Post Recession Lessons Learnt?

Posted on in BrandBlab

Every country it seems has different rates of recovery for different sectors.One common feature is obvious however – survival of the fittest, the basic evolutional principle of being able to adapt to new conditions and environments.Post recession, companies that have the will and resources have taken advantage of competitors weakened by over borrowing and mistakes made in a more mellow climate.In the ‘good times’ over confident expansion resulted in poor decisions on the basics – a good proposition, location and focused investment.  For a consultant this could be frustrating – who needs strategic consulting when it was so easy to make money?

The new era has forced some hard lessons – clear positioning, differentiation, being ready to adapt or die.As ‘change’ consultants this is good news.Previously we were seen by some as
an unnecessary ‘cost’ rather than a strategic investment.This reflects an unfortunate limited perception of branding as a cosmetic packaging exercise rather than an effective differentiation strategy to inform and change company vision and behaviour.

In Russia, changed consumer mindsets like the rest of Europe has forced an emphasis on smart shopping – getting more for less.Not just a focus on price but balancing quality, services and experience.Last year we worked with high profile retailers like Azbuka Vkusa, a premium city supermarket chain,, Russia’s leading electrical chain and X5, the country’s largest retail group.While still clearly successful, each company recognised the need to capitalise on their market positioning and strength – their image and reputation.Using their existing brand sequity they realised they needed to quickly adapt and leverage their advantage over weakened competition.

The key principle was to refocus and further update their offers to suit the ‘new’ consumer mindsets whether focusing on premium or mass-market positionings. Our work typically covered all aspects of their offers from marketing to product presentation and store formats, refining brand identities and reprofiling accordingly.

Shopping centres represent a tough investment challenge.Successful centres seek to maintain their advantage and centres which had a more dubious location and tenant mix strategy now find themselves exposed.In a tougher market retailers are demanding more for less and centre managements must look at how they can provide the end user visitors, as well as the tenants, a better ‘deal’ in terms of real value – costs, experience and quality of offer.Centre marketing and events must achieve better than average standards to continue to attract audiences –shoppers and the right tenants.

Achieving more with less is the business principle that underlies our consultancy approach we term Brand Synergy.Shopping centres represent a complex range of interactions and processes which contribute to a decision to visit a centre, the physical experience of the visit and the subsequent memories and perception.Each ‘touchpoint’ can ruin or enhance the image and reputation of the Centre.Every marketing communication, the architecture and environment, the facilities and, of course the shops, create an impression. The attitude of centre and store staff, the way a problem is handled, can be critical factors in influencing a final perception.Spending money where it counts becomes a critical strategy in evaluating and anticipating how best to improve and enhance every potential brand touchpoint.

Architecture and building development represents a major investment and balancing the costs of design, services, finishes, etc. requires capital and maintenance cost assessments.Investment in communications, marketing, web site management etc requires a balance of long term brand building and short term activities to promote footfall and sales.We believe a clear brand strategy and driving idea should provide a clear platform and checklist for all parties – developers, architects, centre management and marketers.  Brand manuals should be about ethos, attributes and inspiration for all interested parties not just logo, signage and graphics application style guides. 

Refreshing existing centres requires a careful focus of expenditure.  We typically review architectural treatments using lighting, finishes and reconfigurations with integrated graphic and signage elements.Ideas for themes, activities and events then give stakeholders appropriate concepts for further differentiating the centre. A real synergy can provide true value and optimum return on investment by creatively aligning these activities and different vested interests.

Sustainability is a key platform for all organisations, not just meeting new standards in environmental practices, design and maintenance but in brand strategy. For example, it involves maintaining proactive positive relationship with local communities, through creative marketing, events and activities.A successful brand identity should be a catalyst for inspiring key internal and external audiences, management and tenants nurturing and developing the centre’s profile and image through appropriate marketing, PR and events.

We proposed ‘Festival’ as the name and identity for a Moscow mass-market centre to communicating a clear ethos – a celebration every day.A tough criteria but it provided the brief for theming the architecture and centre environment as well as a platform for marketing.We were left to ‘dress’ a less than ideal building development under construction.Through changes in décor, lighting finishes and graphics we were able to create a strongly branded visit experience.

For a city location in Moscow we are creating a new image for a well known existing centre, Smolenskiy Passage.With new ownership the developer asked us to create a new contemporary ambience, replanning the vertical spaces into premium ‘worlds’ for high end fashion tenants.By opening up the previously congested building planning and creating
dynamic atrium spaces, it has been possible to introduce individual themed areas. These help navigation and provide mini destinations within the centre.Defining the ‘Piazza’, ‘Mezzanine’ and ‘Terrace’ zones helps navigation as well as inspiring different activities and uses.

Creating activities which can consistently differentiate and promote shopping centres as ‘must visit’ destination are vital.Equally, creating architecture and environments which create ‘must see and experience’ places becomes more difficult and demanding. Creating real theatre and drama using light and sound become ‘must have’ attributes to create real venues which are far more than just shopping centres. 

Balancing these emotional and physical criteria with latest ‘green’ and ethical standards provides further challenges.Large, highly serviced, expensive sophisticated centres are not necessarily in keeping with simpler more basic solutions.Outlet centres with less air conditioned environments, simpler buildings and flexible discounted brand propositions are arguably more in tune with these post recession green credentials attributes.                                                                                                                         

‘Sustainable branding’ should be a truism i.e. by definition a brand must keep evolving, stay relevant and a first choice for target audiences.Unfortunately sometimes it has become just a label without a real meaning for the parties involved. True sustainability requires a constant monitoring of changing audience needs and the market environment with proactive initiatives to maintain and enhance the brand experience.Refreshing the look and feel of stores and centres is a constant challenge – meeting operational criteria, cost, ROI justifications etc.  With the growth of social media – Facebook, Twitter and texting, event leverage and awareness campaigns have changed traditional marketing methodology and media spend priorities.

The unleashed consumerism of new markets led to poor strategy and overconfidence.The global recession has provided a short sharp shock and reminder that ultimately staying relevant and focussed with a clear strategy is vital in all markets.Businesses must be innovative and sustainable in the widest sense and these operating principles should drive business momentum.  Certainly standing still will not be an option.