Bid to update image is first resort for Butlins

Butlins is in the throes of a major brand re-evaluation, with the company’s board due to sign off a three-year brand strategy tomorrow that could include a revamp of the holiday company’s identity.

Butlins director of brand and guest experience Fredda Hurwitz, who was appointed four months ago, created the strategy in collaboration with the advertising agency Mustoes.

‘We’re proud of our past and don’t want to walk away from that, but we’ve moved forward and the identity is part and parcel of the evolution of the brand,’ says Hurwitz. ‘We’re not throwing things away, but we need to update.’

The branding programme is likely to recommend aligning Butlins with other appropriate brands, including retail partners and event sponsorship.

‘Moving the brand off-resort is important,’ concedes Hurwitz. ‘To continue to achieve growth, we need to attract new guests. Letting people experience the brand tangentially is one way to work towards a perception shift.’

These developments come as Mintel research released this week shows that 30 per cent of all holidays made by Britons – 42 million each year – are family trips, with the majority taken domestically.

Traditional family operators such as Butlins and Pontins have invested in their infrastructure in a bid to reach this market and compete with other short-break options, such as country cottages and theme parks like Alton Towers.

Bourne Leisure, Butlins’ parent company, has spent £30m upgrading facilities at its resorts over the past four years. Enhancements include a new tier of ‘gold’ accommodation with facilities such as wide-screen TVs and DVD players in bedrooms.

At the Skegness site, a spa offering beauty treatments has been introduced and the Bognor resort features a ‘state of the art’ recording studio.

While the estate has been refreshed, brand development has lagged behind. Despite the investment, public perceptions remain steeped in 1950s imagery, with the resorts struggling to lose their Hi-de-Hi connotations.

Hurwitz would not give details about the direction the brand is likely to take, but designers believe a more upmarket positioning is called for. Peter Matthews, managing director of branding and interactive design consultancy Nucleus, worked with Butlins’ competitor Center Parcs, revamping the firm’s on-line experience.

Matthews says that Butlins is ‘doing things in the right order’ but needs to reposition and ‘shift some of the downmarket perceptions’ that exist around the brand.

The Nest strategy and communications director Freddie Baveystock agrees that the brand lacks an aspirational element. The Nest has worked with Thomas Cook and British Airways, and Baveystock advocates a focus on imagery and simplicity.

‘Imagery is vital because all holidays are booked at a distance,’ he asserts. ‘[Butlins] must reinvent itself in a more contemporary way. [At the moment] they leverage a slightly kitsch and retro positioning and I can’t see how they can expand the brand based on that.’

Butlins has acknowledged that investment in its brand is needed if it is to shift perceptions and broaden the target market. Hurwitz accepts there are challenges ahead, but says that any ‘new way of thinking’ is unlikely to roll out before January next year.

‘It needs to become part of our DNA, our culture. We need everyone to buy into a new way of thinking and that takes time.’

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