Debenhams ‘comes out fighting’ with new brand identity

Defying the tough conditions impacting the high street, Debenhams is hoping to evoke brand love and show customers real change is afoot with a new brand identity and campaign.

Debenhams is unveiling a new brand identity and campaign designed to build brand affinity and demonstrate a renewed sense of confidence for the future as it looks to turn around its fortunes amid wider problems on the high street.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the department store has redesigned its logo, putting what it describes as a “modern and approachable twist” on the Debenhams branding. Created by Mother Design, the new logo is intended to act as a visual expression of the change taking place within the organisation.

“I’m definitely not a change the logo, change the company person,” explains Richard Cristofoli, Debenhams managing director of beauty and marketing, speaking exclusively to Marketing Week.

“I’m not a believer that just by changing the logo you’ve changed your entire experience, but we’re on a very big programme of change and we felt that the way we identified and spoke to customers needed to change as well.”

Conscious that there is never a perfect time to launch a new identity, Debenhams wanted to communicate to consumers the brand “it is on its way to becoming”.

The new branding goes live on the website and across store windows and in-store displays today (3 September), with permanent elements like fascias rolling out as part of the wider modernisation project. Five Debenhams stores are set for modernisation by the end of this year, while the retailer is opening a new store in Watford at the end of September.

In a bid to devise what it describes as a “new form of brand expression”, Debenhams approached the design process in a different way to normal. Instead of sending out a conventional brief to an advertising agency and a separate brief to an identity agency, Debenhams decided to bring the two briefs together and search for a ‘brand expression partner’ – a pitch Mother won.

The wider campaign playfully invites consumers to regain the joy of shopping and ‘Do a bit of Debenhams’. The tone of the whole campaign is based on research conducted by the retailer that found in general the act of shopping was becoming less joyful for consumers.

Debenhams new campaign

“Those that love shopping were being made to feel a bit guilty about it, like life should only be about life experiences not shopping experiences and that at worst shopping was becoming trivialised or seen as a solitary occupation,” Cristofoli explains.

“One of the great phrases we heard from customers was that ‘shopping used to be this great moment in my life and now it’s become a bit of a relationship with my post room’.”

As a result, Debenhams is positioning the new campaign as a rallying call, opting for a deliberately cheeky and provocative tone of voice aimed at people who unashamedly love shopping.

The campaign has a social-first media plan, focusing on still and gif formats across digital. Running alongside, three million Debenhams brochures will be inserted into titles such as Sunday Times Style, Grazia, You magazine, Metro and Marie Claire.

At times like this my firm belief is you’ve got to come out fighting and that’s what we’re doing. We’re coming out saying ‘we are changing, there’s a lot happening here, there’s more to come’.

Richard Cristofoli, Debenhams

The idea is to use social and digital for the big broadcast messages and print to communicate the breadth of Debenhams’ offer. Internal econometrics show that brochures and publications are the department store chain’s highest returning media and also the best at driving new customers in store. The content will have a high-end feel in terms of the tone and visuals, more like a magazine than a catalogue, says Cristofoli.

“The whole publishing programme and campaign is designed to demonstrate to customers ‘wow here’s a retailer that has got a whole level of passion for newness and change that we weren’t aware of’,” he explains.

“We believe this new campaign and the new identity is the right thing to do to express the level of change that we’re making to our business.”

‘Enhancing the mooch’

The consumer-facing campaign and identity are the outward expression of an ongoing internal project known as Debenhams Redesigned. This programme of change comes at a turbulent time for high street retail.

Only last month fellow department store House of Fraser was sensationally saved from administration at the eleventh hour by a £90m buyout from Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who also holds a 30% stake in Debenhams. It has been an unforgiving time in general for retailers, Debenhams included, which saw operating profits for the first half of 2018 fall to £46.5m, down from £93.9m during the same period last year.

The Debenhams Redesigned concept represents a concerted effort to simplify and refocus the business, building on three pillars that align to the company’s aspirations to become a destination retailer, dial up its digital business and find a point of difference.

On the destination side, Debenhams is planning a raft of improvements including introducing a Beauty Hall of the Future to two stores this autumn and rolling out its Beauty Redesigned visual merchandising concept, as well as introducing its first partnership with Sweat! Gyms.

This is a recognition that the days of stacking shops “full of stuff and piling it high” are gone, says Cristofoli.

“I’ve got more choice than anyone could possibly provide in my pocket through my phone, so what customers say to us is ‘if I’m making the effort to go into town to go into a store, and in many instances pay for parking, then you’ve got to reward me with an experience that I can’t replicate online’,” he states.

Debenhams-new campaign

For Debenhams, this is all about embracing the 360-degree experience and “enhancing the mooch”, so customers feel comfortable spending more time in-store whether they are having a blow-dry at one of the beauty bars or lingering over a glass of prosecco.

A prime example of this experiential shift is Debenhams’ Stevenage store, opened in September 2016, which despite having 20% less product density than normal for a store of its size, is the chain’s highest sales density and lowest markdown store.

The retailer is also keen to enhance its digital offering, which grew by 9.7% during the first half of 2018 and now represents more than 20% of its business. Debenhams has invested in improving the click-and-collect experience, which at its peak represents 40% of online business, and is also poised to unveil an innovation to the digital beauty space this autumn.

From a fashion and home perspective, the retailer has focused on improving the fabric quality and level of newness across its brands, increasing the investment in its supply chain five-fold during the first half of 2018.

Whether it is the new brand identity or the substantial changes taking place internally, the focus for Debenhams is ultimately on building brand affinity and brand love, says Cristofoli. He recognises that over the past five years the retailer has lost some customers and while seeking to re-engage with them, it also wants to attract new shoppers.

Cristofoli firmly believes that customers appreciate it when brands get things right on their reinvention journey, citing how “blown away” the team were by the response to the launch of the Stevenage store last year.

He explains that the whole new identity and campaign are an attempt to replicate that feeling at scale.

“At times like this my firm belief is you’ve got to come out fighting and that’s what we’re doing. We’re coming out saying ‘we are changing, there’s a lot happening here, there’s more to come,'” says Cristofoli.

“And actually let’s signal the change and say to consumers, ‘we’re not standing down, we’re coming out confident and believing in what we’re doing’. Because fundamentally we believe what we’re doing is the right thing.”

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  • Chris Arnold 8 Sep 2018 at 12:35 am

    Unlike many others, I think Debenhams have demonstrated the art of Agile Adaption. A year ago we marketing cynics were writing them and House of Fraser off. Ok, we were right about HoF but Debenhams may well buck the downward trend of retail and shake off it’s dowdy image. Not a great fan of the new logo and font, seems quite retro, but it’s the attitude that is key. But don’t forget you values – Gen Z’s especially value those. Stand for something. Best of luck to them.

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