The beat goes on and strong in Liverpool

Liverpool benefited from extra investment when it was named European Capital of Culture in 2008 but how is it faring now? Michael Barnett looks at how its central district, branded as Liverpool One, is helping continue the city’s success.

Liverpool One
A centre with a difference: Liverpool One prides itself on its symbiotic relationship with retailersand city bodies

Shopping centre brands have seen a surge in recent years, with the advent of the Bullring in Birmingham, Liverpool One and Westfield London, along with the forthcoming Westfield Stratford City which will open next to the Olympic park this autumn.

But although Liverpool One is certainly at the centre of the city’s shopping area, it is emphatically not a shopping centre, according to marketing director Donna Howitt. Rather, she says, it is a purposely designed redevelopment of parts of the old city centre that fits in easily with its surroundings.

Howitt explains: “The one thing the city knew it did not want when it approached [property company] Grosvenor to develop part of the city was another shopping centre. Liverpool One is privately managed, but has open streets adopting the same by-laws. It is open 24/7 and there are no boundaries. We are seamlessly integrated into the rest of the city.”

This integration and the consequently low visibility of Liverpool One’s branding is intentional, but means marketing it can be tricky compared with nearby shopping districts such as the Metquarter. Advertising currently uses the strapline ’Life. Styled’ (see box, below).

“Our research tells us that people do not really know where Liverpool One starts and finishes. They can guess because they can tell by the environment and the way the estate is managed, but there are no ’Welcome to Liverpool One’ gates or signs,” Howitt says.

Indeed, the first impression of walking into the development alongside the city’s famous waterfront is the lack of any clear indication that you have actually entered it. Conspicuously absent are the sliding doors, brash signage and even the roof, which are routinely found at most shopping centres. Only the subtle branding on its touch-screen Help Points confirms that you are within the limits of Liverpool One.

The triangular layout of the development has three themes: one hosts the usual high street retailers, the second has a more urban feel and the third is home to high-end designer brands. At the points of the triangle lie the largest department stores – John Lewis, Debenhams and, just outside Liverpool One, Marks & Spencer.

Despite being outside the development, M&S has a place in its marketing, appearing on its maps. Howitt says: “If we promote our store listing and exclude M&S or some of the brands that we know our target markets look for, it presents a limitation. The Metquarter has got brands that are not within Liverpool One, but are good for our higher-end targets. Retailers like Jo Malone, for example, are in the Metquarter but are a stone’s throw from Liverpool One.”

She notes that Liverpool One has a symbiotic relationship with retailers both inside and outside. Liverpool One’s retailers are also invited to contribute to its marketing plans through conferences and a retail forum, where representatives of the individual districts are shown strategy proposals on a quarterly basis and asked to give their feedback before the plans are signed off and presented to all retailers.

Just as Liverpool One develops relationships with retailers and other shopping centres to make its presence as integrated in the city environment as possible, so it collaborates with city groups to integrate strategies. An advertising strategy running in concert with the Mersey Partnership – the body responsible for promoting local business and tourism – is aimed at bringing more weekend visitors into the city from Ireland as well as London and the South East. It aims to expand the development’s catchment area, which usually includes only those within a comfortable day’s driving, while giving the city the ability to use shopping and leisure opportunities to draw in tourism.

Most importantly, Liverpool One has addressed “years of underinvestment in the city”, Howitt says. According to data from Experian, before the development’s phased opening in May and then October of 2008, Liverpool’s retailers toiled in 15th place among British cities on gravitated expenditure – the measure of consumer spending generated by their nominal catchment areas. In 2009, the city leapt to 5th in the table.

Liverpool One’s focus on making sure the area operates smoothly has proved instructive to Liverpool itself. For example, last winter it managed the heavy snowfall better than other areas of the city. Howitt explains: “Even though we could not do an awful lot about transport links into the city, on the days that it snowed Liverpool One was completely clear of snow. By contrast, the rest of the city was bogged down in it. The city’s leaders came to us to say, we want to work with you because you got it cleared. The city operates well, but the private sector needs to lead on certain initiatives.”

The site’s management is, in fact, another element of the Liverpool One brand, according to Howitt. Unlike most shopping centres, it employs its maintenance and cleaning staff directly rather than through agencies. Dressed in either blue or red to match the kits of the city’s two biggest football teams, they act as ambassadors for the brand’s ethos.

Like the development itself, these staff seem almost as recognisable and emblematic as Butlins’ redcoats. The management and service culture they represent is also being closely observed. It has taken until now for Liverpool One to get its own house in order, according to Howitt, but 2011 is about focusing on the partnerships that make the development integral to the city, rather than just another shopping centre.

Liverpool vs Manchester

The battle for the north-west shopper

Life. Styled: Brand campaign launched last Christmas
Life. Styled: Brand campaign launched last Christmas

In terms of footfall, Liverpool One has demonstrated an ability to bring in shoppers in growing numbers. More than half a million people a week visit the development, which equates to 28.6 million a year, according to RCT Analytics. It sits just behind Manchester in terms of spending by consumers in its catchment area.

Indeed, Liverpool One benchmarks itself against its counterparts in Manchester, north-west England’s other main shopping destination. In some aspects the two cities are in competition, though Liverpool One marketing director Donna Howitt says their offerings are distinct from each other.

She admits that Liverpool looked at its Lancastrian competitors from the start and realised it needed to change the prevailing attitude “if you need to get something, go to Manchester”. But Liverpool One’s own research into perceptions of its brand show that shoppers think of it as serving a different purpose from the Trafford Centre, for example.

“The Trafford Centre offers convenience to someone who knows what they want to get. We offer something more,” says Howitt, referring particularly to the leisure elements, green spaces and waterfront access that are integral to the development. She adds that, of the 51% of brands within Liverpool One that have never previously had a presence in the city, a significant number are new to the North West.

Moreover, consumers perceive the retail offerings of the two destinations differently, according to Liverpool One’s research: 30% describe Liverpool One as “stylish”, compared with 8% for the Trafford Centre; while 18% call it “vibrant”, against 5% for the Trafford Centre and 8% for Manchester itself, Howitt says.

Data such as this has contributed in part to the development of Liverpool One’s brand and to the ’Life. Styled’ TV, radio and press campaign it launched before Christmas, which focused on adding glamour to shoppers’ everyday lives. Howitt claims this chimes with the Liverpudlian identity, and with the higher per-capita spending on fashion that they indulge in compared with any other UK city, according to RCT Analytics. “Liverpudlians like to dress up. They will not go out without their make-up on and their hair done. We have a real opportunity to exploit that,” Howitt says.

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