Steve Finlan CEO shares your thoughts and feedback on our recent re-branding exercise
One of the great things about The Wine Society is that you, our members, care so deeply about it. You are always ready and willing to let us know what you think and how we can improve. So, when we recently introduced our new look you were not slow to share your views.
I thought that you would appreciate some insight into the nature of these, inevitably, mixed views as well as our response. The comments shared below convey a real strength of feeling, both positive and negative, but all constructive.
Since we rolled out our new look back in July, every piece of communication from members has been carefully logged. The response was overwhelmingly positive, ahead of our expectation. Industry norms are generally in the region of one positive comment for every 10 negative and while I don't think this holds true to the same extent for The Wine Society, we are always likely to hear more from those who are unhappy.
That said, I wrote an article in May, the theme of which was 'bear with us while we make some changes.' The inference was that we will make some mistakes, but we will listen carefully, test what we do and make changes when we have clearly failed! There are some elements that most of you do not like and these will be changed.
Overall, we have been heartened by the response from members but do recognise that some are disappointed. That we continue to put wine at the heart of all that we do, obsess about delivering great service to our members and hold true to our original values from our founding principles laid down in 1874, has not changed. We hope that remains apparent above all else.
Equally, we must reiterate that this kind of exercise is so much more than just a cosmetic one. We are looking at every aspect of the business to ensure that your Society is as good as it can be and fit for purpose for the future too.
1. Your thoughts on our new logo
The logo becomes unusually important in these exercises. It is the visible expression of our brand and members have strongly held views about what makes it successful.
We had carried out research on this specifically and had received a lot of feedback that we were old fashioned, stuffy and stuck in our past. There was also feedback that cautioned against losing the rich heritage of The Wine Society and making change for change's sake.
While most favoured incremental change, we did get a lot of feedback that the old logo did not work well digitally - online, mobile or email, all of which are growing extremely fast and therefore and important consideration.
The following is a selection of your views on our new logo and the new look:
'I've not written before but thought I'd drop you a line to say how much I like the look of the new WS logo. No surprise that it looks like a modern wine bottle label. Not exactly a genius marketing move, but long overdue.'
'I quite like the "swoosh" it makes me think if wine being poured into or swirled around a glass .'
'I like the new look. It's clean, stylish and still classic.
Well done all concerned.'
'Wine Soc is tangibly changing and modernising for a new generation - as an oldie I am slightly put off but it is undoubtedly the right thing to do.'
'Preferred the old logo. This looks undistinguished.'
'What a horrific backwards step and missed opportunity. The new logo and design language looks cheap, shoddy and undistinctive. It's as if ALDI has copied TWS for one of their own-brands.'
'Who on earth had the idea of the new logo? It looks like any cheap supermarket and no doubt cost a great deal from some corporate branding organisation. It looks as though some new executive is trying to make their mark. Please revert to the old one even though you will have spent a great deal on this futile exercise.'
So, while not universally popular, the new logo was mostly positively received. We recently sponsored The National Geographic Food And Wine Festival in London. The first outing for the new look was extremely popular with members and non-members alike.
2. Our communications: Newsletter, List & Offers
The newsletter and first mailing of the List and the offers attracted a lot of attention. Many of you loved the new format of the News, loved the fact that we have moved to matt paper from gloss, loved the freshness and more modern appeal of the offers. Conversely, many hated the newsletter. In particular, the font size and the use of 'My' alongside Society News. Many did not like the change of paper and some described our approach as a 'dumbing down' of The Society.
This gives a flavour of the comments we received:
'My Society News: I think the new format is great! Less glossy, more compact and denser information. The only comment against is that the type is very small and, even, I believe, most of the Front page is set at sizes smaller than the inside and back pages. it's okay for me but I'm sure that some members will have problems reading articles in 7pt or 8pt type. But anyway, well done WS on the re-launch!
'I thought that I would let you know that I love the new look 'News' so much easier to read and a lot handier. Thank you.'
'My mother told me if I couldn't say anything nice I should say nothing, So I pondered long before writing this! The new News Sheet - it's shameful! When I first withdrew it from the envelope half of it fell on the floor and I was left holding just the outside. Bad start. Then the print size: it's smaller than the newspaper. I can read the newspaper, but not this.'
'Given the average age of your membership you're pushing your luck using a font size for the society news that needs a magnifying glass to read. Btw I do like society news
Could be the best edition I've ever read!
Somehow more accessible & engaging to read.'
'Member likes the new size of the newsletter and felt it is a cozy size - he also really thinks the name " My Societys News" is really good'
'Now a grumble: you have fallen for the current corporate trend of prefixing everything with the word "my". It is all over the place, as in "My BT", "My M&S", "My BA", and is becoming hackneyed and irritating.'
