Habitat marketing boss optimistic for brand revival, revealing latest Voyeur campaign

Habitat has faced challenges over the past decade that would have been insurmountable for many brands. But, with the backing of Sainsbury’s, the furniture retailer’s marketing boss tells The Drum she’s hopeful for its continued revival as it plots a new ad campaign.

“Seven years ago the general perception was that Habitat had become overpriced and veered away from its original purpose of creating democratic, original design. The brand became perceived by customers and Habitat fans as unobtainable and this ultimately was part of the cause that led to its resulting administration,” Jocelyn Dowden, head of marketing at Habitat recently told The Drum.

Habitat entered administration in 2011 and was bought out by the Home Retail Group – which at the time owned Argos and Homebase – soon after. After prolonged closing sales, all but a handful of its stores disappeared from the high street and it was consigned to selling online and via concessions at some Argos and Homebase stores.

Since then, Habitat has taken its time to re-build its brand to tackle the ‘unattainable’ perception customers came to know it for, rethinking product design and pricing as well as overhauling its marketing to focus on what Dowden described as “distinctive campaigns that stand out from the average furniture retailer in the market – which is, self reflexively, what our design ethos has always been too.”

“Historically, there were a lot of challenges as it is such a well-loved brand but customers and fans of Habitat are curious to see what we’re doing now and we see a tremendous amount of good will in customers who genuinely want the brand to be part of their lives," she said.

“As we’ve become more confident in our product (in terms of pricing and design) we’ve been able to be more confident in our choice of media and approach, reaching wider audiences and changing perception as we do."

The second installment of the furniture retailer’s TV campaign, Habitat Voyeur, will be released next week (5 April). Developed by creative agency Portas, it runs with the idea that people cannot help but look into the homes of others.

Shot from the perspective of a voyeur, a woman is running around her home but the voyeur is not interested in what she is doing, but rather the sofa with the strapline ‘You can’t help but look’.

“The key objective for us is to build brand consideration and awareness to ensure that Habitat is top of mind for homeware shoppers,“ Dowden explained.

“Habitat has huge brand awareness and we know there is still untapped potential. We need to remind people how much they love the brand, that we’re still here and importantly now how they can access the brand and shop confidently online.”

Although claiming to have seen great success with the first wave of Habitat Voyeur activity, there is still some way to go for the brand, not least because of the sale of owner Home Retail Group to Sainsbury's last year.

That deal resulted in the spin off of Homebase and loss of some 70 Habitat concessions. So, despite total sales growing by 15% to £34.9m from £30.4m in 2015, Habitat was in the red, suffering a loss of £18m.

New owner Sainsbury’s has vowed its continued support to the brand's revival, committing to opening more Mini Habitat stores within its supermarkets. But there are battles still to be won with disrupters like Made.com having emerged into this 'affordable-luxury' space that will inevitably pose a threat to Habitat's growth.

“We had to evolve our stores and digital offering and its only in the last two years we’ve been really able to work on our identity – what the modern-day Habitat stands for and looks like,” admitted Dowden.

“These small format, touch point stores are really helping us evolve as a multi-channel brand meaning that customers can interact with product easily if they want to try out a sofa or a bed in their local area.”

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