Branding, branded environments and brand identity are such a critical component to modern business. The more successful the branding, the more ingrained we are in a brand’s culture. After skimming the Games Workshop financials released earlier this week I came upon a statement that stuck with me. To Quote:

Warhammer branding

We have taken the decision in the year to rebrand our stores ‘Warhammer’. It is what our customers call us. This will be rolled out progressively, as and when we open new or refurbish our existing stores. At the year-end date we had 13 Warhammer branded stores.”

I suspect when most people think of branding, they first think of logos, iconography and advertising. We see the Golden Arches of McDonalds or the Swoosh of Nike or the Bulls-Eye of Target. We unintentionally ask for a Coke at a restaurant instead of a cola or a Kleenex instead of a tissue. We know that ‘Just Do it’ is Nike, or ‘Eat Fresh’ is Subway or “Think Different” is Apple.

Slightly hidden behind the logos, icons and slogans is to me the far more interesting component of in-store branding. In a previous life I was involved with retail branding and in my experience there were three primary reasons for re-branding a retail store, exclusive or new product line launches:

1) A retail chain introduces a new ‘banner’- A conventional grocery store creates a discount grocery chain. The wish to convey value messages without diminishing the brand of their conventional stores.

2) A retail chain procures another retailer and consolidates its brand- A chain purchases a competitor and converts the stores to the host ‘banner’, making for a more consistent brand and culture.

3) Retail Staleness- In the same way a product can expire, so to can logos, signage, decor and fixtures. Brand messages change and evolve and so to must the in-store experience in order to remain viable, relevant and refreshed.

There are certainly other reasons such as the aforementioned product launches and some that escape my mind altogether but I believe these represent the big three reasons.

Every major chain goes through refreshes every few years at some level be it departmental refreshes or store-wide remodels. In the case of Games Workshop I believe a refresh is long past overdue. It will look good to the investors and justifies capital expenditures in addition to the safety of marketing, design and construction roles that perhaps exist at Games Workshop’s head office.

However, I see errors.

The first is the inflation of the Games Workshop and Warhammer branding. Neither are household names. At best recognized by some, at worst completely unknown and somewhere in the middle is the “oh is that that little weird store at the mall”. This may be a global retailer, but it is not a global brand in the sense of everything from Apple to Pepsi to Tesco and The Home Depot.

Will renaming Games Workshops to Warhammer add any brand value or return on investment?

Firstly, I believe little to no brand value will be added. I am a huge fan of Games Workshop, their brand, their products and their intellectual property. However, as a niche industry with a small yet dedicated following, renaming their stores offer little value or increased identification or idealization.

The only obscure thought I have with regards to brand value, and this is a stretch, is the licensing side. There are a great deal of licensed products from Games Workshops ranging from the similarly niche board games and RPGs from companies like Fantasy Flight through to a plethora of video games and browser games available on all manner of platforms. So the question evolves. Will Games Workshop’s miniatures hobbyists add Warhammer video games to their leisure activities? Probably. However on the opposite side are video gamers as likely to embrace the miniature hobby? Possibly but not as likely. Again, the licensing thought is a stretch but the only idea that comes to mind; “Oh, I have some of their video games. I should buy Dark Vengeance and paints and brushes and scenery”.

The other part of this is determining whether a brand refresh is required?

To this I agree. While I do not believe re-branding their stores as Warhammer will add any value I wholeheartedly agree that their stores are in need of a refresh. I cannot recall visiting any store that looks drastically different than it did when I first visited their stores seemingly eons ago. Rebranding and relaunching as a grand opening alone will spike sales. In major retail chains, major remodels and grand openings can spike sales for months. However with that said, part of that is the new shiny stores and part of that comes from the brand of major retailers. Not to mention to bonus of someone such as myself not only getting excited for product, but also all the potential new shiny signage, decor and fixtures.

So with these thoughts in mind, I am only halfway sold on the re-brand. I believe the stores are in dire need of an overhaul. I am however not convinced that ‘Warhammer’ stores are the answer. I hope to be wrong, but feel that if there is a slim chance of this offering long-term benefits to Games Workshop, it must be absolute. That means they must stick with it. That means that Games Workshop must simply be the parent company with little to no reference outside of their internal corporate world. Further to that they need to eliminate the superfluous Citadel Brand altogether. After all once all is said and done if I was a new player entering a Warhammer Store and seeing reference to Games Workshop and Citadel I will be confused. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and Warhammer: 40,000 can be explained, but why this item comes in a white box that says Citadel cannot.

While always a fan of Games Workshop, I can say I have been impressed over the past twelve months with their clear effort at remaining viable, experimenting with change and adapting to their customer’s needs. They may be late to the party, but it looks like Games Workshop has at least started the journey to it!

As always, questions, concerns and feedback is always welcome.

Your humble narrator.

Mr. Kalidor