Shopping Centre caught up with Helen Green, associate director at the Merrion Centre, Leeds, to find out about their marketing strategy.
What evidence is there to show the Merrion has improved its marketing strategy in the past few years?
Over the past two years, leading property developer and car park operator, Town Centre Securities (TCS), has invested in the expansion of its marketing function to allow all online and offline activity to be managed in-house.
We established a new strategy for the department across our marketing channels, which included a revision of tenant communications, consumer facing digital platforms and events across our extensive portfolio, including our largest retail asset, the Merrion Centre (a +1m sq ft mixed use scheme).
Since implementation, the Merrion Centre has seen success, witnessing record levels of footfall (11.6m internal visitors in 2017) and fulfilling its long standing place as a key shopping, eating and leisure destination in Leeds. More than 3.5m people visited the Merrion Centre in the last three months of 2017, an increase of 65,000 shoppers from the same period the previous year.
Across the business, it is recognised that TCS’s marketing function plays an increasingly vital role in helping the business to communicate with all its stakeholders and drive footfall to the centre.
Which areas does Merrion focus on when it comes to the marketing budget and why?
At the Merrion Centre, we want the whole consumer journey to reflect an element of ‘exceeding expectation’. From an initial browse of our website, to engaging with a social media post, to experiencing a physical visit, as Leeds’s longest standing shopping centre, we aim to surprise with what we offer and how it is marketed.
When it comes to utilising and making the most of a marketing budget, it’s beneficial to draw on the more established and longstanding relationships we have. TCS and our various brands are extremely invested in the local community, regularly attending networking events, alongside supporting local charities and community groups. This work has enabled us to maximise our budgets, but still deliver a high standard across our portfolio of assets. For example, for Christmas 2017 we utilised our close relationship with Autism Angles in order to host an Autistic friendly Santa’s Grotto, which saw over 3500 excited children visit the centre.
Digital communication is key when it comes to budget allocation, and TCS drives excitement and interest in our events through Merrion Centre’s social media channels. We allocate a considerable amount of our marketing budget to social advertising; it’s important we get the targeting right as the centre attracts a diverse audience due to the mix of higher-end and value retailers. We also invest time in creating messaging for these audiences before we even begin considering putting adverts live.
In 2017 we refreshed our social media strategy, which included the implementation of a new tone of voice and content strategy. To date, we have seen a growth in followers of over 40% on Twitter and over 200% on Facebook, with the Merrion Centre rising to sit within the top five shopping centres within Leeds for social media activity.
A key tenet of our marketing strategy has been an update of the Merrion Centre’s website, with the result being record traffic and extended dwell time, with a new look and feel that reflects its diverse retail and leisure offering, supports tenants and gives users an easier experience when navigating on mobile platforms.
Why does the Merrion focus on certain types of events/marketing activity?
Due to our unique location within the increasingly popular Arena Quarter, which encompasses the First Direct Arena and some of Leeds’s core business, student and retail districts, we can mix our marketing activity for different audiences and significant times of the year. This keeps the centre’s offer fresh and exciting.
At the Merrion Centre we have always been extremely active when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Our dedicated head of CSR, Charlotte-Daisy Ziff, works closely with our charity partners to help support local charities.
As a proud Yorkshireman, our chairman and chief executive, Edward Ziff OBE, has a vested interest in the region and its community and is an active ambassador for the business and the charities and initiatives we support. For example, we have recently supported Child-Friendly Leeds to help ensure that children from all backgrounds have access to great experiences. This has been and will always be an important aspect of TCS’s marketing function and budget allocation.
What has worked the best for the Merrion in the past in terms of allocating budget?
Our challenge has always been to maximise key seasonal periods, such as Christmas and Easter, using larger portions of the budget, but also to utilise smaller portions of the budget for equally engaging and high-standard events. We have utilised our strong links in the community to host free glitter stations for the city’s Pride event and welcomed young singing talent to co-ordinate with the MOBO Awards that took place in Leeds. The MOBO’s event at the centre secured coverage on BBC Look North’s evening show – great standout for our tenants created through a modest budget.
What does the Merrion prioritise in terms of the marketing budget?
In terms of prioritising our marketing budget, a huge focus for us is our tenants; we want to offer them opportunities to spread the word about their products and services.
Consequently, we invest in public relations for them, distributing news stories to the media in order to get them coverage in the region’s most read newspapers and magazines. Also, we invest in internal communications, for example we have a weekly Merrion Mailer which we share with tenants and includes current news, promotional opportunities for them and what’s coming up in the centre.
Secondly, we put huge emphasis on our consumers. Our aim is that visitors to the Merrion Centre have fun and leave with their expectations exceeded. Therefore, we focus a lot of our marketing budget on hosting events which we know our audience will love and enjoy.
Our events within the Merrion Centre have been dramatically readdressed, a key part of which has been the introduction of an annual ‘launch of Christmas event’ (the first in the centre’s 54 year history). The event saw Leeds Rhino’s, Stevie Ward, Jamie Jones Buchanan and Cameron Smith as well as a number of first team players from Leeds United’s Championship squad, and children TV favourites Ben and Holly, join thousands of consumers to welcome the festive season. This event was the biggest Christmas countdown to date for the centre, and resulted in a record 14,000 people visiting over the festive period.
Other popular events have included inviting significant, popular public figures to the centre. These figures have been aimed at our varying audiences, for example bespoke student events which featured Love Island TV star, Kem and children focused events with ITV’s Mr Bloom, and Peter Rabbit who visited the shopping mall to read stories to thousands of excited children.