Thursday, 9 December 2010

HMV – How Much Value?

News is out that HMV is on the rocks. The share price fell a massive 29% in one day after the group reported like for like sales for the first half of the year fell 11%.

To add to this, HMV is already whining about the cold weather likely to hamper their Christmas sales. This is the key period of the year for any retailer and it looks like shareholders shouldn’t expect any better for the future.

I have to say that I am not very surprised. For a long time I have been talking about how little is being done by the traditional music stores to adapt to the changing market. As long ago as 2007, I guest blogged on David Taylor’s brandgym site about Zavvi , and most of you will remember them going into administration in December 2008.

I blogged that when they took over from Virgin, they just changed the name and nothing else with what I like to call “a hope and pray” strategy. Why did they think Richard Branson was divesting the business? In my opinion because he knew when to get out of a declining business (music and DVDs purchased in store).

HMV are of course now suffering the full force of this declining business and are finally addressing it by changing into a broad based entertainment group, diversifying into live music and events as well as clothing (not sure about this one). But it is all a little too late for me. In addition, they are not addressing their core business: purchasing in store.

A couple of years ago they could have participated in the revolution for delivery of books and music. With such a hugely well known and well respected brand name, they could have shaped the market.

First, they should have been a leader online but they have been trounced by newcomers such as and the might of apple’s itunes. They have only recently relaunched their own digital platform.

And they have done nothing to fill the gap that internet just can’t do as well as in store: experience.

Where are the interactive pods that let me search online for music and then let me download straight on to my mp3 player? Where is the jukebox where I type in names of bands I like and proposes me ones I might like, Where are the pods to play new xbox and wii games so I can try and then buy. Where is the experiential pop ups outside their own stores to get people to interact with their products, sign up or maybe some into the store to see what else there is. If you can get people into your store then they might actually buy.

There are loads of teenagers hanging around town centres with nothing better to do. HMV could have been a mecca for music lovers with events and trials.

But no, they stack CDs and DVDs in rows and you can browse and then pay. Whoppee do.

HMV you have got to invest and catch up quick or you’ll be left with a nostalgic brand name and not much else.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Monkey or Northern Folk?

The Tetley Folk are back on our screens after an absence of 8 years. Remember Gaffer, Sydney, Archie and Clarence? They featured in Tetley Tea ads for some 22 years before their disappearance, friendly Northern folk promoting 2000 perforations.

Well they’re back in an advert currently running. They are awakened by a drop of the famous tea spilt by a hapless intern in an office (not quite sure about that bit of the story).

In any case Tetley have been steadily losing market share to Unilever’s PG Tips. That’s the ad with the monkey and Johnny Vegas. Very creative ads from both sides, clearly the meerkat is getting the agencies on the animal trend again.

Of course PG Tips had the chimps for many years, so this brand is no stranger to using acting animals even if the latest actor is a stuffed one (must be a hellava lot easier to work with).

So are you swayed by the northern folk or the monkey?

Or are you only interested in a good cup of tea?

It’s an interesting study of product v brand. Of course in such a competitive environment, and dealing with a commodity product such as tea, it is very important to create some differentiation. Nothing wrong with a bit of emotional branding to keep awareness high.

I think it’s a great idea for Tetley to remember what they are about, brands are too quick to throw away great ideas because the marketing team feel like a change (see my blog post on M&S). Remember what makes your famous is mantra from David Taylor (see his excellent blog).

However, in this war of the clever ads, the PG Tips team and the Tetley team mustn’t forget that, for a lot of people, tea is all about the taste. Innovation is key. When triangular tea bags were introduced this was a stroke of genius, allowing the tea to diffuse better in the water.

Consumers are more likely to switch brands for the promise of a better taste, rather than because they have a penchant for cartoon characters.

So the spin is great but let’s not forget that product differentiation and innovation must also be high on the marketer’s list.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Two rules to disappointment your customer

It’s not easy to get good customer service. Goodness knows, most of us would be shocked to find it.

I am fully expecting to queue for ages at the bank, I am fully expecting to have my phone query re-routed 5 times, I don’t flinch when shop assistants look down on me.

Our expectations as customers are really quite low so this actually leaves bags of opportunity for a brand to do better than average and really shine. On the flip side I have one rule for you to be sure to follow if you are really looking to disappoint your customer.

Rule One: “Over promise”.

I recently sent my iphone for repair. The screen was smashed, I didn’t even drop it but all iphone owners will know how sensitive the little blighters are. Not having taken out apple’s extortionate insurance, I decided to send it to They looked quite reputable, had done a really good job on their web site. Lots of reassurance I was in the right place.

More importantly they offer a 24 hour repair process. Pretty important when your phone is integral to your business. It’s the main part of their proposition.

So of course you can guess that it is still there 7 days later.

They have quite a good email alert process that lets you know the different stages that the phone is going through. So I had the alert that they had received the order and then another for reception of the parcel but nothing since.

So to be really sure to disappoint your customer further and potentially they make sure they tell everyone about it is to then follow the second rule to ensure extreme disappoint which is

Rule Two: “under communicate”.

