The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Just Show You Give A Damn …

I hear so much about brand experience these days.

How the focus is to ‘remove the friction of purchase for the customer’.

That they genuinely believe this means they’re being valuable to their audiences.

And while that is rather misguided – given it is done to ultimately be in their own interests – if brands genuinely want to do right by their customers, then all they have to do is something their customers find valuable.

I’ve written a ton about this over the years.

From Timpson dry-cleaning suits/dresses for free if you have a job interview to the Co-op ensuring their food delivery staff make time to talk to lonely householders and almost everything in-between … but nothing made an impact on me like the experience I had with Texas Instruments.

Brand experience isn’t something you simply outsource to an ecosystem.

Sure, that can help improve overall efficiency or engagement … but in terms of offering an experience that helps people actually connect to the brand, then the brand has to do something that actually connects to the customer.

Something personal.

Something valuable. [To the customer, not just to themselves]

Something that demonstrates going out of normal practice.

Something like this.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

“But brands can’t do this sort of thing on an ongoing basis”.

And you’re probably right.

This sort of thing costs money.

But there’s two sides to this.

1. As H&M have shown with their free suit hire campaign, the return of acts like this can be significant both in terms of driving affinity and awareness.

2. If everything you do is based on the perceived ‘value exchange’ you’re making between brand and customer [which is always bollocks, because brands always over-estimate how much their actions are worth in the eyes of the people they’re dealing with] then you don’t really care about your audience, you only care up to a set amount of money and/or time.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate there are many aspects brands need to manage to keep their business going. But like companies who claim their staff are their greatest asset before treating them like shit, brands better know that they can’t say they care about their customers when they evaluate them purely by a financial transactional value.

It doesn’t mean you have to go crazy, but it does mean you have to actually give a shit about what they value not just what you want them to value.

Which is why I love the Marvel example so much.

Because they did it.

More than that, they did it and didn’t make a huge song and dance out of it.

No wonder they’re the home of the superhero.



It’s Not Hard To Make A Difference …

One thing that actually angered me throughout COVID was the attitude supermarkets adopted over the Christmas break.

Don’t get me wrong, they did an amazing job to ensure food supplies were maintained but they also did it because they were making incredible profits at the same time.

I’m cool with that.

I’m less cool with how some still lobbied for government benefits, made whole departments unemployed – looking at you Sainsbury’s – failed to use the Christmas period as a time to ‘give back’ to essential workers [ie: their own staff] and just ran bog-standard ads [even though they were generally pretty poor] … all the while claiming they were a version of ‘ one of us’.

Which is why this little gesture by the Co-op made an impression on me.

It’s very nice.

Not bombastic. Not chest beating. If anything, it’s almost silent.

But it’s impact for those suffering from isolation could be huge.

I really like this. Not just because it more needed than many think, but because I can imagine there are a lot of possible implications on their business should their customers take them up on it.

I have no idea how many customers Co-op delivers to each day, but if each customer just wanted a 5 minute chat, that means the subsequent deliveries will be 5 minutes late.

The more customers, the more deliveries get impacted in terms of time.

That can add up to something significant and potentially make other customers frustrated.

Maybe they’ve put on more delivery drivers to off-set this.

Maybe they’re only going to offer this for a limited time.

Maybe no one will actually take them up on any of this.

But even then, I can see a lot of reasons why a lot of companies would say no to this idea.

The cost.

The impact.

The potential for logistical nightmares.

Which is exactly why I think the Co-op have done something pretty great in doing it.

Because while words, money and countless bloody ‘purpose statements’ may make a company feel they’re doing valuable stuff for the community, its actual acts of action that proves to the community you actually care.

It’s not that hard to make a difference. If you actually want to make a difference.



Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



Showing You Care Is More Important Than Saying It …

Throughout COVID, we’ve been inundated by companies saying they care.

Banks.

Supermarkets.

Pharmaceutical companies.

At the beginning, it made sense … we were in a new reality and everyone was trying to work out what the fuck was going on, let alone what we should do.

But now, coming up to 6 months into this thing, we’re still seeing companies say the same thing.

We care.

We really, really care.

Honest, we really do care.

And frankly, it’s all becoming shit.

Because while we always suspected it was empty words, now they are proving it … because the fact of the matter is this is the time they need to put up.

