31 Jan Branding – what’s in a name?
I was interviewed this week by a local newspaper. A journalist from the Bromley Times contacted me to ask my views on the renaming of the town centre shopping mall. A story had broken a few days earlier that The Glades was to become known as ‘Intu’ and judging by a small social media frenzy, the view of local residents ranges from the entirely unimpressed to simply outraged.
I don’t have any special insight into the Glades rebranding, but it is quite clear this is much more than a name change for a local shopping centre. The people that own Bromley’s mall (they are the major shareholder, I believe) are the same people that own the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex. It’s a big company and this is evidently part of a major national branding exercise.
Branding or (in this case) rebranding is a big step; one that needs careful consideration and strategic planning. The owners clearly feel they need to make a change. These are clever business people and they will have done their research to make sure what they have planned will appeal to the retailers and consumers they want to attract. You’d assume so anyway, since they are reportedly spending a cool £25 million on it.
So what is branding? It’s about building a connection between customers and a company, service or product; establishing a brand that customers trust. Brands become associated with certain things and if those things are positive (Virgin), all well and good; if not (Northern Rock), not. Either way unless there’s a significant event (Northern Rock again – and Ratner’s), it doesn’t usually happen over night and it certainly isn’t just down to a name or logo.
Remember when the Olympic logo was launched in 2007. It was almost universally despised – even designers seemed reluctant to defend it. But ask people what they think of the Olympics now and I suspect you’d struggle to find anybody who even mentions the logo. The connection people have with Olympic ‘brand’ (as opposed to the logo) has become a very positive one because of their experience of ‘the product’.
The same applies to our local shopping centre. The question local residents have been asked is ‘what do you think of the changing the name from The Glades to Intu?’ No surprise then the response is negative. It’s widely understood that people are generally resistant to change of any sort, and in this case we’re talking about a shopping centre that local people have had a relationship with for more than twenty years. Back in 1991 though, the response to the very existence of a new shopping mall in the centre of Bromley was far from positive with fears of ‘turning Bromley into another Croydon’, which seems a little unfair to the people of Croydon, where, somewhat ironically by the way the opening of a new Westfield shopping centre has just been announced. How things have changed.
And change is a constant whatever business you’re in. Irrespective of what you call yourself, you have to make sure you continue to provide a product or service that people are prepared to pay for – it’s good value; they receive a significant benefit from it and/or they enjoy the experience. This is fundamental to what customers think of your brand. If you are able to do this, you have a good brand and I suspect you will want to promote that brand as far and as wide as your marketing budget will allow. But satisfying customers becomes increasingly difficult as competition grows and customers have less money to spend, are less loyal and are more demanding.
Sometimes a rebrand becomes necessary when a company’s image has become tired or the product less relevant as the market changes. Take our shopping centre again. A good deal has changed in the past 20 years. When they were digging the footings for the Glades, there was no Internet shopping, no home delivery (apart from pizza) and locally, Westfields and Bluewater were just a twinkle in somebody’s eye. Big names like House of Fraser and Allders (not to mention Jessops and HMV) were on the high street. Add to that, five years of recession, and it’s fair to assume the Glades’ owners will have spotted there’s been a significant impact both on shopper numbers and cash they spend. They can’t just ignore that.
Sometimes businesses need to breathe new life into a product or service by rebranding or relaunching it. This can create or revitalise that product or service into a brand that is at the forefront of your customers’ minds. Well, it looks like that part has been achieved fairly swiftly (even if not to positively) but if the rebranding is to be truly successful, there has to be substance to it. I read that the new Intu stores (11 others including the Trafford Centre and Lakeside will be similarly rebranded) will ‘include a transformation of the digital proposition and well as refreshing changes to the physical environment’. That means free Wi-Fi and a retail website, so shoppers can buy on line, check stock and order for collection in store. That’s good modern retailing. Presumably the physical changes will be about making it a whole lot better place to shop. And who doesn’t want that?
Whether people like the name ‘Intu’, it’s ultimately about the association they have with the brand. Call it what you like, the Intu brand will have to become synonymous with a better, more enjoyable shopping experience for customers. Time will tell.
by Steve Lipscombe