In other words, don’t bother telling your customer what is going on. Don’t explain under any circumstances what’s gone wrong in the process, just hunker down and hope it will all go away.

Another good example of this rule in practice is demonstrated by most airlines. They pride themselves on never letting their customers know that the flight will be late and by how long.

So you see how it works?

1) Over promise
2) Under communicate

If on the other hand you want to make your business shine and stand out from the crowd, gaining valuable referrals & recommendations, creating a new customer base and saving you marketing money:

1) Underpromise and excel by doing better
Such as how vistaprint tell you it will take 21 days to send you their business cards but they always seem to arrive in less than 10 days

2) Communicate regularly

If by any chance there is a problem with an order or you’re late replying to a client, let them know. Send a little note and you will be surprised how much people appreciate it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Getting personal in Le Touquet?

There are more than 7000 chambres d’hôte in France and I have just got back from one in the very swish seaside town of Le Touquet in Northern France. It’s less than an hour from Calais and boasts expansive sandy beaches as well as being a destination for well-to-do Parisians on a weekend break.

What a great idea the chambre d’hôte is! It’s a personal service in a way that a hotel can never be. Rooms tend to be different from the standard box we can expect from a hotel, more like a home. You can get local advice on what to do and where to go without visiting an intimidating tourist office with its line of leaflets and fierce looking ladies behind the counter.

There is the opportunity to cater for families. Your standard hotel rooms tend to cram 2 extra singles into a twin room to make a so-called family room and that’s if they offer it all. Despite a family of 5 being commonplace in France you can forget it the larger family at a hotel.

Breakfast is included and is often copious. We had to go to the local restaurant that our owners also ran which wasn’t terribly convenient but certainly good quality. Our lovely host also sent us away with a terrine de lapin (rabbit terrine) and 4 strawberry cakes that he had spotted my daughter eyeing up.

So what is the message? Personal touch, convenience, good information, offering something difficult to get elsewhere and going the extra mile. Sounds like a good recipe for a brand.

We stayed at le Clos des Chenes

Monday, 9 August 2010

Tiger teaches us that it’s all in the head

Tiger Woods has just completed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at 18 over par, his worst performance as a professional. I bet he was doing better when only 4 foot high. 1I have very little sympathy for Tiger Woods but I do think his precipitous fall in competitive ability, in less than a year, teaches us something very interesting.

Lots have been written about the PR side of his fall from grace, and a equal amount of lines about how the media and fans have reacted to it. However what I find interesting is that it shows just how much his ability to be an outstanding golfer is all in his head.

He can’t just lose the ability to hit a golf ball into a small hole overnight, can he? Just as you or me don’t just suddenly lose the ability to ride a bike or play a decent game of tennis. Not unless there is some physical reason.

The reason why Tiger played so badly this week was because mentally he is a broken man and this has a direct impact on his ability to hit a ball with a club. Tiger says "I need to hit the ball better, I need to chip better, I need to putt better. It has been a long year."

This is a great illustration of the fact that in sport, as in our everyday lives, we are very much governed by how we feel, what mood we are in, by the interactions we have with other people in our day and how positive we feel about those. We are emotional beings and we may think that if we have learnt it, we can play golf to the same standard every day but this is not true.

When it comes to making decisions about a purchase, it is exactly the same. We are not robots, we don’t make purchases in a logical way (we like to think we do), we EXPERIENCE them.

We make a lot of decisions based on how we feel about the product we are evaluating. We weigh it up on attributes but also on how it is presented, how we are treated when enquiring about it, how much we might value the brand and what it represents.

If the girl at the counter has a miserable face, it matters. If the web site makes buying easy and seems friendly, I might buy something extra. We take it all in and make a judgement. Faced with a very similar product but a better environment or a better member of staff we will go with the one we like.

It’s the heart that rules and not the head. Tiger has lost his heart and that is what is making him only average.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Toyota Swagger Wagon

As Tony Hayward departs BP and the oil spill might finally be plugged, it looks like the media will have to find some a new brand to bash. Toyota, for one, must have been relieved when their turn was over and BP took over the lime light. A global recall of 9.4 million Toyotas due to unintended acceleration is certainly top of the hit list of PR disasters for the year, along with golfer’s hero Tiger Woods.

"All the Toyota vehicles bear my name," Mr. Toyoda repeatedly lamented at the time, except someone in the marketing department seemed to have misspelled it a long time ago and never fixed it.

As an aside, a forth brand is also in trouble today. Ferrari, another automotive heavyweight appears to think that it is far too big and important to follow the rules. Currently they are attempting to convince us that it did not fix the latest Grand Prix race by ordering Massa to give way to Alonso. Shame on you Ferrari, I don’t believe a word of it and I bet most of your customers don’t either. Trust issues anyone?

Anyway, back to Toyota. What do you do when your brand is in tatters?

Rebuild it slowly but surely, concentrating on the products would be my answer.