Views about the newsletter and the other communications divided opinion the most. We plan to keep the same formats and the same look and feel, but increase the font size and also drop the use of 'my'. Apologies to those that liked the change, but I am always minded to go with the majority. We were encouraged by compliments on the contents and we will continue to be sensitive to member feedback regarding information and articles you find either interesting or useful.
3. Your thoughts on our website
Changes to the website were popular from a look and feel perspective. The logo and associated branding was seen as being modern, proud and our branding significantly more visible and recognisable. We have had a few resolution issues that have made the new design a little fuzzy, but these have been fixed or will be shortly.
A lot of the views expressed were simply about the quality of the current site and not really about the branding or look and feel. We do recognise that our site is currently hard to navigate, the checkout isn't very friendly, it is hard to correct errors made on forms without starting the journey again. This we are aware of and are making strides to greatly improve the experience online.
The loss of the Community tab at the top of the page was particularly unpopular. We will endeavour to get it back soon!
The good news is that your Committee approved our project to introduce a new website mid-year 2020. Until then, we will do the best we can with our existing site. Built 12 years ago, it has been a great servant to The Society, but leaves us well behind the competition in terms of the user journey and also our ability to change anything quickly!
There were a few comments about the unique nature of The Society and that by embracing a digital world more fully, we are dumbing down our communications and being guilty of trying to emulate businesses like Naked Wines or other organisations.
Many told us to ignore such businesses and not to view them as competitors. Here I do think that a robust response is needed. Following the sale of Majestic, Naked Wines are extremely cash rich and wish to accelerate the growth of their 'Angel' population. We are not immune as, already, a reasonable percentage of our membership also shop at Naked. Majestic have just been bought by a fund with $39bn of investment funds. I can see no reason for the purchase unless they too will receive a huge capital injection.
To do nothing to compete in our marketplace is to become irrelevant. We will always be different and differentiated, we will always be true to our Mutual principles, but we also need a voice in a crowded marketplace.
Finally, there was some, but not very much love for the App. We are not planning to introduce another, preferring to focus on our mobile website. This has already seen much development, but, with a new platform, will be transformed.
Here are some of your comments on the digital experience:
'I was shocked when I looked at the website today. The Society's Community has just disappeared. Help.'
'Hiding the link in the footer is sending an unfortunate (and I am sure an unintended) message - the Community is not important.'
'The app? Good riddance. A hopeless piece of non-ware. I gave up using it months ago
"I agree that designing with a (digital-first) approach and philosophy is sensible. I'm sure people will have worked hard on this reworking of the Society's visual image, and I don't want to dismiss that work. And obviously, you can't please all of the people all of the time. But sometimes a change is not an improvement, and I'm afraid I think this is one of those times.'
4. Getting your wine to you: vans and boxes
When collating all the feedback it was still early days as far as our vans and packaging were concerned. But to date, the vans have received mostly positive feedback, though, as ever, this has not been universal.
The new boxes have had a mixed reception. But again, we hope that more of you will have had a chance to see these now. I am sure you will let us know your thoughts!
We plan to stick to our guns as we believe that the new distinct look to the vans has created more visibility of the brand to non-members. The boxes, we will review over time. There is no evidence that the box either encourages or discourages member behaviour and, here at Stevenage, the new boxes won universal approval.
5. How much did it cost?
There was some negative feedback about the expense of the exercise to re-brand. Clearly, we had help, from a design agency and from a talented consultant who helped us manage the project. Costs were extremely low for a re-branding (having experienced a few) and we also took into account future cost of ownership, especially in the print and box arena.
It is worth also saying that the new branding is not just about the points raised above. We are continually striving to offer members better and new services. We have work to do in promoting The Society in a more confident and proud way. Incidentally, we have more than doubled our Facebook followers since January! Love it or hate it, Social Media is an important communication channel for us.
A final thought…
So, I hope the above offers a brief insight into our re-branding exercise. There will always be some that agree, and those that disagree with a process such as this, but I would like to finish on a positive note.
The reason I like feedback below is that it finishes on the thing that really matters to all of us – the quality and value of our wine. Our approach to wine remains at the heart of all we do. Our buyers enjoy freedoms in their buying journey that buyers outside can only dream of and, when all is said and done, many, many members finished with the sentiment that none of this, positive or negative will impact on their enjoyment of our wine and their enjoyment of being a member of the world's best wine society.
'Nearly a year ago we had a robust exchange about the way I felt the Society was going. I have just read your July 2019 My Society News article and I just wanted to say how much I now agree with the sentiments you express. The rebranding is smart and elegant, the newsletter format is neat, the website very impressive and and the most important thing of all is the development of the list. The range is adventurous and I have some off the beaten track wines in my wish list which I shall try over the coming months. Special offers and low priced wines are very welcome for mid week wines and I hope to build up my reserves of weekend wines from the range which seems now to be so attractive. The market is very competitive and the Society cannot cover all the angles but given the way you and your colleagues have taken the it over the past year I am more than ever delighted to be a member.'