How rebranding can save the UK high street and, perhaps, your business too.

We’ve all seen it happen to our hometowns or cities ­– an M&S is replaced by a Poundland, betting shops take over local independent businesses, the high street seeing more traffic from pigeons than people.

The high street – in its current retail-orientated guise – is failing. The cost of physical bricks and mortar stores against the continuing rise of online shopping is hard to compete with. Shoppers have moved on. But the UK high street is entrenched in the past.

A recent report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee was recently commissioned to look at the “declining health of our high streets and town centres.”

The report offered recommendations to ensure long-term sustainability for future generations. Essentially, these were practical solutions – strategic interventions, funds and council task forces etc.

However, each solution seemed to stem from a core tenet of rebranding.

 

Proposition

As a branding agency, we know the value of an impactful proposition – what your brand stands for, what makes it special, the one thing it wants customers to think when they engage with it.

The high street is no different – each village/town/city should have one. What makes it a destination brand? What does it offer?

A town celebrated for its local produce, a village centre with the most pubs, a town with incredible architecture.

Find that one thing. Own it. Make it a part of your identity.

 

Authenticity

The report noted that no change of the high street would be successful without the backing of local people and community sectors. In a word: you have to get real.

This is true of businesses too. A rebrand will live and die on its authenticity.

If it doesn’t connect with your audience on a genuine level, if you try to force an identity that doesn’t seem natural – a round peg in a square hole – you will most likely alienate your audience.

Co-creation is a powerful tool in rebranding because it almost ensures authenticity by involving your audience in the development of your brand identity. Your brand is built with them in mind from the ground up.

 

Innovation

The report recommended high streets find new ways to utilise buildings and attract independent businesses.

Much how the humble high street has failed to adapt to online retail and changing shoppers’ needs, a brand that stands still will see its audience migrate to pastures new.

Case in point: the Greggs brand may raise a few smiles, but they’re doing branding so right. They’ve just announced profits above £1 billion after launching the vegan sausage roll. Innovation really does pay.

 

Purpose

The high street is dominated by retail. That’s its purpose – a place for businesses to sell stuff. The trouble is, the businesses are leaving. They’re selling online, following customer buying trends.

So what is the high street’s purpose now if retail is failing? The report recommends creating a new one. A purpose with less emphasis on retail and more on the visitor experience – culture, leisure and the celebration of green spaces.

Key takeout: a rebrand isn’t just about refreshing a logo. It’s a fundamental re-evaluation of how your brand fits in the world; what it brings to the party. If your business is struggling to communicate what that is, your brand needs to work harder.

 

So what?

Sometimes brands can go the way of the high street. They can lose direction, left behind by dramatic changes in culture, technology and audience needs. A rebrand is an opportunity to meet these challenges head on with transformative solutions that go to the very heart of your brand’s identity.

It’s not a case of just changing the shop front window. It’s smashing the glass and allowing the outside world in.

Now, where’s a stone?

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Picture of Alex Allston, Senior Copywriter at The Sharp Agency

Alex Allston

Senior Copywriter