Monday, 28 October 2013


In the heady world of management self-improvement books, or the sort Daniel Pink writes, the theory of trying to “achieve 110% performance, of exceeding customer expectation and not just pleasing but delighting customers” is rife.

Occasionally when you are shopping you encounter recently coached behaviour from retailers that is so exceedingly welcoming you wonder if the shop assistant may not have taken a sudden libidinous fancy to you. It can be very alarming to be the victim of “customer delight”.

The Creative Director of Noggin who coach major companies in customer service, amongst other things, recently had a strange encounter at a workshop. He was advocating the power of building customer relationships when a young man on the workshop said:

I can’t see the point of all this.
I imagine there was the sort of silence when someone says something like “Hitler wasn’t all bad” or “climate change is actually a myth” or “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Heresy is hard to take. Had this character been feline he’d have looked like this:

Apparently he went on:
I work for an events company and I recommend locations. If it’s one a customer wants, can afford and the availability is OK he books it and I move on…he has no interest in my personality or anything else. He’s got what he wanted: job done.

Despite persuasive debate he was immovable. His view was that you present the deal, close it and move on. All this going that extra mile was a daft as Mo running an extra lap or driving your team hard when they are 3-0 up and the game’s almost over. He was a creature of online shopping rather than shopping at Selfridges.

I was reminded of actor Simon Callow’s story about reading a bedtime story to his God children. He described pulling out all the stops with dramatic voices. His God daughter tugged at his sleeve and whispered “do it simpler.

Good for her. Nearly always less is more. But not when it comes to manners, human feelings and brand building. The Apple store is about much more than naked transactions as is Nike Town as is the new Lego store in Brighton.

Not everything is a click away from a sale.

I recently heard a Chairman of an advertising agency lamenting the universal use of text or e-mail to communicate with clients. When you are going to be late or more expensive than you’d thought or you’ve mucked up then a face to face meeting or a telephone conversation might do the trick. An e-mail usually does just the reverse.

The issue is not whether you are going the extra mile.
It’s whether you’ve actually completed that mile race in the first place.

Monday, 21 October 2013


One of the smartest men ever to work in advertising was Bill Bernbach. He said that the admission of a small fault would gain you trust that you were a truthful sort of person. Bill was praising the loophole, or rather the need to admit it and the benefit from doing so.

Truth of course is much in the news right now – the Police, Orchid View Care Home and the KPMG HS2 report on the zero sum effect of the project…apparently its loophole is it’ll damage the economy of places to which it isn’t going.

Today when everyone is counselled to whistleblow it’s disappointing that Lisa Martin who called in the police to Orchid View exposing a horror story has been unable to get a job since.

And if you want to succeed as a policeman watch other colleagues’ backs, smooth over the loopholes and play for the team. I’m not defending the Plebgate guilty, merely observing that they acted, all of them, true to their collegiate and Freemasonish culture.  Imagine a premier league striker stopping a game to confide in the referee that a team member had “dived deliberately” in the penalty area.

The likely consequence, I imagine, would be the whistleblowing footballer would be sent off by the irate referee, fired by his club and beaten up by his agent.

Truth, as Pontius Pilate discovered, is tricky stuff.

And again as we saw in the hostile interrogation of the HS2 CEO, Alison Munro by Gavin Esler regarding the failure to broadcast all the data in this recent report.

What the appalling Esler did is switch me (and I suspect others) from sceptic about HS2 to fervent supporter on the basis that if he can be so horrid he must be against it for bad reasons.

The perception of truth is about its presentation as well as facts.

In my imagination I see Esler interviewing Asa Briggs Candler, the marketing genius at the birth of today’s number two brand, Coca-Cola:

So does it contain traces of the banned substance cocaine?…do you refuse to answer?....Well what are the ingredients?...What do mean it’s secret?. …why are you hiding the truth?...and does it dissolve human teeth if they are left to soak in it for 24 hours?...come on answer…you will be judged by your silence.”

Coke is a winner and you Mr Esler will be judged by your manners.

Life is not neat and tidy. It is not a thing of perfection. There are loopholes.  And the desire to have a cut and dried, cast iron, irrefutable story is going to lead to being economical with the truth.

Remember what Bill Bernbach said and disarm your opponent with a small admission and keep smiling. On balance you’ll win more victories that way.

Monday, 14 October 2013


I keep on meeting ex colleagues and so-called marketing experts who rather like defrocked priests seem to want to confess they’ve lost the faith. They look at me with embarrassment and confusion on their faces and say “it’s all bollocks isn’t it, isn’t it?”

