The future of high street chocolatier Thorntons looks a lot healthier after last week’s results saw it return to profit after a few years of cost cutting and strategy shifting. The company saw revenue rise by 1.8 per cent for its last year, reaching £221.1m.
The Drum spoke to Hannah Legg, brand and customer marketing director, about the brand strategy in recent years that has helped lead the turnaround of one of the UK’s most notable high street staples.
“We started out on a journey of revitalising our brand almost two years ago. At the time the brand had become a little bit tired and was lacking a little bit of relevancy all year round. We have a high degree of relevancy at Christmas and Easter but outside of key seasons we weren’t as relevant as we realised we could be with the brand,” explains Legg.
She explains that, when she took up her role in 2011, she was given three projects to focus on, the first being to articulate the brand positioning within the business and enable a future direction for the brand strategy.
“We came from a place where initially we lacked a bit clarity as a brand and so we did a lot of thinking around who we are and what makes us different and thanks to that there are three key aspects to our brand positions.”
Leggs adds that the brand is “really proud” of its positioning, which she describes as “mass premium,” that is different from major chocolate brands developed by Nestle or Cadbury.
“We have great quality products that are worth paying more for but are still very much affordable and accessible to all,” she states, before revealing that the plan was for Thornton’s to become ‘a gifting brand’, but one for all occasions, rather than simply at Christmas or Easter.
“We will focus on the seasons and planned gifting occasions while driving new investment into impulsive gifting, that aspect puts us in a unique position. We really focused on allowing our customers to communicate through chocolate.”
The improvement of the Thorntons' in-store experience will also be a focus in future.
“We have launched new merchandising techniques and on our commercial channel we are looking to build a good use of style for the brand and work with our trade partners on that,” she continues, explaining that work on consistency across marketing communications is also underway.
Thorntons' online proposition has been criticised in the past, although it is understood that the problems are not something the company does not recognise.
“Online, we had a disappointing year last year as our new website had technical issues but it is now operating as planned. We are at the moment undergoing quite a lot of work in terms of how we really engage with our customers on social media. We have heavily grown a fan base over the last two years to nearly 30,000 on Facebook compared to when I started in the role at 11,000 two years ago, so we have made good progress,” explains Legg who adds that the link between social and e-commerce, alongside general marketing will also be strengthened.
In reaction to the rare positivity that Thorntons is beginning to receive, proving that it is heading in the right direction, Legg states: “I’m now at the point where I am really quite proud at the stuff that we are doing. A year ago I could have spoken about this but it would have been quite theoretical but I wouldn’t have been able to show any results. It would have been about the internal thinking and strategising and research.”
With the doom and gloom that high street brands have faced, and with many staring into oblivion at some stage, it is refreshing to hear a tale of one that actually looks to be turning itself right around and facing towards the future, no matter how difficult that path may continue to be.