To do stuff.

To actually show they care.

Which, contrary to the multinational who is spending a lot on advertising right now, does not mean you can consider yourself a kind and generous organisation simply because you make and sell a large range of disinfectant products that are especially important right now.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting charity.

Making money is not a bad thing – and right now, companies need to do it to help keep employees employed. But adding something extra … something that can genuinely benefit the people you rely on would go a long way.

Not just because a lot of people need it right now, but because investing in your audiences wellbeing is investing in your own.

Take Timpson’s.

It’s a family-owned business in high streets and supermarkets up and down the country.

While they do a bunch of things, they’re most widely known for key cutting and shoe repairs.

That’s right, KEY CUTTING AND SHOE REPAIRS!!!

Of all the companies around the World, I would say this Key Cutters have led the way on how you should treat your people and customers in a crisis.

First of all, they made the decision to close all their shops – over 2000 of them – when COVID took hold. They wanted to ensure their staff were safe as not only do they deal directly with the public, all their stores are very small so social distancing would be almost impossible.

However, rather than making people redundant or putting them on government subsidised furlough, they covered the wages for every employee.

In full.

Every employee. Full salary.

To add some more texture to that, Timpson’s employ 5,500 staff … of which 650 come directly from serving a prison sentence … and their weekly wage bill is £2.5 million.

That in itself is amazing.

But then they’ve done something else.

Something aimed at their customers … specifically the one’s who have not been as fortunate to work at a company that takes care of their staff like Timpson and may now be struggling due to redundancy or loss of pay, hours, opportunities.

And what have they done?

This …

How amazing is that?

A genuine investment in their past and future client’s wellbeing.

Not empty words, something that will cost Timpson’s money – both in terms of time and cash.

Maybe it’s not a huge amount, but when you have all these huge corporations shouting their empty words in an attempt to look like they care, Timpson’s actions shows them up for who they are.

A long time ago there was a Michael Moore documentary called ‘Roger And Me’.

It was about the General Motors car company and them pulling out of Detroit.

There’s one bit in it that sticks in my memory.

On the production line, there were people being interviewed about what they’ll do when the factory closes. One guy – who was making one of GM’s most expensive cars – said this,

“What I don’t understand is if companies keep firing their workers, who do they think will be able to afford their cars?”

While I know there are many issues companies face, I know this.

The actions of a key-cutting, shoe repairer has resulted in me having more emotional connection and loyalty to them than I‘ll ever have towards multi-national organisations, spending millions of pounds on ads that attempt to show they care [read: express their designed-by-marketing ‘purpose’] but are so obviously self-serving, you can almost see them rubbing their hands in greedy glee.

Not because they want to make money to protect their workers.

Nor to look after the employees of their supply chain.

But to look after themselves and their shareholders.

And to them, I say this.

Your real ‘purpose’ is showing.

Try harder.



The First Rule Of Marketing …

… is know your audience.

The second rule is let them know you know them.

For all the millions spent at agencies and consultancies, this food vendor at the recent Chelsea v Everton match. shows they get it more than most.

Now you may think, ‘who would shop at a place that publicly identifies them as a chubby’?

And I get it …

In these highly visual times, no one wants to associate with anything deemed socially negative.

But apart from the fact there are some people who take great pride in their unhealthiness, the reality is there’s something incredibly lovely about that name.

If you’re hungry.

If you need something to eat.

If you want something that’s going to make you full.

What better place is there than a food cart with the name Chubby’s.

Chubby’s suggests big portions. Lots of flavour [read: fat] Value for money.

But it’s more than that.

This is a food cart at a football match.

Food and football is never supposed to be fancy.

It’s supposed to be piping hot and insanely substantial …

This means even the most healthy minded individual can justify buying from there.

“It’s just this once” … they’ll say.

“It’s part of the footballing experience” they’ll claim.

And then, to make themselves feel less greedy, they’ll do what was the basis of one of my favourite ever campaigns – a bloody radio ad no less – they’ll go and order a Diet Tango to wash it all down with.

The weak and delusional fools.

[Cue evil laugh]

So while I doubt any naming consultancy would ever come up with such a choice of name for a football food establishment, I would say the owner of this cart is a better marketer than most of the agencies and consultancies put together.

And his hot dogs were a delight.

That is not a euphemism.