March 6, 2014

9 months until the opening – Branding


As many centers plan their opening for November – December we’re now 9 months away from the grand event. Hopefully everything is sorted and you know your scheme’s name and have logo, brand manual, signage and interiors in place. But what to do if it’s not organized or you are not completely happy with it? As branding consultants each year we are approached by at least 3-4 malls that are due to open in a few months and who are struggling to put all of the above together. So we’ve decided to create this little checklist on branding for you. The one on signage is coming on March 24 so don’t forget to check back to our blog then. Personally I’ve been in similar situation 3 times throughout my career as marketing manager for shopping malls. Wish I had similar plan in hand then…

Please note that below timing is based on the assumption that decisions are made quickly and are final. Any changes tend to prolong the process.

So what should you do:

9 months until the opening:

–       Unless you have preferred branding consultant, the tender has to be organized. Plan at least 1-2 weeks for that. Advice – do not do free creative pitches. We will soon publish a separate post on this; so just a little note here that it’s a waste of your and the agencies time, which often produces very questionable results. Instead, invest your resources in deep research to find the right tender participants – study their portfolios and experience. Call a few of their clients and get references. You need to make sure that you’ll feel comfortable working with these people in a what is often a tough time schedule, so home-work is very important. Once you have your short-list of agencies, go and set up a meeting with each to brief them in detail to make sure their proposals will be relevant to your needs, rather than have them guess what they think you might need. It will again save you time on analyzing and making that final decision – you’ll compare experience, approach and prices against a similar scope.

–       Once the shopping centre branding agency is approved, plan 1-2 weeks for contract discussions and signing. Make sure it is clear what each party is suppose to do and what has to be delivered.


8 months until the opening:

–       Brands that are created based upon proper research and a strong strategy are usually much stronger as they have the correct analysis and a clear idea behind them. A brand is much more than just a logo. So give your branding agency time and resources to study your shopping centre, its tenant mix and future customers. Your cooperation and readiness to participate in the whole branding process plays crucial role as you become a part of creative team and your knowledge of the project (its strengths and its history etc) helps along the way. We once had 4 hour meeting, which helped us to create a great brand for Tay Gallery in Saratov, Russia. The client had dedicated his time to share stories and insights and took part in every stage of the process. They’re now implementing it during the leasing process and they truly live it and its values. Brand strategy forms the basis for all future work, so it had better be done well. Plan a minimum of 2 weeks for this.

–       Shopping mall naming is a tricky and one of the hardest tasks we face as branding consultants. At this stage a detailed brief is of great importance. We have faced situations when, after months of  work in vain on name generation, the client then has created his own option which had absolutely nothing to do with initial brief. Give your agency a week to come up with first ideas and then discuss in detail. Be part of that process. At the end of the day, you are the one that has to live with it so make sure you are part of the team. A great exercise is to run a naming workshop with agency, client and other key stakeholders. Be part of the process!


7 months until the opening:

–       Once you have brand strategy and name, it is time to get your creative concepts. Normally an agency will give you 3-5 concepts. It is enough to provide you with ideas for consideration. Do not go for too many as you’ll make your own decision process harder and dilute the agency’s focus. This bit will take up to 3 weeks.


6 months until the opening:

–       After your concept (or combination of concepts) is confirmed, the agency will need to put it all together to show you the final version. Make sure you brief the agency to show you how the brand will work in enough media applications for you to understand how it will come alive. Give it another 2-3 weeks.


5 months until the opening:

–       Now it is time for brand guidelines. It’s a very important document if used wisely. It will save you stress, time and money in future. A proper shopping centre set of brand guidelines will include brand strategy pieces along with logo variations, fonts and colours specifications, style of imagery, examples and rules for various applications – billboard, city light, shopping bag, website, brochure, etc. You can put as many items as you want, even going as far as suggesting navigation and the brand’s expression within an environment and throughout the interior design. However, I would advise you discuss this with agency first. This will also be a good exercise to help you plan your future marketing activities – what are your going to need? Just remember that brand guidelines are just that, guidelines, not rules. A brand is alive and will evolve and change with time. There is no designer or even marketing manager who can predict and create rules for every single opportunity the shopping center will face.


4 months until the opening:

–       So you have the basis now. The fun part starts here. Advertising for grand opening. You will have to sit down with agency (or even a few if you have different contractors for advertising and events) and brainstorm various ideas for launch. The more collaborative you are the more interesting and creative the process approach will be. Just imagine how many ideas can be generated by team of creative people from different fields (developer, event agency, advertising agency, branding consultants) involved in the process vs one or two from agency side. It will also save you time on considering ideas that may not work due to various reasons – limitations of place, culture differences, finances, logistics etc. Once the idea for the event is chosen and approved, designers can start putting options for shopping centre advertising together. It is where brand guidelines will help to make sure that all materials support the brand and tell consistent story. Don’t forget to allocate a budget for the purchase of images, as these are often excluded from agency fees. It will help to avoid unnecessary stress once you face this issue. Just plan in advance.

–       Don’t forget about the shopping mall website as nowadays this is one of the most important promotion tools. You still have enough time to design and launch it before the opening. Before approaching designers/programmers just make sure you understand what your content will be and how this will be supported from the client side. There are many detailed and complicated shopping mall websites where a specially dedicated team is working full-time. But there are others that keep it simple and easy-to-use by providing only the most necessary information. Choose your path and act accordingly. This influences both your time schedule and your budget as well. I would even suggest you start with a simplified version and add things on based on your customers and their feedback. This will help you to create a truly customer-centric tool of communication for your shopping centre.


3 months until the opening:

–       Hopefully website works are going well and on schedule.

–       What’s on the advertising side? Concepts were prepared and presented and in ideal world you’ve chosen one to develop further. A little advice on this – give people a clear message – what is it, when is it happening and where. Draw the viewer in with an exciting image and message and then tell them how to act.


2 months until the opening:

–       Designers are finishing up the artwork for your shopping centre advertising and sending it for colour proofing and then eventually to print. This is the time when every little change in the file can cost you more than ever before. Reason – each file of good quality is very big/heavy so it takes a lot of time to simply open and make even tiny change. I highly recommend to approve all the images and text before the final version is in work to avoid extra expenses.


1 month until the opening:

–       Advertising is up and running. At this stage you can focus on the grand opening, your event and your tenants.


Opening and ongoing:

–       Branding is not a stage of work but a process. It involves much more than logos or bright images. Keeping your shopping center at front-of-mind for your customers is a constant work in our competitive world. Creating a welcoming atmosphere, providing positive experiences, giving your customers more opportunities to smile and relax in your shopping centre will make it stand out. Involve your tenants and make them ambassadors of your brand – they’re meeting your clients every day. Add, change, evolve your shopping centre brand and this investment will definitely pay back dividends.

Good luck!

By Helen Rozanova