Get back to the roots and look at what makes the products great and start communicating on this. Stay well away from any fuzzy brand statements and make sure your customer service is exemplary. People are much more likely to evaluate your brand based on their actual experience and touch points than anything they see on the media. This includes positive and negative. Yes there is no denying that the negative is more difficult to shake off but nevertheless this rule still holds true.

Less people might walk into the showroom but if you make the experience fantastic for those that do, and show them real product benefit, then they will purchase, they will come back and they will tell their friends.

As well as this, I think having a bit of a laugh at yourself is always a good move when you have made a major gaffe. Which is one of the reasons why I think the video launched by Toyota in the US to promote its Sienna Minivan is so genius. The video currently has nearly 5 million views.

It is clever because it is engaging, funny, pokes a bit of fun at station wagon families that might drive the car but overall is very memorable.

Memorable for the right reasons which goes a small way to start re-building that lost brand equity. Not everybody will find it funny but it will certainly be talked about. It is already doing the rounds in the social media space and is in the top 5 videos in the US charts.

As part of the series there are other videos which also manage to display product features of the car like the smart Key or dual power sliding side doors. It reminds me a bit of the Clio adverts that poke gentle fun at the French heritage of the car and we know what a huge success the Clio has been.

Although profits are looking better for Toyota as they are expected to return to black for the April-June period (according to the Nikkei Daily), Toyota still has underlying issues that date back, even before the recall. Share of market in Europe is declining and the South Koreans are taking over. So there is still a lot of work to be done for Toyota to find their competitive edge again.

However in the meantime I am liking their style and not ashamed to admit that the Swagger Wagon looks pretty cool for a mum with 2 kids!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

O2 puts a limit on the unlimited

The news has broken that O2 are going to start limiting the data on our iphones, basically meaning that we have to start watching our emails, internet use and downloading using the iphone. Up til now, all iphone packages included “unlimited” data downloads (within reason) so we have all been happily checking our mails up and down the country, using our apps to find a cash point, and sharing our score in the latest game we are addicted to. I am loving it.

With 10 hours of calls (that I have never got close to) and unlimited texts, I loved the fact that I never have to think about my phone use. In a cluttered and difficult world where you should be switching your supplier for everything from energy to savings accounts every 5 minutes to get the best tariff, it was really soothing to never have to worry about the mobile.

I think O2 are a very clever company in so many ways but limiting data is such a bad idea because it goes against the wishes of the vast majority of their customers.

Having been a customer champion for many years, genuinely working on customer service and being the first to give existing customers deals just as good as for new customers, O2 have shown themselves to be in tune with people’s needs. More recently their ad for broadband, “Niggles and narks” clearly taking on board the general moan that you can’t get any decent customer service when it comes to broadband. Ads all designed to put O2 firmly on the side of the customer.

Then Ronan Dunne, O2’s chief exec announces in his blog that data will be limited for new contracts. Apparently 97% of us won’t be affected, only 0.1% of us are using data over the new limit.

Yes I will be affected, Ronan, because I now have to think before using my iphone. It spoils my enjoyment. It's like when I'm in France and I have to switch to "no data roaming". I feel a bit bereft.

He also claims that it is for our own good. Because why should we pay for that top % using a lot more than us? News for you, Ronan, currently I am not.

This is not a decision based on customer insight.

The reason that this decision has been made as far as I understand it and with the help of a very insightful article from the Guardian is that 0.1% of people are abusing the “no limit”….and the company can’t work out how else to stop them and / or make them pay.

This is sort of thing I would expect from Talktalk. Not the customer-loving O2 brand. I beg you to reconsider. Maybe Orange has a great opportunity to jump in with a message that they won’t charge for data? I would be up for switching.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Controversial ads or just plain funny?

So the World Cup is on its way and with it, lots of memorabilia and British flags. My local pub looks like it is geared up for the Queen’s coronation and a royal wedding all in one go. Half the nation (mostly male) is going to go loopy for a few weeks, I wonder if the release of Sex and the City 2 was deliberately timed in this way? Extra seats sold as women across the nation flee?

Anyway, happy days for most people while the world’s favourite game takes centre stage. However, on the flip side, rather worryingly, there are already stories circulating however that some people in public situations are being told not to fly the English flag and not to be too overt in their national pride. Most of these stories are unsubstantiated for the moment so I shall reserve any further comment; I just hope that people are going to be allowed to celebrate (or commiserate) in a normal way without being worried about who they might upset.

It was with this thought that I was relieved to hear that the ASA still have some sensible people working there – not taken over by such a level of political correctness that creativity is stifled. I like to think they have a sense of humour too and some of their recent decisions reflect this.

You see I really chuckled when I saw that ad for Homepride ovencleaner that claimed “even a man can do it”.

OK, so I am a woman and some men may feel differently but isn’t it just tongue in cheek? Can’t people see that? Well thankfully the ASA think so, despite being the 2nd most complained about advert in 2009, ASA did not hold up the complaint.

