|Monday, 31 October 2011 10:49|
Long live the King: The FTSE 250 pub retailer and brewer Greene King’s brand can be traced back to the end of the 18th century, and now its new identity has ensured the company will be relevant long into the 21st. Molly Pierce reports
Greene King branding is a familiar sight on many British high streets, which isn’t surprising when one considers that in addition to the company’s 790 branded pubs, it also operates 1400 leased properties, owns retail chains such as Loch Fyne restaurants and Hungry Horse pubs, and holds 2% (and growing) of the UK beer market.
It’s just this diversity of properties, however, that had weakened the organisation’s corporate identity in recent years. The catalyst for the rebranding work carried out by Brand Matters and Morning was, according to strategy and communications director Mark Blythman, the fragmentation of the existing brand.
“We looked around the pubs estate,” recalls Blythman, “and we saw so many different images. The brand had evolved over the years but there was no consistency, no commonality of thought or purpose.” As the company had expanded and taken on properties that possessed their own brands, it seemed that Greene King hadn’t taken the time to impose its own identity – or even to really consider what that was.
Blythman says that the comms team at Greene King realised that they needed to start afresh with the brand. “We went back to basics. When we were considering what we wanted from a new brand, we didn’t put any KPIs in place because the rebrand had to be measured not quantitatively, but qualitatively. The focus was just as much on creating an identity that our staff – which total 20,000 across the UK – could relate to as on coming up with one that consumers would buy into.”
When Greene King brought in Brand Matters, an independent communications agency, the creative partner Simon John realised that a project of this magnitude needed manpower. So whilst Brand Matters took on responsibility for conceptual development and client liaison, design studio Morning came on board to create the visual identity and oversee its implementation.
The 212 year-old heritage of the Greene King brand was an appetising prospect for the creative team, which worked in close conjunction with Blythman’s comms function. “The opportunity to bring these brands together was huge,” says John. “We started out by benchmarking the current, fragmented identity against Greene King’s competitors in the pub and brewing industry, and against other industries.” This research also helped to develop a sense of where the brand could go in the future, and Blythman characterises it as a very forward-thinking company.
This initial work on the identity resulted in a clearly defined proposition of the brand as focusing on authenticity. “Although it sounds like marketing speak,” says Blythman, “the essence of the brand is ‘authentic hospitality’. If your brand’s authentic, it can be ten years old or 10,000: people will still get it. But bringing ‘authentic hospitality’ to life is a very tricky process.”
Extensive research into the history of the brand and the identity of the Greene King – which carries suggestions of paganism and English folklore – himself turned up interesting material for the team from Brand Matters and Morning. A stumbling block for the brand’s claim of authenticity, it transpired that there was no such thing as a Green(e) King; instead, the company name derived from two families that had established the original brewery in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Ian Haughton, the creative director at Morning, says that this became a problem when they started trying to interpret the brief of authenticity. “The drawing of the king that had formed part of the company’s identity had always looked odd – for a start, it resembled a bishop or an abbot more than a king, and the proportions are out. When we came to redraw it, we realised that the basic idea was false.”
However, in the brand’s birthplace, the team found a ‘real king’ to tie into the new identity: St Edmund, the martyr killed by the Danish whose name is borne by Bury St Edmunds. A symbol found in a stained glass window at a local church during a brainstorming session proved to be the switch that illuminated the new identity.
A crown crossed by two arrows, the symbol turned out to be present in a lot of the area’s history – Haughton recalls seeing it in an ironworks nearby, and it was Edmund’s royal crest. “Endorsing Greene King through its long association with Bury St Edmunds made more sense than anything else we’d come up with,” says John. “Before we discovered the symbol, it felt like we were just making up a new identity.”
The symbol has become Greene King’s mark, represented through the combination of a woodcut with brass rubbings, and roots the corporate brand firmly in its heritage. The challenge then became to keep the identity modern.
“Once we had this strong mark,” says Haughton, “we started to look at the typography of the branding. In older documents – so still bearing in mind the brand’s history – Gill Sans was used, a classic English humanist font. Gill didn’t quite cut it for the new brand though as it has a fussiness to it, and we wanted to connect the typography to the arrows in the mark.”
David Farey, whom Haughton describes as an “old-school” typographer, was brought on board to create a bespoke typeface for Greene King’s new brand. “It’s born out of the heritage of the brand, but it’s very clean, very sharp. We couldn’t call it anything other than St Edmund Sans, of course,” he recalls.
The rest of the visual identity proceeded from the same principles. The photography, which had previously been glossy and shiny, now had a natural look and was based around authentic, unposed moments, created by photographers approaching families in Greene King properties, asking permission to take their pictures and then, in Haughton’s words, “letting them get on with it”. The colours associated with the new brand are similarly unforced: John says that they’re inspired by the tones found occurring in Suffolk, such as natural stone, bronze from St Edmund’s crest, a toned down green.
The emphasis on warmth and naturally occurring moments in the visual identity is a strong representation of the brand message that Blythman says Greene King was anxious to get across. “This is as important in our B2B relationships as in our B2C encounters,” he says. “We want our brand to act as a badge of quality, to stand for several things: that in every interaction with Greene King, a stakeholder will get a warm, sociable welcome; they’ll receive a quality product; they’ll deal with down-to-earth people.”
He paints a vivid picture of how the brand feels its pubs should be run: “It doesn’t work for every property – busy high street pubs, for example, tend to have a higher energy about them – but you should be able to walk into a Greene King pub anywhere in the country and expect to get a nice pint of cask ale, a plate of well-cooked food, a seat by a fire, a newspaper to read, a place to hang your coat. The Greene King brand has to represent that type of experience. We’re not trying to be a luxury brand: that wouldn’t work with our product. We’re actively catering for everyone.”
“Although it sounds like marketing speak, the essence of the brand is ‘authentic hospitality’. If your brand’s authentic, it can be ten years old or 10,000: people will still get it.”
The implementation of the new brand was prepped by Brand Matters and Morning, who constructed thorough guidelines for internal usage. John has managed the transition, which has been deliberately gradual, and the identity is currently most prominent in internal communications. “Not all our pubs will be plastered with the new brand,” says Blythman, though he points out that Greene King has embarked on a marketing campaign with the new identity that calls back to its ‘Proper Pint’ competition of late 2010.
“For some parts of the estate, it’s really important to have the Greene King branding present, because it acts as an endorsement, such as for the Hungry Horse chain. On our unbranded estate, the pubs that have different names and which are run by licensees, that constitutes their main brand, so the Greene King logo and signage will be less prominent. Our customers haven’t seen much of it yet, but it’s met with pretty universal approval inhouse,” says Blythman.
Greene King has a strategy of rolling investment in its pub estate, so the new identity will be put in place in the normal cycle of refurbishments, meaning it doesn’t require a massive cash injection. A new website is also in place to display the new branding to stakeholders.
Haughton says that developing the new brand has been quite a journey: “You can’t just hand over a piece of work and say ‘Here’s your brand’, it’s important to be supportive of how the client works with it, but we’re very proud of the reaction. It started as a huge challenge, but it was received unanimously well.”
Although the design of the Greene King identity is firmly in place, consultation over the new brand is ongoing. John is still in place in an advisory role, and commends the team at Greene King for their enthusiastic uptake of the new brand and the internal engagement with its messaging. “With a rebrand, you need the client to wrap their arms around it. The new identity really brings everything together for Greene King, which is what it was always intended to do, so we’re proud that the overall reaction seems to have been: At last!”