A career in advertising and brand management and they’ve lost their belief, all those years in brand prayer and suddenly they’ve become marketing atheists. But of course it’s always been all right to have doubts especially when the language of marketing has been purloined by non-marketeers and especially the media.
Anyone would be confused to hear people talk about the UKIP brand or brand Russia or the Linda Barker brand – she used to talk about herself as LB  not as a person at all, an image, a brand  – for heaven’s sake – an icon.

This week I happened, in the interests of curiosity rather than penury, to visit Poundland and Lidl. Both are doing brilliantly right now and deservedly. They’re great value and they have brilliantly clear positioning. “We are cheap” they say and they are.

 But in either you learn the value and reason for brands, those products with the swagger of superiority like Innocent or Apple or Dom Perignon. There is, of course, no problem with these stores or Aldi which increasingly cater for the Waitrose shoppers in us when we awaken lean, hungry and overdrawn. Our left brain guides us to smoked salmon, napkins, ketchup and chocolate which is just fine and does the job. Eat it and your self-esteem, health and complexion will not suffer.

But there’s more to life than crisps from Estonia at £1.09 rather than £2.50 from a start up in Stoke Poges where the owner has dreams about potatoes and would kill you if you teased him or her.

Earlier in the week I was in Selfridges trying to get my Mont Blanc pencil mended. To my horror I see it’s more than doubled in price from the ridiculous £130 it cost a few years ago. I’m told it cannot be mended here but has to be sent to Germany where it will be assessed and a quotation phoned to me. This whole diagnosis, estimate and complex restoration process (should I care to comply) will take four weeks.

 This is contemptuous luxury brand marketing at its best. But despite myself I can’t resort to a W.H. Smith pencil or a Bic….despite myself I love my Mont Blanc in the way others love their iPhones.
The real truth about marketing and the creation of brands is they cost more because they are better and, more importantly, although they are not that much better, they have a better story to tell about why, how, where and when they are crafted.

Most marketeers have their focus wrong. They need to worry a lot more about the quality of their product than their marketing.

But they also need to remember that in shops like Lidl, brilliant as they are, there are no stories, there’s just stuff.

Monday, 7 October 2013


I came back from what turned out to be a slightly longer summer break than I’d intended feeling genial. Genial is an old fashioned sort of pork pie, pint and pickles word – genial is not about being pleased with oneself but it’s having that feeling  of viewing  life in a calm, tolerant and good-natured way.

Even the news about the economy was better and the long term forecasters, genially in praise of population growth, suggest that going as things are we’ll be the no. 2 economy in Europe soon and even possibly overtake Germany by the middle of the century.

So what’s not to smile about?

Quite a lot apparently if you are a member of the far right anti-Europe Tory brigade, the Tea Party in America or the Golden Dawn in Greece (notice how I’ve willy-nilly thrown together these unhappy bed fellows into the grumpy sleeping bag.)

This right wing crowd are characterised by extreme bad manners, a refusal to play by the rules and a strong sense of self-righteousness. Most of all they won’t take no or even yes for an answer – they all have to have the last word. So you might say they are behaving in quite a childish way.

This makes me speculate that Mr Cool - Barack Obama – who is calmly saying “no” at present, probably wishes he lived in Greece because what he’d do then is lock the Tea Party up, ban them and pretend they didn’t exist.

Is he lacking in leadership? Well he isn’t a Thatcher or a Churchill or a George Bush for sure. But all of them were actually pretty unpopular from time to time in their day.

It’s been argued that the absence of leadership – so widely lamented – is partly due to a failure of “followship”. We, the electorate, have become unherdable cats or horses (if you prefer) who, when it comes the crunch, won’t drink.

And modern media adds to the trouble because wrong and right both demand and get equal billing, so it’s really difficult to keep focused on principle and stay calmly on the track you promised.

Especially as Armageddon beckons.

And finally Luke Johnson – who created Pizza Express and writes insightfully on management has lambasted the far from genial Lord Sugar and the crowd on Dragon’s Den. Their behaviour is inhibiting a new generation of entrepreneurs because witnessing the witless and greedy being torn to shreds by the cruel and rude is not what they want from their lives.

It seems to me a bit of geniality all round might not go amiss. I’m not going to align with the band War’s song “why can’t we be friends?” but it really seems endless playground confrontation is becoming  tiresome and unproductive.

So there.