Writing - Property & Shopping Centres

Rob Rodell

Okay, so maybe their marriage is a bit like Kim and Kanye’s match made in publicity heaven. It ain’t gonna hurt either of their personal brands. Or maybe she and Jay-Z really love each other. Either way, there’s no denying that Beyoncé is pop royalty – and, like Diana Ross, she is married to a modern-day Motown Berry Gordy.

Research suggests that South Africa’s digital retail footprint stands at about 1%, or R1 billion, of total retail sales per year. While this may not seem like much, it is a figure that just keeps on growing.

Years ago, when the Internet became a real force majeure, there was a huge panic that retail would sink because people would go online to shop, and would stop frequenting shopping centres and their stores. Then they re-thought their decision, saying that people would still come to shops because they wanted to have an experience, which online retail really could not give them, so they relegated e-commerce to the weird hi-tech few. Today, it’s a bricks-n-clicks combo, where the store in its physical form still exists, but that same store has an online component which allows them to create utter convenience for the shopper, be that physical or digital.

So, what’s changed in the years since SA became a democracy and the world wide web became another one of those things we just can’t live without? Well, this little ol’ powerhouse down south, purported to no longer be the largest economy on the continent (that honour now belongs to Nigeria, apparently), grew up and started becoming tech-savvy like her friends in Europe and North America. Since the advent of better and cheaper hi-speed Internet connectivity and the ubiquity of it all, CD sales, like DVD sales and even books, have begun to shrink – it’s just easier and cheaper (sometimes even free) to download your favourite song and then either email it or Bluetooth it to a friend, than go pay R100 in a CD store – and that doesn’t include the parking and the ice cream while you’re there, plus the R14 a litre petrol cost.

But what exactly does any of this mean for the average music artist and the average CD store? A well-known CD store operator gives the traditional CD store only until 2020 to survive, before it sinks like the American mega-stores did 10 years ago. In the meantime, CD stores have repositioned themselves for gaming and movies and merchandise, and this is a trend that is here to stay.

As for artists – well, you can still get away with selling tapes in rural areas, and CD sales will probably remain buoyant, at least for the next few years. But if it’s urban glory they seek, then their targeting of SA’s metropolitan areas will have to go online. It’s a brave new old world!

The general consensus, if your centre falls victim to a negative publicity event, is to say nothing unless you are asked. But if you are asked, then you have to say something.

Most journalists will work around the 5Ws and the H of stories: what, when, where, who, why and how? So any response that you prepare must be based around this structure.

One way of doing things is to start with the facts, and then work your way back. You can decide to give the press just enough info, to satisfy their bloodlust for growing the audience (and hence the advertising income). But they don’t need to know it all, especially if there are security issues at hand. So, as an example: what (bomb explodes in centre), when (12:45 today), where (entrance 1 near the movies), who (1 person injured, recovering in hospital), why (Al Qaeda), and how (suitcase left next to dustbin).

Without giving too much away, most releases need to contain the perfunctory “We are working very closely with the police and we are very focused on the safety of all our shoppers, tenants and staff.” It seems completely insincere and probably reads as much, but it offers some comfort, however cold, for the reader.

Remember to send to all possible parties, and ensure that you have a good working relationship with the press. In one instance the local Caxton newspaper requested that we contact them if a major incident happened, instead of attempting to bury the story. But I’ve also had to take an overzealous journalist to task on more than once occasion by reminding them, especially at community newspaper level, that my adspend helps to keep their paper in business, and that I also expect some positive publicity the next time around, not just the doom and gloom.

So, be sure to have a relationship with as many on your media list as possible. This is especially useful in the midst of a crisis, because they can put a face to the press release and are more likely to see it from your perspective too. People don’t like to upset people who like them and whom they like.

I was at Centre X when I got a call from the media. “We have heard that shots have been fired in your centre. Would you care to comment?”

The general manager walked into the office and told me to put the phone down. She confirmed it. After that, the phone never stopped ringing. I put the phone down after speaking to one member of the press, and instantly I picked up the freshly ringing phone to speak to another one.

What do you do in the midst of such a crisis? Opinions differ, and you are hamstrung by the centre owner’s policy. In the case of Centre X, no statements may be made to the media unless they are approved by the CEO. Unfortunately for Centre X the process was so convoluted that it took 7 hours to get a 4-line press release approved, by which time the media had got all their sensational sound bites and headlines from other sources.