More recently a Burger King advert was also complained about by 52 people. The internet audio ad featured a conversation that began: "Oh officer don't give us a ticket, I was just getting some king lunch," with the officer replying: "I can see that and it looks king good."

Again the ASA did not uphold it. Come on – it’s a clever play on words, you take it how you want to.

So good on them for not stifling all last remnants of creativity as we standardise and legislate in every area, and good on them for letting brands have a go at some more interesting advertising so long as they stay true to the product's attributes and the reality of using them.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Will you remember me tomorrow?

Getting some cut through in the clutter of brands and advertising is a challenge for any company, small or big. The internet has created competition for local businesses where previously there may have been none. Our competition is now only a click away.

Even for individuals, who are consulting or freelancing, therefore selling their own expertise, competition is everywhere due to remote and virtual services. You can employ a PA, a marketing expert and a bookeeper virtually, the actual people don’t need to be by your side.

So getting some cut through is even more important than it ever was before. If you can find a way to be a bit different this may go some way in a highly competitive environment. There are plenty of ways to do this and one of these is to be memorable. I wanted to share with you a site I came across for a Lawson Clarke which is highly memorable. He is an advertising copywriter.

Advertising is a creative sector in itself so you really need to be clever to get cut through in this area. Believe me – you won’t forget Lawson if you have seen his web site.

He decided to pose naked on his home page as a parody of the famous 70’s photo from the Cosmoplitan magazine where Burt Reynolds lay naked on an animal skin rug. Don’t worry his modesty is protected by the TV!

The site is then a very simple and easy to navigate portfolio of his work. Take a look at his “contact” section. I believe that it is the simplicity that makes it work as much as the creative idea.

Finally it is also a success because he has considered his sector and his audience. You shouldn’t be creating a grey linear site when you are marketing yourself as an advertising exec. Having said this, standard communication and drab design is not going to be memorable for B to B, financial services or other more traditional sectors either.

So even if you don’t fancy posing nude on your site home page, let’s dare to be a bit different, let’s look at an idea that is not quite as safe as usual and give it a try.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Getting the basics right

I always have my eye on the French news and I spotted a report from on what French customers are looking for from a branded site. I don’t think the French are any different from us when it comes to web surfing so we could probably apply it to the UK as well.

The results on the surface are may seem a touch obvious.

78% of people go to a brand’s site for information on the products and services
54% for the online store
44% to find a nearby outlet
38% for help on how to use the product / service
37% for customer benefits
31% for contact with customer services
30% for information on the brand
10% for games / competitions
9% for advertising
7% to interact with other customers
(several responses are possible)

However, I think in reality this is quite interesting. This survey screams to brand owners that the web experience is first and foremost about information and assistance.

Customers want and expect to find clear information about your products and services . We can wax lyrical about social media and it certainly has its role to play for brands but we must first get the basics right.

Information needs to be set out clearly with easy navigation. An easy-to-use accessible site will give the customer the reassurance that you know what you are doing. If your site is putting obstacles in the way, what does that say about the products or services you are selling and their potential to be outstanding?

A simple test would be to put some of your customers, or even a couple of friends in front of your web site and just watch what they do. It is sometimes hard for us marketers to realise which bits the customer will trip up on. Sometimes it is the most obvious. As I have said before, even the really big brands have some big usability issues making it hard to find simple pieces of information. During the volcanic ash episode, my favourite target the air travel sites, notable Jet2 and easyjet’s informations was extremely poor, confusing and contradictory.

For the next step, you could try setting your customers a couple of really easy tasks to find on your web site and see if they manage. Usability testing doesn’t always have to be hi-tech, this method is possible for any small business.

Make sure access to the customer service line is easy to find and welcoming. If this survey is true, a third of all customers are just looking for some kind of assistance. The customer service experience is a moment of truth, when the customer will make up their mind about your brand. A brand advocate can be created from a great experience, since so many are so poor! Take the opportunity to do it well!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

But have you already worked in the "widgets that go on the end of pencils" sector?

As you may have realised I am now a freelancer so I work in quite a few different industry sectors. The variety is one of the reasons I like the job. When I was an “employed” marketer I worked in lots of different sectors, television, sport, insurance, FMCG. I think this is brilliant (Ok so I am a bit biased) – but why does this not seem to be valued by employers?

Why is it, that in almost every job spec, prospective employers want someone with sector experience? Some push it to such an extreme that they seem to want someone who has done the job before and is willing to do it again with no career advancement in site e.g.. “Toy manufacturer seeks marketing manager with over 5 years marketing experience in toy manufacturing – must have management experience”.

In such tough economic times, I believe that innovation that can keep a company growing. There are always ways to grow profit and a challenging environment encourages us marketers to be inventive, either in process or product. So surely one of the ways to foster some inventive thinking is to get a good mix of expertise in the team? Mixing it up with people who have different experiences and can bring something new to the table.

While it may be tempting for stressed out employers to get new staff that can integrate quickly since they know the products and the sector, they may end up with a whole team of staff trained to think that things are done one way and only that way will work.

