‘A step in a new direction that begins by using what was familiar’ – Simon Manchipp on the new Waterstones branding

A guest blog from Someone co-founder Simon Manchipp on Waterstones’s decision to revert to its original branding.


You can’t judge this book(shop) by it’s cover, yet.

Waterstones is deep in the throes of one of the most difficult times the high street has ever seen.

We have reached the point where now people are shopping for books online. And Waterstones is in the difficult position of keeping its retail position firmly physical while trying to serve a digital audience. Against one of the strongest online brands in the world: Amazon.

The former sister business HMV seems to be utterly lost. It’s now scrabbling around to find a purpose now that music has seen the super-massive online shift and the rise of the freeconomy.

So what to do?

VentureThree’s response to both of these commercial problems was smart. And for the book business, it showed the variety of experiences Waterstones could provide. The escapism of fiction. The marvels of art. The joy of words. All things an off the shelf Baskerville W may seem to sadly lack. The previous HMV linked identity injected a new sense of vitality and modernity into a struggling brand.

The 2010 rebrand
The 2010 rebrand

But I would bet we are not seeing the whole story yet with the Baskerville W. This is probably just the first step in a new strategic direction that looks visually familiar. After all, VentureThree tweeted on the day of the launch that they were ‘Proud to be helping the new team realise their exciting vision. First part today, watch this space…’

I suspect the new approach might show us a re-emphasis on a quality physical experience (not just surface branding, but experiential brand thinking). Having a classic, authoritative voice whilst breaking with the brand’s previous ownership. After all, they are no longer part of the HMV group.

The new (and original) logo

If Waterstones are smart with their branding (and they demonstrated with the first burst of Venture Three work that they are) they will introduce the more progressive brand thinking for communications where appropriate to bring Baskerville to life. I don’t think it’s a ‘de-brand’ — I’d give Venture Three more credit than that — but a step in a new direction that begins by using what was familiar.

We talk a lot about the speed of change nowadays. This is a classic example. Branding has to stay close to the business strategy or it is merely window dressing for a shop that isn’t there.

Simon Manchipp is co-founder of Someone.

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  • Steve Price November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    A good read sir.

    Online shopping is certainly a contributing factor to the demise of brands like HMV who are stuck in quick sand it seems. With regards Waterstones… Which site do you think of going too if you need a book, I bet it’s not Waterstones?

    However real experiences are under-rated and making a comeback where perhaps they’d never gone away; we (in the industry) just forgot about them. Carried away with our thirst for the ‘online’ experience, which is often over-rated.

    Where tablets and kindles perform a useful function for people on the move, there are still vast swaths of people who relish and enjoy a real experience, a good book.

    The experience of finding that book, in a J R Hartley kind of way, is one aspect that I expect is being address. I believe the real shop experience is to the consumer what newspapers are to the reader – some choose online but many still prefer the hardcopy.

    Music has transformed our shelves at home and many are now stripped of rows of CD’s but books, almost like vinyl, are a mark of our own journey through life. They embody our intellect, our philosophy and our character.

    That is all, for now.

  • derek johnston November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I fail to see why the rebrand/new logo was considered to be more relevant to a shift towards business or businesses that are dealing mainly online.

    Was it that knocking the serifs off made it a bit more pixel friendly? I really hope that wasn’t the reason…

    Baskerville simply says ‘literate’ to me and has always been a favourite, understated and elegant was to signpost a bookstore – digital, high street reality or any other way for that matter.

  • Dan Bull November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    My opinion of the Waterstone’s brand is, as your firend Mr Hutchinson would hopefully agree, defined by my experience of it relative to my experience of their competition (Amazon).

    This is to say that their stock is by definition limited in terms of both quantity and variety, particularly outside the usual mega-shops. They are also necessarily more expensive, and the process of shelf-shuffling to find a copy without dents, scuffs, rips or dog-ears, is demoralising.

    It’s been a while since I used a Waterstone’s for these reasons and, if something hasn’t changed considerably since, I see no reason to return. In it’s current manifestation the ‘Big Book Shop’ is a dead format, I think.

    Having said that, I have my issues with Amazon and, being old enough to remember a time before it, would love an excuse to pootle around a proper bookshop and come away happy. I just can’t see it happening.

    The point of all this? It’s not the logo that needs tweaking — it’s the experience. I go to a bookshop to buy books. I don’t mind paying a couple of quid more than Amazon are asking; provide me with the book I want, in my city, in perfect condition, and we’ll talk. Otherwise, tap out, you’re done.

  • Neil Hopkins November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with Dan.

    Mess about with logos and apostrophes until the end of the world if that makes you happy and spends marketing £ in the “right way” for your budget sheet.

    But the problem with Waterstone’s (as originally owned by Tim Waterstone, hence the ‘) is not the logo.

    As a book buyer, I don’t care about their logo.

    It’s their instore atmosphere and online offering where the strategic and tactical decisions need to be made.

    The branding needs to start on the shop floor and work upwards. Not a logo downwards.

    In fact, I didn’t even realise their 2010 brand wasn’t the classic W shape.

    That tells you more about their brand strategy than anything else.

    Let’s reserve judgement for 6 months and see where the Baskerville W takes us.

  • Tim Rich November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Good piece. Let’s be clear: so far this is not a ‘re-brand’; it’s a change to the brand identity. We haven’t seen anything that suggests Waterstones is going to be something very different from Waterstone’s. The brand expression work that comes out over the next few days and weeks may be quite different from what the company has presented before, but I don’t see that the company is changing in a fundamental way (regardless of the web), nor are people having new and different feelings and thoughts about the company. Time will tell. The logo has changed; let’s see if the company has too.

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