I agree, it’s never a good idea to turn yourself into cannon fodder for the media, but to say nothing or wait 7 hours to say something that the media already knows is just as ineffective. It also doesn’t help if you have a media consultant that is not only slow to respond to your needs, but then is condescending in their responses to you and treats you like an idiot that doesn’t know anything.

The bottom line is, you need to have a plan in place, even if it’s for something that you could never anticipate. Also make sure that the lines of communication are clearly defined and delineated so that you don’t end up getting into trouble for something that you do or don’t say.

And remember, in the age of social media, things can move very quickly, and people can be brutal, so be ready to address those issues too.

Unfortunately, in these instances experience is the best teacher, so try and get someone who has first-hand knowledge to assist you. Good luck!

Read the next blog to learn more…

The recent spate of high-profile robberies at shopping centres in Johannesburg and Pretoria has left some people rather shaken, and questioning the safety and security of the retail industry in general.

In the past month alone, robberies have taken place at Cresta, The Glen, Centurion Mall, Kolonnade Retail Park, Heathway Centre, Sandton City and Eastgate, to name a few. In many cases, the targets have been cellular and electronic retailers, because they stock goods with a perceived high resale value that are also very desirable (even though stolen electronic goods are often rendered useless through blocking and blacklisting).

Also in most cases, the suspects fired shots, possibly because they were confronted by a perceived threat, or possibly as a distraction technique to enable their speedy getaway. It also appears that in some of the cases the robberies may have been linked, and that there were rogue policemen involved. All of this can be rather unnerving to an industry that is still battling with the economic downturn. It begs the question: are we safe, and are our shoppers, tenants and staff?

I have had a number of discussions with people who suggest that a firmer hand is required when dealing with these criminals, to make our centres more secure. In my opinion, fighting back at the time of a robbery with a bunch of desperate vigilantes is a recipe for more injuries. If the goods are insured (and even if they are not), it is not worth risking a life for.

This will not score me any points, but we are busy dealing with larger social issues at hand. In an unstable economy with the huge disparity between the haves and the have nots, there will always be a propensity for crime. But as we grow the country’s middle class, and do the same in Africa, so the situation is likely to stabilise and the crime rate will start to drop. It may still take a number of years, but this is an ideal worth striving for.

Contemporary marketing, shopping centre or otherwise, is under enormous pressure to shape up or ship out. In a struggling global economy, the first casualty is always the marketing budget.

Added to this is the fact that the marketing funds at shopping centre level are usually controlled by the finance people, and in their Rand and cents world, marketing is a liability that makes pretty pictures and creates feel-good warm and fuzzy stuff that does nothing for the bottom line.

So whether you like it or not, any strategy or campaign plan that you put together will have to, increasingly, show how you are improving your KPIs (or key performance indicators). Usually these would revolve around foot traffic, turnover, spend per head and dwell time.

What to do? Well, you can lament the decisions that have been made (or are being made), or you can get on the bus. It can be quite interesting to set yourself a measurable goal with a campaign and see if you meet the target. If you don’t, then you can always evaluate, figure out why, improve the campaign elements to ensure future success, or set more realistic targets.

There will, of course, always be elements of marketing that can never be measured. How does one calculate the effect of Christmas decorations on a centre’s turnover? How can the impact of street pole ads be measured?

Even so, it’s a brave new world put there, so get ready to measure it.

My book, "Brand Loyalty is Bullshit," will be launching soon. I will keep you posted!

Let’s assume on the off chance that you actually believe me (half my colleagues don’t). So there is no brand loyalty. Does that mean were all in deep trouble?

No. Loyalty as a concept may be dead, but branding is not, and with a small amount of strategic marketing knowledge and a bit of effort, you can already try to make a difference.

Also, loyalty may be dead, but brand preference and brand insistence are not. Let’s look at a brand from the mind of the consumer. First, they either know your brand (awareness) or not. If they don’t, then you still have the opportunity to make them aware. If they do know your brand but they reject it, then you need to try and find out why, and see if you can fix it. Example: Westgate has lost a lot of its high-end shoppers to Clearwater. Westgate is bigger, but Clearwater is a newer centre in an area that has newer homes and a more aspirant market. It is unlikely that Westgate will pull those high-end shoppers back. Solution: tenant mix, and effective marketing. Even though it’s a lot more complex, the idea is to create a balance between the market that you want and the market that you have. In the age of contemporary marketing and modern-day shopping centres, it’s also important to remember that marketing alone is not a panacea, and cannot be expected to fix all your centre’s ills.

