A couple of weeks back retailer Waterstone’s unveiled their new brand identity on their website and throughout all their stores. The bookseller has changed its logo and created a new strap line – “Feel every word”, which both feature on waterstones.com.
Many people, agencies and sites were quick to jump in and critique the work, which is always to be expected in ‘new’ brand development. Having had a few weeks to absorb the move though I revisited the work with an open mind to have another look.
In any business if your sales are declining you need a turnaround strategy to boost your sales. If there’s a problem you naturally look for a solution. One of the ways companies look to do this is by repackaging their offering. A new look suggests a new and evolved product, and therefore a better product. Right?
A sector where this idea of ‘revamping’ a brand / product is abundant is retail. Figures are down? » update your branding. Consumers not engaging with your product? » get a new logo.
We’ve seen this recently with the likes of Argos, who cut their swooping ‘A’ loose and created a brand smile. Curry’s traded their corporate ‘red and white’ branding for a a more tech focused blue and red. And even more recently Google lost their drop-shadow to neaten their appearance. Subtle points, but they get noticed and suggest things are also being refined elsewhere in the background.
In the case of Argos and Google their brand changes are an evolution of the existing logo. Waterstone’s however have revolutionised their appearance. Other than the continuation of a single ‘W’ featured as their key ‘brand mark’, they’ve for all intents and purposes started from scratch.
Waterstone’s was a clearly recognisable high street brand. Where they might not have broken any creative boundaries they (for me) were ‘the’ high street bookshop. Their warm interiors welcomed you, their established iD suggested heritage, their brand colours etc. all combined to offer a rich experience. It was quite comfortable to sit down and immerse yourself in their store, let alone a book. But, sales were down so they decided to address the problem.
So why change your brand?
By revolutionising (rather than refining) your brand identity you’re sending a clear message that you’re changing your strategy. You’re updating your thinking and you’re following the needs of your audience, rather than theirs following you. This is all very well, as long as there’s development behind the logo. Adding a smile to Argos logo does what for the brand? A change in the face of a company will work if there’s fundamental change happening behind the brand too, not just on the pavement.
These are changing times and brands need to evolve and move forward. There’s a huge decline in high street bookshops already with the dominance of online retailers like Amazon & Play undercutting costs with free delivery on orders so Waterstone’s are already in a tough market. If Waterstone’s did nothing they’d be in trouble. They recognise this and are acting accordingly.
On reflection their new brand iD approach is less memorable and certainly more generic. The brand has been smartened up and lost their traditional styling and heritage. They’re positioning themselves as a new and vibrant company. They’ve lost their serif fonts and traded them for a more contemporary style.Their new strap line encourages tangible interaction with a book. ‘Feel every word’ is a confident move to suggest they’re staying put on the high street.
What they’ve also embraced is the future-proof adaptability of a brand iD. They’ve created a logo that can be created in different forms yet still retain its identity. It’s a fairly tried and tested method of branding design, but at least shows that Waterstone’s are open to change. Whether this new identity will work or be successful depends upon time and what else is happening behind the scenes.
The whole point here though is that a brand is more than just a logo. It’s an experience, it’s the tone of it’s voice, it’s the behaviour of it’s in-store staff, it’s the essence of its being. There’s a huge difference between a brand experience and a brand image. A brand is the sum of all parts.
On this merit it will be interesting to see how their brand develops in time, because Waterstone’s is obviously more than just a logo. Changing your identity should be the first in many changes to re-launching a brand.
I think (and hope) there will always be high street book shops. The essence of a book is to engage with it. It’s a tangible object we carry with us and connect with, and for me I’ll always try and buy books from a store.
We’ll be watching closely.