Take a walk down a British high street and look at the signs above the doors. It all looks a bit dull. It’s more about pragmatic signage than inspiring identity; the idea and spirit of each brand seems to have been forgotten. Whatever happened to high streets filled with barber’s poles, ornate awnings and typographic masterpieces of gilt-filled signs?
Perhaps it was always smaller local shops that drove the more personal, crafted look and, now the big corporates have driven them away, a more faceless appearance is inevitable. But does that need to be the case?
Let’s take Tesco, for example. Tesco’s problem is not that it has stopped understanding consumers, failed to innovate, or lost the ability to manage merchandising and retail flow. Its problem is that it presents itself as if it has. Stuck in the trap of a messaging strategy conceived for a recession, with a brand identity and personality that lacks promise or excitement, it doesn’t matter how much it invests in the retail detail because the big-picture promise of the brand is turning customers away. It needs to project some energy, enthusiasm and humanity. I am convinced Tesco would benefit from investment in a rebrand considerably more than from investment of similar funds in any other activity.
None of this is to say that focus on enhancing customer experience on the shop floor, online and across every touch-point is any less important. But part of the problem I see on the high street is that focus has shifted so far towards the detail that the bigger picture has faded. In store, retailers are presenting too many concepts and too much visual noise, often leaving consumers confused or at least unclear on what the central brand message is. Tesco is not the only retailer affected by this - in fact, it’s hard to think of any national retailer in the UK who is not guilty.
It’s time retailers stood up and took back control of their identities. They need to invest in distilling their propositions into a distinctive, compelling and contemporary message, then translating that into a dynamic, inspiring brand identity. We need some fun, excitement and style back in our high street.
Dave Roberts is creative director at The Partners