If you are able to turn people who reject your brand into users, then the next step is to convert light users into heavy users, and then heavy users into users who either prefer the brand, or insist on it. This is much more difficult in large complex metropolitan markets, where there is more variety and choice, and therefore more competition. It’s like margarine: if there were two options from which to choose, then shoppers would choose whichever they felt best met their needs. But now that there are 20 variants, the finite number of shoppers is far more likely to switch brands and try new options out.

So it is with your shopping centre. The big advantage of this, of course: the more the competition, the more the need for smart marketing people. Smile as you ask for a raise :).

My book, "Brand Loyalty is Bullshit," will be launching soon. I will keep you posted!

Okay, so we’d all love our shoppers to be like our dogs: all waggy-tailed and happy to see us, and always at our side. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘if you want loyalty, get a dog.’ Well, that just ain’t gonna happen with your shoppers.

I have two dogs – Sheba and Scruffy – and they are the epitome of loyal. You see them, they wag their tails, if you go out, they look sad, when you get back, they jump all over the gate with glee, they are always looking for love. I also have two cats, Allegra and Mitzel-Maus. Now they are a much harder sell. Their outlook is the eternal feline one: “leave a message – I’ll get back to you.” I will admit, cats can also be loyal, after a fashion – but it’s always on their terms, you have to work for it, and they can easily change their minds.

Start seeing your shoppers more as cats, not dogs – you have to work them a bit more to get them to play ball, or to roll over and play dead.

Is this blog insulting humans by comparing them to animals? Not at all. We are merely comparing behaviour types, and what we find is that humans today are more fickle, more picky, more demanding, more comparative, and far quicker at switching brands than they have ever been. Take a look at your Facebook page, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: “Oh I hate your shopping centre’s toilets, and if you don’t fix them I will go somewhere else.” “When are you upgrading your store? It’s not nearly as nice as Centre X.” “Why is all your parking paid for? I can go down the road and there the parking is free.”

Sound familiar? In the age of the empowered consumer, there is no such thing as brand loyalty – if there ever was.

Read on again to find out what else you can do about it.

My book, "Brand Loyalty is Bullshit," will be launching soon. I will keep you posted!

This blog is not necessarily meant to be controversial, but it is meant to challenge conventional thinking, and call into question several pernicious myths about marketing.

The first of these is the concept of brand “loyalty.” If you are trying to create loyal fans of your shoppers, then you are steering your aeroplane directly into a range of mountains, and you are about to crash and burn.

The marketing fraternity – shopping centre or otherwise – is split down the middle on the issue of brand loyalty. Let’s look at what loyalty actually is – it’s defined as unfettered devotion to an object of desire. But look in a marketing dictionary, and suddenly the meaning of the word changes to “frequent use of a product or service,” or something equally innocuous.

So if you are walking down the road holding your girlfriend’s hand, and every time you walk past a nice looking chick, you start to wolf whistle and tell your cherry that you really dig this other girl walking past you, is that a sign of your ‘loyalty’ to her? More than likely it’s a recipe for a good slap. Likewise, if you frequently use a boy for services rendered, and then go back to your boyfriend and profess that he is the one you are loyal to, well that would make you a tart.

The truth is, brand loyalty does not exist. Branding guru David Aaker’s books will tell you that loyalty is one of the four cornerstones of brand equity, but that too is a misnomer. Somebody who lives in Century City in Cape Town is probably likely to go to Canal Walk, because it is close to where they live. But they could just as easily jump in their car and go to Tyger Valley, CapeGate or the V&A. How then does this make them ‘loyal’ to Canal Walk?

It’s far more useful to accept that shoppers may like your centre an awful lot, and they may prefer it to others. Well then call the spade a blinking shovel – that is brand preference, not brand “loyalty.” And be sure of this: the minute a better option comes along that is perceived as better, people will switch brands. Just ask N1 City – it may still be a successful centre because it has had to reposition itself in the shadow of Canal Walk, but please don’t delude yourself that people are still “loyal” to it and would rather shop there than at Canal Walk.

Read on to find out what you can do about this great marketing dilemma.

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