In John Hegarty’s book on Advertising he refers to a favourite quote of mine “A brand is the most valuable real estate in the world – a corner of a consumer’s mind.” I believe the shopping centers we build and manage today are brands in their own right.
Centres are often stronger brands in their catchment than an individual retailer, but with a brand-led mindset comes a great responsibility for the marketing department to protect, develop, and grow the brand appropriately. Managed well, strong brands present opportunities for lucrative collaborations, unlocking value on a surprisingly common ground between retailer and landlord.
A core strategic challenge for Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Executives alike is whether you are a “Branded House” (think Westfield or intu), or a “House of Brands” (think any of the REITs). Which strategy you chose will depend on what you believe the benefit will be. Does it gain more traction with staff in the head offices of retailers? Will consumers favor your centers based on the offer your brand promises or does it ultimately present a book value opportunity? How frequently you trade centers will also be key as the cost of adding/removing the brand is considerable.
Irrespective of the first challenge, as Hegarty says, the key role of a brand is to build a relationship with your customers and that is not always easy. Many consumer groups, including those at both ends of the age spectrum don’t believe brands understand them, so marketing teams must work hard to demonstrate that they do. A “one size fits all” communications strategy is no longer an option. Your data strategy must ensure you have the information to be able to segment your customers; data collected through competitions and Wi-Fi log-ins will rarely be enough, so campaigns to get to know people will be a key stage in the brand journey.
Understanding what your customers want is key; some consumer groups will engage with your brand because they buy into you as a brand, others will engage but want something in return, and if that is the case, it better be instant gratification. Finally, knowing how to reach your consumers is vital, especially in a world of challenging marketing budgets. The reality is that consumer polarizations are greater than ever before, making it harder to reach your entire customer base; the media consumption habits of a 21-year-old are very different to a 55-year-old, and as an industry we ignore this challenge at our peril.
Take Baby Boomers as an example. This group isn’t growing old gracefully and its behaviors are very different to previous generations, yet they will be one of the most powerful consumer groups for the next twenty years; alienating them with irrelevant email content, patronising model selection in adverts, or moving all your marketing budget to Instagram will disengage them instantly. In the same way, understanding how younger generations are growing up in a very different economic environment and how to engage with them is just as vital. Content is king for many younger groups, as are sources for them to seek out value such as review sites or social media. Rethinking advertising spend, building a good content plan, both yourselves and with your retailers will also help you stay relevant to your customers of tomorrow.
The role of the marketing team should be based on good retailing principles: get to know your customers better, entice them to visit more often, stay longer, and spend more. The role of the brand is to ensure you occupy that valuable space in their mind that will ensure their spend is with your brand.