There is no denying that there a few cases when the network of contacts a person brings to a role has great value but it would just be nice to see some employers open their minds a bit. Imagine the value of bringing in a mobile marketer to an insurance company. Both very acquisition led businesses, but the mobile phone operators woke up to the need for retention far quicker than the insurance industry, so there is much to teach and trial. Imagine bringing FMCG techniques to the a professional services industry such as architects or solicitors? Now that would be interesting!

I would much rather teach new products and a new sector to a bright and motivated new recruit than attempt to teach a recruit with sector experience how to be bright and motivated.

So let’s hear it for a bit of diversity and fresh thinking from our employers.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Speedo Part 2

I wrote about Speedo only a month ago on how I was impressed that they had used real customer insight on women’s actual shapes to design a new range of swimwear.
Well I’m back this month on Speedo since the brand is unveiling a new pan-European campaign.

It will focus on personal relationships with swimmers, promoting Speedo as a brand that understands that every swimmer is different. So far so good. This ties in with a range that suits different types of bodies and suggests that the brand wants to reach all types of swimmers and bodies, not just those we traditionally associate with Speedo. That is to say the ultra sporty types who get a size smaller so that they can stretch their costume onto their bodies like an elastic band that is about to snap. You know – the type of costumes that for “normal” people, dig into your hips and make your legs look like jelly.

Then Speedo International Head of Marketing Communications Chris MacDonald goes on to say: “As the world’s leading swimwear brand, we understand the benefits that swimming for fitness and relaxation can bring. Our objective for this campaign is to engage with our consumers and explore their relationships with swimming. Speedo’s new brand campaign is striking, emotive and will prompt swimmers of all levels to talk about why they like to swim.”

Marketing speak anyone? “Engage with consumers”, “explore their relationships”, “talk about why they like to swim”. I am a practical marketer. That doesn’t mean I am not strategic but I like a brand to be straight forward in its promises to consumers and then deliver it flawlessly. I love lots of brands and still think they have a huge role to play in marketing, but when I hear this kind of speech, I groan because this type of statement gives us marketers a reputation for creating flowery concepts over long lunches.

What about the product Speedo? What are the costumes like? Why are they the best? Why should I trust your brand to get it right? Is your range super cool and fashionable? Or just really comfy? Or the best materials that make you go faster? Or the widest range, a costume to fit any shape or size?

Do you really care that my relationship with swimming is the following: I swim up and down my public pool to keep fit and I wear a costume occasionally on holiday.

Here’s an idea for you Speedo if you really want to engage with me as a customer – put money into cleaning up my public pool, the changing rooms are skanky. “Speedo cleans up public pools and makes swimming a better experience”. That will really please me. Oh and make a costume that looks good, fits well and keeps its elastic for a few months. Ta very much.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Are Marks & Spencers off their trolley?

I read with great surprise that Marks & Spencers have dropped their famous ads for food “it’s not just food it’s M&S food” or otherwise known as “food porn ads” because of the sexy portrayal of the food.

This campaign has been one of the most successful campaigns ever, not only winning awards but increasing sales significantly for the brand. Sales increased by 288% of the hot chocolate pudding after the ad and sales of panacotta increased by 1207%. And this is only for the individual products, the extra footfall of customers walking through the door to buy the chocolate pud must have had an effect on overall sales.

Aside from revenue success, I think that these ads marked a change in the M&S story, when it left behind the difficult years and turned towards the future.

Finally, the concept was just so clever, simply because it wasn’t trying to be clever. Just featuring good food, with great filming and using emotion to sell, instead of blinding consumer with a whole load of different messages about the multiple benefits of the product as us marketers love to do.

So why oh why on earth would you ditch this campaign? Yes it has been around for a few years but so as “have a break have a kit kit” but Nestle aren’t daft enough to throw it in the bin because the marketing staff are a bit bored with it.

Even worse, the new ads to replace them will aim to “concentrate on food quality, provenance and ethics.” Yawn yawn yawn. And the message will be “Just because”.

Just because what? Just because…the new marketing director wanted to make his mark? Just because… the new CEO is coming soon and we need to look innovative? Just because….we fancy a bit of change? Just because…ditching on of the most memorable and revenue generating campaigns in recent history seemed like a good idea in the pub the other day?

I think this is a classic case of marketers forgetting what makes a brand famous (see David Taylor and Brand Gym since this is one of his favourite subjects) and binning far too early the core of a campaign instead of updating it. Tragic.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Got your speedos on?

While there are some brands that are desperately trying to establish themselves and create some kind of meaning and story around their name, others are trying to actively shed an association with their brand. For example I am sure that Burberry would prefer not be linked to the “chav” side of life. And Toyota will be looking to shed their newly acquired image of poor quality and mass recalls.

But what does the brand Speedo suggest to you?

It’s certainly iconic, and almost a brand that defines a category in the way that Hoover or sellotape does. But although part of me has a little image of a bloke wearing something skimpy, there is also a bit of a “fuddy duddy” association around the edges.

Well, Laura Rattray, a designer from Speedo is trying to change that.

