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.
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.
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.