The High Street is laden with brands, and filled with brand-name shoppers. Now construction companies are rebranding themselves in search of similar customer loyalty. We look at the benefits of the corporate make-over
On 1 September the construction industry will lose a famous name. Contractor Tilbury Douglas Construction is to shed the title that has served it for more than 100 years in favour of Interserve, the title of its facilities subsidiary. Tilbury is not just trying to move higher up in the phone directory: it has joined a growing trend in the UK that has seen businesses such as Andersen Consulting change its name to Accenture, and will see the Post Office become Consignia.

The construction industry may not be as brand-aware as other industries, but it has seen a number of significant rebranding attempts. Tarmac Construction changed to Carillion in 1999, prompted by its demerger from its sister materials producer. In March this year, contractor EBC changed name to Rok Group after a restructure, to avoid confusion with other companies with similar names. Consultant Arup has subtly dropped the "Ove" from its original name, Ove Arup, to unify its various divisions under a single, simpler brand, and in May last year, contractor Amec introduced a new logo across all its businesses to suggest the unity of their aims. All these companies have well-known names, so why are they looking to make changes? And what's in a name anyway? "A brand is not just about logos and a company's name: it is about communicating a business' core values," says Peter Murray, managing director of communications consultant Wordsearch. Whereas marketing is concerned with promoting the products and services a company offers, branding is a subtle process of getting the outside world to identify a company with a particular ethos.

Tilbury Douglas Construction hopes the dramatic change from their old-fashioned name to Interserve will better convey the message that it has services to offer beside construction. "Traditionally, we have delivered construction services only, but we are now migrating more into the field of providing whole-life services for buildings. We want to reflect this by changing our name and brand," says Bill Farmer, business development director at Tilbury.

But changing a company's message from one set of values to another can be a risky business. "It can either help clarify what kind of a company you are becoming, or it can muddy the waters no end," says Ruth Willatt, director of communications specialists Petrarch Associates. Again, a rebranding exercise is not just about a name change, it is about shifting the way a business is perceived by its employees, clients and potential clients. But the process can be a difficult one for an established company that has never thought of its branding before.

"You must think about how your business strategy links in with any new image you might want to give your company," says Bob Empson, director of Smith & Williamson Management Consultants. According to Empson, a common problem is when a company does not have a formal business strategy that outlines how the firm would like to develop over at least the next five years. He asks: "If you don't have this, how can you be clear about the kind of brand you want to create?"

Once the aims of the company are clear, then Empson advises that it should start consulting the the stakeholders, including staff. Empson says it is vital that the company's board of directors, its general staff and its marketing team are all consulted on the rebranding process. Consultancy services cost from £10,000 for small businesses and up to £40,000 for a medium-sized concern. But it is implementing the changes that really costs money: Andersen Consulting spent more than £60m on the road to becoming Accenture.

A brand is not just about logos and a company’s name: it is about communicating a business’ core values

Peter Murray, managing director, Wordsearch

QS Cyril Sweett is another firm considering a rebranding programme. This month it is due to hear the findings of brand consultant Splash of Paint, which sent questionnaires to 300 staff members, and interviewed 30 employees and 12 clients at length. Cyril Sweett's marketing department pushed for a review of its brand because it was due to revamp the company's website and stationery. Before splashing out, it felt the company should take stock of its image.

"We have set up a consulting division and offer whole-life costing services, so we've changed quite a lot and want to review how we position our company in our literature," says Sarah Davis, group marketing manager. She says the company also wants to investigate what its 70-year-old name means to people, for example if "established" actually means "boring".

Architect and interior designer DEGW is pondering its identity, too. Last month, the company successfully concluded a management buyout from management consultancy Twjinstra Gudde. Now managing director Holli Rowan is taking a hard look at its brand. "In the States we are known for our strategic consultancy work; in the UK for our masterplanning and design, and in Europe for research-based design," he says. "We want to find a way to tell one story to cover them all." The review is at the top of DEGW's agenda.

Rebuilding the brand: Pearce Construction

Bristol-based Pearce Construction has bucked the trend set by contractor Amec, consultant Arup and architect DEGW. Rather than simplifying its brand, the group is setting up a series of mini-brands for each of its subsidiaries. Pearce Retail, Pearce Leisure and contractor M+W Pearce were set up in the mid-1990s to handle the company’s growing workload in these areas, and to shift its reputation away from general contracting. But it was not until the companies had proved successful that Pearce’s owner, Crest Nicholson, gave the go-ahead for each to create its own brand. This year, Pearce Retail alone spent £300,000 on branding out of an annual turnover of £75m. Business development manager Andrew Dale-Harris says that as recruitment has become more difficult, and good subcontractors harder to find, the importance of branding has increased. “We find that merely increasing salaries is not enough; you’ve got to have a strong identity. We want to be first choice for subcontractors and people looking to change jobs,” he says. Now Pearce Retail is stepping up its branding campaign with the creation of a design standard manual that gives guidance on site operations, how site workers should dress and how documents should be drawn up. The company’s logo has been altered and could soon also be used by regular suppliers. “It brings them kudos and us coverage,” says Dale-Harris. But he says there was no question of dropping the Pearce name entirely. “Clients understand that we have refocused. It happened gradually, and the brands complement each other.”