Unusually she is not in a headlong rush to make the brand youthful and hip again. Laura has put some real thought into the new Speedo range, studying her target audience and coming up with something that replies to a real need.

Although we are presented with a myriad of colours in swim suits every season, it seems that there is really only one basic style decided some time in the 50s. Would that be the one that makes your wobbly bits bulge out?

So, she worked with researchers at London’s Hammersmith hospital to scan the body images of 5400 “normal” women and found that most of us will fit into three shapes hourglass, pear-shaped and top-heavy. She then designed “made to measure”suits in these styles that are designed to fit and flatter today’s women.

I think this kind of innovative thinking shows that you can still innovate in a mature category if you are willing to think differently and think customer.

I am all for it. As a spokesman for Speedo reminds us - wearing a swimsuit is pretty close to getting naked so I am sure there would be some brand advocates created if Speedo managed to get us looking a little better and more confident at the local pool.

Thanks to the Daily Mail for the article and Alex Grier who brought it to my attention.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Beaches – which one exactly?

It’s snowing yet again outside and it is definitely the time of year to think about booking the big Summer holiday. Don’t be fooled by the recession, a large % of British people count the annual holiday as a necessity and not a luxury.

Although you still can’t beat a brochure and thousands of trees are destroyed per year just for my pile under the coffee table, a large amount of us will turn to the web to research if not to book our annual summer getaway.

I will say it directly now, I have never found a truly good travel web site. Not one. If you have one to bring to my attention – please do. From the large corporates of Thomson and Thomas Cook to the niche operator, they all work off a similar sort of database that can’t see to cope with a “normal” customer request such as “family room, somewhere with sun, no more than 4 hours of flight, all inclusive with a kids club please”.

You have to know the date you are going and which airport you are going from before you can get any choices. Now. I live in Peterborough so I can go from quite a few airports including most of the London ones, East midlands and Birmingham but the travel site will insist you choose first. At best they propose “all London”. And maybe I don’t know the date I want to go, maybe I just want one of the 6 weeks of school holiday and I’ll have the cheapest one please.

Anyway more specifically, for a luxury option, I tried the Beaches site. The family branch of the better known Sandals Resorts, this is “top of the range” stuff. So surely they have a good approach?

First up, they want exact dates and which airport in Jamaica I want to fly to before offering me hotels. Hang on a minute, isn’t it the hotel that dictates the airport? And then, I get the error message, “nothing for that date, give us a ring”.

No alternative, no suggestion, no results at all, never mind relevant ones, just a great contribution to the “how to annoy your customer best” guide which I am seriously considering writing.

So I tried the “hotel only” option and no soon as I get a price, another big usability “no no”, they want my full details and create a log in and password. Excuse me, I was trying to have a browse.

This is one of the biggest reasons for drop off of customers early on in a journey. Ask for their exact details too early on and they give up with the effort and the nosiness. However if you draw the customer into the site, offering them choice, changes of date, a cheaper price, a different airport, a different hotel that is £200 more but with a special facility you might like, you engage the customer and they gain in confidence and interest.

It is proven that customers need to feel in control and love flexibility. Not to be confused with complexity.

Anyway, the Beaches deluxe holiday was just a pipe dream so back to battling with the Going Places web site and the search for a box for four in Benidorm….

Friday, 5 February 2010


On the day when British Airways announces it is likely to make a record loss this financial year, it is always reassuring and really quite exciting to see new entrants into the airline market.

You might think that this would just about be the worst environment ever to launch an airline but a good idea is always a good idea , regardless of the economic climate. And if that idea is about offering a service that is luxury but cheaper, that is perfect for today’ world.

That’s why I am really liking the idea of Wijet, a French company that aims to make private jet travel more accessible. Laugh out loud you may - private jets when companies are cutting back to the bone? But actually this concept is quite clever and is based, I believe, on real customer insight.

There is apparently, a trend towards the day trip for businesses when top management would like to visit multi sites at a time and in a way that is convenient to them. Private jets provide more confidentiality and less of the formalities of the big airports. Imagine, the team can have a management meeting in the sky and visit 3 clients all in one day, saving one of the most valuable commodities of execs: time.

It’s not stupidly expensive either. According to Corentin Denoeud and Alexandre Azouley, the two start up’s founders, Wijet is less expensive for 25 European destinations, flying from Paris than the total of business class tickets, when 3 or 4 execs are flying.

The price is fixed at 2200 euros (£1900) per flying hour which compares to their rival Netjet who sells a 25 hour package for the modest sum of 110 000 euros (£95 800) which works out at 4720 euros (£4110) per flying hour.

Wijet flies from the small Parisian airport of Le Bourget, closer to the centre of Paris than the main airport of Roissy Charles de Gaulle.

Not content with offering business travel, Wijet are also aiming their service at day shoppers. Quick shoe trip to Milan anyone?

I think these guys are brave, innovative and have spotted a gap in the market. If their customer experience is top notch, and they can keep their cost base under control, they could do really well.

