Monday, October 04, 2010


If you grew up in or around any Southern city of size, the department store that first comes to mind is probably Belk. After all it’s been around since 1888.

As a kid, you shopped there with your parents or grandparents. When you grew up and you and your friends started to get married, you either registered at Belk or bought wedding gifts for someone at Belk. Even if you registered somewhere else, you still registered at Belk because, as my dad said, “That’s the only place the older ladies shop.”

And, as I learned on many occasions later in life, dad was right.

Belk has been more than a store to Southern shoppers. It’s been a retail neighbor that you felt comfortable with. As a loyal customer, you knew this was a brand you could trust.

In spite of the changes the chain has endured over the past several years (declining market conditions, increased competition and shopping alternatives, more crowded store pathways filled with items directed to impulse buys, less professional service personnel, inclusion of lower quality brands), we still trusted Belk because we saw that script logo with the oversized “B” on the front of the building and were at ease.
Now, after 43 years of building immeasurable brand equity among its customers, the third generation Belks who now operate the nation’s largest privately-held department store decided that this is the time to upset the applecart.

A new logo. A new tagline. A new color palate. $70 million to do it.

Refreshing your brand from time to time is understandable. It’s even necessary to keep yourself fresh.

Want to change the tagline? Sure. Everybody needs a new slogan every now and then. People change. Attitudes change. You want to do everything you can to keep yourself relatable with your current and potential customer base.

Need to change your color scheme? Yeah. It happens, but there’s usually a direct connection to the past palate and is done to denote a different member of the same product family (think

“Sprite” and the color reversal for “Diet Sprite” and “Sprite Zero.”).

Flat out changing the logo? Why? The current Belk logo has been around for 43 years. Despite the way the retail business has changed, 43 years is a long time to build up brand equity. Though on a much smaller scale, this is like when Coca-Cola changed its formula and gave soft drink buyers New Coke. Aside from the horrible new formula that drink makers said we’d love, the company ditched the Coca-Cola script logo in favor of Coke in big letters running up the side of the can.

Coke drinkers were up in arms over the changes, and I honestly don’t think Belk’s new logo will go over well with its customers, either. The difference is that with the massive $70 million investment by the Belks in this effort, there’s probably no undo.

It’s yet to be seen how Belk loyalists will react. How will they view Belk now? Will they still see Belk still a trusted friend and neighbor? Will they break those loyalties and be more inclined to shop around at competitors. I don’t know, but if my wife’s response to the new logo is any indication of how the company’s “modern customers” (as the news release called them) react, the reaction won't be good.

How much will Belk ultimately lose by fixing a logo and brand identity that wasn’t broken?

UPDATE (OCTOBER 12, 2010): After a significant investment by American retailer GAP and its announcement of a new logo only days after the Belk unveiling, due to a barrage of negative comments via social networking (specifically, comments on the company's Twitter and Facebook pages and pop-up sites urging people to create their own GAP logos), the company reversed its plans and will keep the old logo for the time being. As Britain's THE GUARDIAN reported, "Marka Hansen, president of the Gap brand in North America, conceded that the 'outpouring of comments' showed the company 'did not go about this in the right way.'" (THE GUARDIAN Story can be found here:

Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (

This op-ed may be reprinted/reposted in whole or in part upon written notification to



712 Knollwood Drive     Greenville, SC 29607-5219

Phone: 864/505-8866     Fax: 864/297-3871




Per the US Copyright Act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)

Copyright © 1999-2014 TMPR. All rights reserved.