The other day, a visit to Safeway got me thinking about branding, especially brands in transition.
On the way there, I walked past a restaurant that’s changing from one identity to another. The Mediterranean theme hadn’t worked, though the place was lovely and had a great menu. About a month ago, the owners announced they were going to rename it and serve “California Cuisine” instead.
So, the new venue had opened, but if you’d blinked while walking by, you’d have missed that. If you’d stopped, as I did, to take a closer look, you might have been confused. The awning over the door displayed the old name. The gorgeous, hand-painted Mediterranean motif still appeared on the front window. Those temporary-looking stick-on letters displayed the new name, and a hand-made paper sign with new hours was taped to the door. I proceeded on.
The Safeway in my neighborhood is changing, too—becoming a more upscale “lifestyle” store with fewer brands to choose from. During the process, everything has become hard to find. As I was scratching my head in front of the dairy cooler, searching for my favorite brand of soy milk, Sam from the meat department stopped to ask if he could help. He located what I wanted in the proverbial trice, and we had a quick conversation about how much he likes the soon-to-be-new store. The check-out process was just as pleasant. Loni, the assistant manager, and I chatted for a moment, and I left with a warm feeling. The changes Safeway HQ instituted a few years ago—you know, calling you by name, asking if you need help with your bags, and escorting you to the right shelf to find an item—seemed a little forced at first, but now they feel right. And, of course, they reinforce the Safeway brand of quality and service.
As I walked home past the restaurant, I thought about how the owners could have managed the transformation—and their brand—better. We’re all running flat-out these days, but with a bit of planning and a little after-hours work, the new restaurant could have opened with a new look and feel. You could argue that Safeway has more resources than a small business and can do a better job of branding, but I disagree. It’s really all about knowing what you want to convey about your business and finding the simplest and most direct way to do it.