Getting your brand right

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Does your branding and marketing tell the right story about your village? Jude Barback talks to branding expert Gill Walker about why good branding is critical to success.

It’s easy for industry insiders to assume that the general public understands what a retirement village is all about, but without clear imagery, branding and marketing, this message can easily be lost.

As a village positions itself in a community, it needs to communicate what it represents, who belongs there, and what happens there. This is no simple task, especially when it is met by a public with preconceived ideas about what retirement villages are, who they’re for and what goes on inside them.

Why is branding so important?

Gill Walker, who runs Evergreen Advertising, a 50+ specialist agency, knows all about the importance of getting the marketing message right for this demographic.

According to Walker, it’s just not good enough to offer the same products or services as your competitors and hope that your name simply wins the favour of the consumer.

“People make choices based on combinations of objectivity and subjectivity, rational and irrational motives, and knowledge and judgement.

“The first step to building engagement with consumers is to have a clearly defined brand that stands for a unique set of values. These values represent strengths experienced through all touch points, where users, suppliers, staff and anyone else come into contact with the organisation or product.”

Walker said that 20 years in the advertising business had shown her first hand that brand workshops and guidelines had become too expensive and too slow to implement for start-ups and middle-sized companies.

“We noticed the more rules and larger the brand guidelines documents became, the less they were read and understood – many became doorstops. We knew there needed to be a process to capture the insights, take everyone on the journey, manage that discussion, then get agreement on the true and magic elements that would differentiate.”

And so the Evergreen Essence programme was born. It is essentially a brand discovery process requiring input from all parties involved. The programme involves developing market and internal insights, and running a team workshop for representatives from management, food services, sales, marketing, architectural design and finance.

“As the brand must be reflected through all touch points, participation by all stakeholders of the business is paramount,” says Walker.

The process in action

Australian aged care provider Living Care sought the help of the Evergreen Essence programme when it found that its three divisions – retirement villages, residential care facilities and home care services – were operating independently without cohesion.

Through the Evergreen Essence programme, Living Care uncovered its key attributes or brand values. These helped form the master brand and the sub-brands for the divisions. Positioning headlines, colour palettes, imagery and a new web presence all helped reinforce the overarching philosophy that emerged. A brand guidelines manual was created for staff and suppliers to help maintain communications.

Walker views this as a great example of an umbrella brand that traditionally worked in silos and after the rebranding exercise began to work together as a family of services.

In another Australian example, Stockland Retirement Living engaged Evergreen to create a brand for its new retirement village, Macarthur Gardens Retirement Village. The brand had to resonate with its local community and reflect the values of Stockland at the same.

Kiwi example of branding success

Retirement Assets Limited (RAL) – founded by retirement and aged care developer Graham Wilkinson – is the first New Zealand company to invest in the Evergreen Essence process.

The aim was to create a new master brand that enabled each of RAL’s four retirement villages to keep its individuality and identity while being strengthened by an umbrella brand. The result was ‘Generus’.

“We wanted our parent brand to really capture what we stood for as a national group,” says Wilkinson. “Category values of care and security are important, but the points of difference that elevate our villages are passion, individuality and what we call ‘generosity of spirit’.”

Wilkinson says this generosity of spirit is reflected in many ways throughout the villages: spacious designs, extra services and financial flexibility.

“When Evergreen presented our new brand identity, Generus, it was an instant ‘yes’ from me. The logo design is contemporary and celebrates the vibrant and unique style of today’s retiree. There are no cookie cutter designs at Generus Living Group.”

Certainly the imagery complementing the brand is a far cry from the traditional stock shots of happy, smiley old people. Captured by leading New Zealand photographer
Mike Langford, the images depict real residents and real locations and the ‘generosity of spirit’ that the brand strives to convey.

“The style is contemporary and freedom-oriented in the outdoors. Intergenerational relationships are important – no boring, happy smiling oldies,” says Walker of the imagery.

Costs and timing

Walker says the process typically takes about three weeks and costs around $15,000 – excluding travel costs. This includes Evergreen’s tour of the key facilities, the insights presentation, facilitating the in-house workshop and developing a brand positioning statement. The creation of a master creative concept and logo design is an additional $10,000. Walker says this provides an actionable idea for a company to implement and has proven popular with customers.

Walker says companies can expect to pay a lot of money over a long time if they want to own a category generic value, or a brand value associated to another brand. By contrast, the Evergreen process is founded on the premise it’s fundamentally cheaper to sacrifice and differentiate.

“We haven’t met a company yet that has managed to run that process successfully internally so that’s where we come in. An important part is having all the stakeholders’ commitment, as self-sabotage is common when some people do not feel heard and part of the process; that said, only involve true stars in the brand workshop process, people who you want long term for your company.”

Applying some branding expertise to your offering might seem a costly exercise, however the process can help guide an organisation down a path of discovery and identify the building blocks of its brand, then develop a unique positioning and proposition from which communications can be developed to engage with consumers and build equity.

Words of wisdom

“Don’t get tempted to rush and ‘just get’ something started with a range of suppliers/or friends working on ‘bits’ for your marketing communications. It will look like a dog’s breakfast and as far as brand consistency will be a waste of money as no-one has the guidebook and they all have an opinion and agenda.

“You must have your brand positioning strategy sorted first – then that strategy thoroughly explained to any communication partners and then applied to every touch point – from website, local area marketing, staff attitude, staff performance, PR and financial processes – everything.

“When you check-in with Virgin you feel their brand, when you get served your in-flight meal your cabin crew lives the brand and when you see Richard Branson milking PR it’s always to the Virgin brand personality.”

Gill Walker, Evergreen

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