Friday, 29 January 2010

iPad – success or flop?

What a lot of buzz about the iSlate that turned out to be the iPad? It’s got the whole world talking about it so the Apple marketing machine is still on top form.

So is this all buzz and no substance? Or is the iPad set to be another roaring success?

I think part of us would like to see Apple make a mistake for once, maybe it’s the British way to pull down the giant and see the underdog take a slice, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this time. I predict a success.

There are some arguments that say the product has no real technical innovation. Probably true but I haven’t studied it enough to know. There is another argument that says if you have the iMac and you have the iPhone there is no real need for this product. Also probably true.

However, it looks great, it works like an iphone with all the ease of use that goes with it, and what’s more it’s priced very competitively. I think it will appeal to women and families.

This is not a product for gadget man that has everything already. This is not a product for that bloke who keeps going on about how the Nokia phone is superior (you know the one).

This is a product that will appeal to families where one laptop is always being fought over. This product will attract females who want to use it to communicate, look at photos and browse the web. And you can bet that it beats windows 7 hands down on touch screen ability.

Apple are great at communication. Looks to me like the iPad will be great for all forms of communication so I am voting “success”.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Is Starbucks chucking away its identity?

It’s been tough for the coffee shops in this past year of recession. You don’t need to be Einstein to realise that a £2.50 latte is one of the first things to go when tightening your belt.

However the biggest chain in the world Starbucks has posted better results than expected. In the U.S. home market, Via is cited as taking the credit for this.

What is Via I hear you ask? It’s instant coffee. Yes instant.

Isn’t this just defeating the whole object of Starbuck, making real coffee?

It’s one of those brand stretch ideas that just stretches the wrong way. It clashes with the brand identity. It might have contributed financially in the short term but I would advise concentrating on far better ideas that DO fit into the brand, such as packaged beans and new drinks such as bottled lattes Of course the company needs growth and this can’t just come from store openings but it’s got to be the right sort of growth and takes share of customer purse. If you are a real coffee lover, you’re not going to go for instant.

Another idea Starbuck has got for growth is the opening of a new concept store, the Coffee and Tea store. Thanks to trend hunter for this.

It’s supposed to be more individual, more local, more rustic sort of coffee house, stocking a range of coffee and teas that the mainstream stores can’t offer.

I have got mixed feelings about this. As a speciality coffee shop, Starbucks can’t exist on a large scale. It has to be standardised, not all staff can be passionate baristas and some types of specialty coffee can’t be provided to 15 000 stores. So I can see why an offshoot store might make sense to provide new products, test them out and attract a new customer segment that won’t go the big corporate store.

However I cringe when Starbucks describes the concept.

“Coffee & Tea offers customers new opportunities for discovery, a high level of interaction and a deep connection to the local community.”

Sorry – what?.

“Customers can participate in and enjoy musical performances and poetry readings; they can also bring in their favorite LPs to play on the sound system”

Can any one find an LP? Isn’t this a bit hippy nonsense?

“This coffeehouse design is …. eclectic and raw, featuring locally sourced and reused materials that are one-of-a-kind.”

Eclectic and raw? Pleeease.

“Materials sourced from existing Starbucks locations: floor and ceiling are original; bar top and doors were repurposed from the Seattle University Village store prior to its renovation; chairs were sourced from area Starbucks stores and refinished; and chalkboard frames were made using shipping pallets from the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle”

I actually do like this bit. Grabbing bits of old Starbucks and making them into the new store. One thing though that strikes me after reading all this: is it a Starbucks coffee shop, yes or no?

I think there is some brand confusion here. The stock market is demanding growth and of course Schultz needs to deliver. However the growth strategies need to be well thought out and should look at share of customer purse rather than store openings or new customers.

What things can we sell to the existing customers who are coming inside the door? Think of that massive footfall and how to make the most of that? What other products and services can a coffee shop sell? As well as the bottled take away drinks and beans as mentioned, what about gaming? Newspapers? Books?, Coffee courses?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Anyone heard of BOGOL?

By now most consumers are familiar with BOGOF, buy one get one free. It has been the most regular tool in the sales promotion bag for some years now. But this week, Tesco has announced that it is trialling a new scheme “Buy One Get One Free Later”, or as I have christened it – the BOGOL. So what is that about?

Well it seems to have come from a really good consumer insight, (as most of tesco’s ideas seem to). Some customers are interested in Tesco’s Bogofs but can’t use the produce before the sell by date. This is likely to be most common amongst smaller households.

What a neat little idea! According to Tesco, customers can pick up their free product the same day or the next week.

A – ha! So there is the crux of the clever idea. What better way to ensure that customers come back into your store the following week? Personally I flit between two supermarkets, just to vary the experience and for a touch of variety in the products.

No denying that Tesco have done a superb job in the loyalty arena with their club card but the BOGOL offer is better in some ways since I actually have to go in to the store. And who has ever heard of ANYONE going into the shop for ONE item and coming out with just ONE? Or is it just me that walks in without a basket and ends up juggling seven items like a demented clown?

