Malls strive to make a mark
Shopping centres have become part of the branding phenomenon, fighting to stand out from the rest. Reports by Tim Metcalfe
Branding is integral to marketing consumer goods, most visibly at the luxury 'designer' end. From clothes, handbags and watches to mobile phones, cars and airline tickets, the power of a brand lies in its ability to persuade people to buy more of the products or services more frequently - and for more money.
But branding is not limited to consumer luxuries. Today's fierce market competition also extends to shopping malls - the hubs of branding and retailing rivalry.
Malls from Mong Kok and Kwun Tong to Kowloon Bay and West Kowloon are becoming increasingly state of the art as they compete for tenants.
And like their tenants who are competing for browsing dollars, malls have become part of the branding phenomenon.
While the payoffs may be more intangible and longer term than in traditional consumer branding, which can be reflected in sales almost overnight, the branding philosophy remains the same - to somehow influence for the better how a brand is perceived and popularised in a market.
One particularly high-profile commercial property branding exercise was Hongkong Land's recent initiative to link up 13 buildings in Central.
Anchoring the portfolio were The Landmark, Prince's Building, Chater House and Alexandra House.
The choice of brand name - CENTRAL - was disarmingly simple and obvious, with capital letters differentiating the portfolio from the central business district.
It was launched amid the biggest facelift in the history of Hong Kong's most famous shopping hub with a high-profile advertising campaign, unashamedly targeting the creme de la creme of Hong Kong society, and posing the question: 'Are you CENTRAL?'
Hongkong Land chief executive Y.K. Pang said: 'The concept is to make Central as a district a key buzzword for a world-class lifestyle where leading fashions and businesses meet.'
The Landmark, Prince's Building and Alexandra House were refurbished and modernised in an 'open, elegant and contemporary' style.
Replacing the old Swire House, Chater House celebrated its swanky new look by welcoming the world's first Armani Concept store outside Milan.
To the relief of perspiring pedestrians, walkways connecting the various units in the portfolio were extended, creating a blissful air-conditioned stroll all the way from Chater House and the Mandarin Oriental to almost the bottom of Lan Kwai Fong.
'It now accommodates some of the heaviest pedestrian traffic in Central,' Mr Pang said.
Valet parking was introduced at new driveway drop-off points, and new multilingual concierge desks are the first non-hotel concierges to become members of the prestigious Golden Keys or 'Les Clefs d'Or' organisation.
Prestigious new tenants were clearly impressed, underlined by the arrival of the first Harvey Nichols department store in Asia and regional flagship stores of Dior, Celine and Fendi joining more than 250 brand-name tenants.
Also in the glamorous new mix came the boutique-style Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel, Asia's largest organic food store ThreeSixty, and the Michelin-star restaurants L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Zuma.
'Brand CENTRAL is truly unique,' Mr Pang said.
'It speaks to those 'in the know' with the latest news in business, fashion, arts and entertainment on a global front.
'The world's leading multinational corporations and luxury retailers are largely concentrated in the district and we promote the destination as being synonymous with a world-class lifestyle.'
Mr Pang said CENTRAL was a place where major financial investment decisions were made, where individuals could lunch at the latest Michelin-star restaurant, shop for their organic groceries after work, purchase the latest designer bag, be seen at the latest luxury brand opening, enjoy beautiful arts and cultural exhibitions, and relax with a cocktail at the end of the night in trendy surroundings.
'CENTRAL is now recognised to be on par with renowned world-class areas such as Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, 5th Avenue in New York and the Champs-Elysees in Paris,' Mr Pang said.
CENTRAL has not only attracted high-end retail tenants, but also a slew of Asia headquarters of top financial and legal institutions to the upper office floors.
'By elevating CENTRAL's prestige to a world-class centre, we have attracted both international corporations and high-end luxury retailers who expect world-class standards,' Mr Pang said.
Supporting the branding are promotions such as the recently launched 'Weddings in CENTRAL' guide, pointing the public to outlets representing a 'one-stop shop for wedding needs'.
Workshops, such as watchmaking tutorials by leading watch brands, are also organised by Hongkong Land and tenants for the benefit of shoppers, who can learn while they buy.
A calendar of performances, events and cultural exhibitions, most recently nine Salvador Dali sculptures, adds to the entertainment value.
'These reaffirm CENTRAL as a key recreational district, as well as a business, shopping and dining destination,' Mr Pang said.
Ultimately, the branding initiative has strengthened the portfolio's image and marketability, 'elevating CENTRAL as 'the' place to work, shop, dine and play'.