Not so super marketing

Mike Exon takes a look at the measures that ailing supermarket chain Somerfield is taking to try to reverse its fortunes. Defining what its brand means seems to be the first step.

Somerfield’s decision to break up its central design and branding operation into four disparate units must be a disappointment to Paul Hutton, and not just because he is losing his job. The associate director responsible for branding, identity, in-store design and print across the Somerfield group, Hutton has also spearheaded the pilot scheme to convert selected Kwik Save outlets into Somerfield supermarkets.

Although the store conversion template, created by Design House (DW 9 April), has been successful enough to guarantee that 450 Kwik Saves will still be transformed into Somerfields, it has not been enough to save the jobs of Hutton or his three colleagues – group marketing director Phil Smith, brands communications director Alan Shepherd and group development director Jonathan Smith. The original plan was to rebrand all 800 Kwik Save stores, but this has since been revised.

With luck design groups will not be hit too hard by the restructure, according to one senior Somerfield source. What is a concern is that the new set-up may lead to duplication of design work and diseconomies of scale. Work will cease to be offered to consultancies on a group-wide basis.

The central branding function is being broken up and devolved individually back to Somerfield Stores, home shopping division Somerfield 24-7, Kwik Save and Somerfield convenience and forecourt stores. Internally, there is still much confusion and the workloads of the newly promoted marketing delegates are certainly set to increase.

“I don’t think anyone knows yet how the relationships with external design groups will be affected by the restructure. This has only just happened,” says a Somerfield spokeswoman.

There are not likely to be any more job losses internally, according to the Somerfield insider. Hutton’s work, including the managing of any design consultancy contracts, will fall directly to the individual marketing heads of the four new units: Richard Smith (Somerfield), Gerry Bagnall (Kwik Save), Emma Woollett (convenience/ forecourt) and Lisa Riley (Somerfield 24-7). Packaging design will not be affected, according to the spokeswoman.

The bigger danger for consultancies is the prospect of working with a client which is floundering, says the head of one design group which has worked with Somerfield in the past. “When a business goes off the rails it’s very easy to blame all the expensive marketing people and fire them. But the root of the problem lies deeper than that. Designers cannot really help clients that don’t have a strategy.”

The stalling point, says the consultant, is the Somerfield brand. “Unconfident” and “unclear” are two descriptions he gives of where the retailer’s brand is right now. “People don’t really know what Somerfield is. When it first launched it was an upmarket imitation of Waitrose, but the proposition has constantly shifted. Prices go up and then back down,” he says.

Unfortunately, Somerfield is one supermarket which has never really found its niche, despite dabbling in a variety of sidelines, including home shopping, interactive TV, convenience stores and a discount network.

Kwik Save is tipped for a salvage job as a result of the restructure, and the Somerfield convenience store format might well be extended too. There will not be much room for manoeuvring Kwik Save between existing discounters like Asda and its new owner Wal-Mart that will soon be entering the arena.

As for the soon-to-be expanded Somerfield, it seems to have failed to find its slot. “Somerfield is in the one place it doesn’t want to be and that is in the middle. Somerfield is not an added value consumer store where people will pay a premium, but neither is it a discount house,” says the consultancy source.

The biggest threat to Somerfield’s design output is that this re-organisation of the group does not solve the problem of Somerfield’s unclear core brand identity. If anything, it runs the risk of leaving staff as confused as customers about the exact nature of the chain.

Somerfield’s design groups include:

Design House template for Kwik Save store conversions

Design Activity (Bristol)

in-store marketing work for Somerfield

Hammerhead Design Consultants (Bristol)

in-store work for Somerfield

Real Time Studio

Somerfield CD-ROM

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