From relics to relevance for the Trust

National Trust has embarked on a redesign that aims to attract more visitors by challenging its formal image and changing people’s perceptions of it as just the keeper of historic homes.

Speight explains: “People’s perceptions of the Trust are shifting. If you asked the man on the street, he would probably still think that we only look after stately homes. But that’s only a tiny part of the story. We need to stay relevant, and talking about food is a great way to do that.”

Speight is not just talking about the licensed range of food appearing in supermarkets. For the past few years, the organisation has been using sustainably sourced food from local providers at its locations around the British Isles. The Trust manages 150 of its site restaurants, so it has considerable clout to change how it sources its ingredients and suppliers.

Speight says the Trust aims to ensure that everything served in the restaurants is farmed, caught or slaughtered in a sympathetic way. “Caring for the land is really our core purpose and sustainable food is better for the land.”

Speight believes that food sourcing is a way National Trust can be involved in the big thorny issues of climate change and the environment without seeming too worthy. “Our research shows that people are turned off by being preached at,” she says. “It’s a message that means a lot more when they’re on a fun day out.”

Kitchen garden

For example, visitors to the restaurant at Barrington Court in Somerset will eat fruit and vegetables grown in the stately home’s historic walled kitchen garden. It aims to become part of their visitor experience, rather than a patronising message about sourcing or climate change. Half the produce from this garden is used in the restaurant; with the other 50% on sale in the site’s shop.

The shops on site are just as committed to the issues of local sourcing and sustainability as the restaurants, says Jane Temperley, head of buying, merchandising and retail development for National Trust.

This has been a challenge for National Trust, as traditionally each store was given stock from the central hub of the organisation. This uniformity of produce meant that in the past, it was difficult for each location to bring its own identity to the gift shop.

Now, says Temperley, each site is being evolved to better reflect the individual attraction, its location and the land around it. While each shop has a “menu of choices” about which products it stocks, it is now encouraged to stock items that reflect the character of its location.

“I hope that if people went into our shops now, they’d spot many things that are different from a few years ago,” she says. “For example, you might see people milling flour on site or hear shop teams talking about topics specific to the location. It’s all about making that connection with the area and bringing it to life for visitors.”

Aside from locally inspired items, Temperley says most of the goods that sell in high volumes in the Trust’s gift shops are inexpensive items such as stationery, calendars and small gifts. Although the cost of such goods means that purchases are often relatively low in value, she claims the volume more than makes up for this.

With 50 million visitors a year, it is no surprise to discover that one of the Trust’s most popular campaigns of recent times with consumers is its scheme releasing tracts of land to be turned into allotments. The organisation is committed to creating 1,000 new allotments by 2012 (300 are already up and running) and these are available to both its members and non-members.

The allotments are offered through the Landshare website, which is part of a marketing push by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to “matchmake” keen growers with land they can use. About 100,000 people around the country are said to be on waiting lists for allotments already.

Speight says the allotment creation initiative fits neatly into the brand’s philosophy of getting the public involved with the land without preaching. It has been estimated that the allotment spaces could produce about 50,000 sacks of potatoes a year or mixed produce worth £1.5m.

Roula Konzotis, communications director in charge of marketing at professional institution RIBA

 “We are a historic membership organisation like National Trust. In the past ten years since I’ve been here, we’ve gone through a major process of rebranding and a fundamental look at what we were and where we want to be. We were an inward-looking organisation and had to make sure we turned outward and took a larger external role.

Like National Trust, we have become far less formal in tone. We have been researching our audiences and trying to become more responsive to them. That means doing things such as making sure we personalise messages with good customer relationship management systems.

Like every brand, membership organisations have to be involved in digital as it’s just another way of talking to people. For example, we use Twitter to keep people informed about events or tell them about new things. As with National Trust, it’s important to engage with people on a number of fronts.”

National Trust redesign

The National Trust redesign involves the organisation being termed simply “National Trust”; its recognisable oak leaf logo being enlarged; and a new palette of colours. The redesign, which was carried out by Wolff Olins, will be rolled out gradually, starting with membership forms and eventually reaching branded merchandise in shops.

National Trust director of marketing Sue Wilkinson describes the new look not as “a radical repositioning” but simply “a fresh coat of paint”. She says the new logo aims to convey a less formal tone, which better reflects how the Trust now operates.

Facts & Figures

709 – The miles of coastline that NT must protect in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

627,000 – the acres of countryside, coastline, moorland and beaches managed by NT.

40 – the number of castles administrated by NT.

6 – World Heritage Sites managed by NT.

3.8 million – the number of NT members.

50 million – the number of people who visited NT properties in 2008.

14 million – the number of people who visited NT’s pay-for-entry

properties between September 2008 and September 2009.

4 out of 5 – the number of NT properties open to the public that run at a loss. The difference is made up from central funds.

1895 – the date National Trust was founded by Victorian philanthropists Miss Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. They were concerned about the effects of industrialisation.

100 – the number of members signed up by the founders of NT in 1895.

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