of as an AI-focused company.” This is consistent with the company’s aim to expand its business via artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data and ICT services.
Chey has not just singled out ‘telecom’ as being old-fashioned, but pointed at other divisions with names such as “energy” and “chemicals”, saying that the company will prioritise the environment, which should also be reflected in its name going forward.
The company also indicated that it might change the ‘T’ brand for its apps (such as T Map and T Map Taxi). This is probably wise given that ‘T’ branding is also associated with Deutsche Telekom internationally.
Chey makes an interesting point. The telecoms market has already been through several rounds of rebranding over the years. One round involved companies moving away from names heavily associated with particular geographies and hiding these in acronyms such as BT, KT, JT, STC and NTT.
Other campaigns sought to convince us that those lumbering big telcos were actually funky technology companies – we got bright colours, lifestyle concepts and perky rebrands. But it’s been a while since it was good to talk, or the future was orange.
In 2018, the FT noted that telecoms firms were losing the branding battle to technology companies. The biggest brands are now Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Visa, with only AT&T clinging on in the top 10.
This year we’re seeing firms trying to emphasise their broader service portfolios to customers. While SK Telecom is mooting dropping the telecom, BT has spent three and a half years simplifying its logo into a plain BT contained in a circle, moving it away from the ‘global’ symbolism it previously used.
Paul Franklin, creative director at Red&White which was responsible for the redesign, says that the aim is to promote BT as a “digital champion” and showcase its range of services. It is interesting that ‘digital’ now seems to trump ‘global’ in terms of brand values, and that blue is now perceived as outdated.
The simplification was quickly lampooned on Twitter, with UK budget retailer Poundland joking that it had spent £1, and no-doubt several hours, on its own redesign, which looked strangely similar to BT’s rather more pricey effort.
Simplification appears de rigueur in 2019, with Daisy rebranding its various channel offerings in the spring. Its Digital Wholesale Solutions division incorporates Daisy Wholesale, Distribution and Worldwide.
CLX’s name changes reflect an even more interesting evolution of the industry – from CLX Networks to CLX Communications to Sinch (February 2019) – representing a progressive abstraction away from the physical. A company that grew by acquisition (it acquired Symsoft, Voltari’s messaging unit, Mblox, Sinch, Xura Secure Communications, Dialogue, Unwire Communication and Vehicle), it says the change better reflects the breadth of its portfolio.
Names reflect how a company wishes to be seen, and this trend tells us that they no longer wish to be rooted in the physical world (no geographical names) or even in the technological world (no networks). Instead, they aspire to be conceptual, which allows them the elbow room to change their offerings without being constrained by their name. Where once branding focused on aspirational consumer lifestyles with beautiful people just happy to be using their mobile, it now focuses on aspirational innovations such as virtual reality and digital lifestyles such as Instagram influencers.
In the B2B world things have been more sedate. Simply tacking words like Enterprise, Business or Wholesale onto the end of a brand seems to have sufficed in most cases. We have the odd Daisy and Gamma, but with Daisy’s Google ID being ‘telecommunications company’ and Gamma not attempting to hide its ‘communications’ roots (which is still part of the company’s name), it seems that B2B providers are not ashamed of their network and communications heritage. Or maybe they’re just unwilling to spend millions disguising it.
Telecoms companies are not alone in changing their names. Do you recall what became of the company formerly known as BackRub and what we now call Brad’s Drink?

Other telecom rebrands

  • Telecom Australia to Telstra (1995)
  • United Telephone, Centel, Central Telephone and Carolina Telephone to Sprint (1996)
  • Bell Atlantic-GTE to Verizon (2000)
  • BT Cellnet to O2 (2001)
  • Kingston Communications to KCOM (2007)
  • Everything Everywhere to EE (2012-14)
  • France Telecom to Orange (2013)
  • Telecom New Zealand to Spark (2014)
  • Eircom to Eir (2015)
  • TimeWarner Cable and Charter Communications to Spectrum (2016)
  • Vimpelcom to Veon (2017)
  • Lattelecom to T2T (2019)

Top 10 telecoms brands 2019

The BrandZ rankings of the world’s most valuable brands compiled by Kantar says the most valuable telecoms brands are:

  1. AT&T – #10 (up 2%)
  2. Verizon – #11 (up 11%)
  3. Xfinity – #20 (up 14%)
  4. Deutsche Telekom – #25 (up 7%)
  5. China Mobile – #27 (down 15%)
  6. Spectrum – #30 (down 2%)
  7. Vodafone – #49 (down 8%)
  8. Orange – #64 (up 6%)
  9. NTT – #70 (down 10%)
  10. Movistar – #75 (down 15%)

*Shows current global ranking and difference in brand equity over 2018.