When you consider the strong growth in a one person households as well as lone parent households, the insight becomes all the more powerful.

Oh and Tesco also claim they are helping us with our food waste reduction. Anybody smell greenwash?

Great idea Tesco but let’s not bother trying to pretend you are helping me reach my green target. It’s a great marketing / customer loyalty idea – be proud of it!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

KFC = Kan’t forget the customer?

KFC – I never eat it, haven’t been for over 10 years. But I do know what they are about. It’s clear, it’s in your face, it’s junk food in a bargain bucket. It tastes good and they don’t care. I love it.

I am already tired of all the TV programs, magazine articles and gym membership leaflets coming through the door. Just as silly season has ended, the mad diet season begins. We must be healthy, we must purge our Christmas sins, we must avoid sugar and fat and run around the park.

But one TV ad caught my eye. It followed the new DVD from the latest newly size 8 celeb, and it was for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or as it is now known KFC.

Chicken, fries, bakes beans, creamy coleslaw and wait for it, full fat coke for a special price. Why cook mum when you can give them what they want?

There must be about 5000 calories in one of those meals. OK I exaggerate, but not much. But KFC don’t care, they know that when people want junk food, that is what they want.

I have to admire this brand for sticking to their principles. While MacDonalds was promoting salads, and Pizza Hut was re-branding to a healthier Pasta Hut, KFC never once waivered from their proposition. Chicken junk food, Finger lickin good. And who can forget the Colonel, an integral part of the KFC brand identity since forever. You have got to hand it to them, they never bowed under the pressure, they just give the customers what they want.

However, new owner group Yum! have in my opinion, entirely missed the point by trialling grilled chicken in the US. What’s more they have reportedly spend over ¼ billion dollars pushing it, offering a free piece to every customer.

The franchisees in the US, who are clearly more in touch with their customers than their parent company, disagree so strongly that they are suing their own company. They believe the brand is losing its focus.

You might not agree with junk food advertising and like me, you may believe that UK has a very serious obesity issue but these fast food places are not the issue, we are, as a society. You also have to admit that the marketing team in charge of KFC have had the (chicken) balls to stick to the brand values thus far and I think they should be allowed to continue.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Cast your vote: British Airways or Ryanair as worst airline?

I can’t decide which air company I like less. They are both really trying their best to convince me that they are the worst air company in the world but the decision is really very difficult.

Hidden charges and seats like a slab of concrete or staff that look at you like they want to spit at you and try to ruin your holiday by striking? Mmmm….strong competition.

Airlines have already been in crisis for a few years now. Ever since Ryanair and Easyjet put the cat amongst the pigeons with an entirely new lean business model with low running costs and low fares, the older established companies have struggled. For a while, before the “Great Recession” BA seemed to have found a bit of a niche with business travel charging companies extortionate amounts of money to get horizontal on a plane. But then budget cuts came and profits plunged. BA had never really tackled their enormous cost base they have been carrying since the glory days.

With fresh strikes announced for February, looks like BA’s reputation with customers will plummet to new lows.

I travelled with BA this Christmas, it was efficient, it was on time, it was roomy but the staff are snotty nosed and condescending. They are actually lucky that they didn’t get lynched by us, the poor customers, who nearly missed out on spending Christmas with relatives abroad.

But the fact that the cabin crew would rather see the company go bankrupt than take a change in working conditions, that even their colleagues in Gatwick have accepted (and frankly on the face of it, I can’t see the problem?), begs a fundamental question to me.

The BA staff aren’t living the brand are they?

They clearly don’t feel part of the future of the company or even its present. The cabin crew are the face of the company. They are the front line, the people that we, as customers, deal with. We don’t meet the marketing department, we don’t see the pilot, we see a bit too much of Willie Walsh apologising on TV but we don’t know him, a large part of the way we view the company is based on the check in staff and cabin crew.

Whatever the master plan is, whatever changes are needed in the company, and whatever the final vision is, BA must start communicating it better to their frontline staff before us the customers. If the staff don’t believe then the customers won’t. Striking staff is totally disengaged staff who don’t give a stuff about the consequences.

Here’s a company that needs a huge internal marketing job. We talk a lot about external marketing but internal marketing in an organisation of this size and with significant changes to be made, is essential. If staff don’t understand the change, they won’t support it.

So back to Ryanair. So the seats are rubbish, the staff don’t care, Michael O’Leary doesn’t care, but it’s cheap. I can live with that, it’s refreshingly honest. Where it goes wrong for me, is then ruining that clear approach with hidden charges. Bag charges, credit card charges, mysterious “expenses” lumped in with airport tax and impossibility to check in children online which means an obligatory £8 charge to check in at a desk (each). If your proposition is basic but cheap you actually do need to be cheap. And you need to be honest about the prices. I’m not saying that Ryanair won’t still be a success because they have a monopoly on certain routes and if you want cheaper, you’ll choose them, but I think that the low cost proposition is a clear one and there is just no need to wind up your own customers.

So have you made your decision? I am still debating myself….