Brand Facelifts: Do They Work?

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All over the UK, companies are giving their stores ‘facelifts’, changing the appearance of their locations and even product packaging without making other, more substantial changes to the brand and logo design. This trend has to make small business owners ask themselves whether this strategy can be right for them. How effective are these modifications? Do they pay off enough to make a significant difference in the future of a company?

Many British businesses seem to think that the answer is affirmative. Fast food giant Wimpy’s is spending a significant amount of their branding budget to remodel stores to resemble classic American diners, a move that they hope will make the entire dining experience more pleasant and memorable for patrons. Even US chains, such as McDonald’s, seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. This fast food restaurant business has spent an astounding £200 million in redoing store decor just over the space of a few years. All UK branches will be completely refurbished by 2011.

Why is store decoration and appearance such a vital part of marketing? With customers more and more identifying with brands rather than individual companies, traditional marketing methods no longer work with the same efficacy. Traditional advertising gets mixed up in the millions of marketing messages that flood life all over the UK. Designing a brand by creating a store that is a brick and mortar representation of it seems more authentic and improves the customer experience immensely. Just as important, these overhauls generate buzz and give communities something to talk about.

Sometimes this facelift is part of a whole new branding strategy. As the coffee giant loses business to smaller, local shops with ambience, Starbucks is leading the pack in using stores to present a new, modified brand. London’s ‘heritage’ store has been so successful that the coffee store plans to remodel all UK locations. In this case, the philosophy seems to be ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. In other words, if customers prefer the feeling of a small, local coffee shop, that is exactly the experience that Starbucks will give them.

One key drawback to this strategy is that it requires an immense input of time and energy. Few small businesses have the multi-million pound budgets that it would take to refurbish several locations. Even larger brands with the resources to support these changes find that it takes several years for the changes to become a major part of the public’s brand perception. However, if the cosmetic changes are accompanied by changes in other aspects of the brand, they may create significant momentum for the business in question.

The past has shown that cosmetic changes are most effective when they align more closely with brand values, or when the brand itself is modified to reflect the changes. While the physical appearance of your locations is certainly important to the perception of your brand, it should never be the only consideration. Other aspects, such as your service, the quality of your products and your logo design, weigh just as heavily in customers’ minds and hearts. Unlike beauty, branding is never skin deep.