Category Archives: community

Turning the page on publishing

Stitched Panorama

If you are in the book publishing business right now you might be bracing yourself for an HMV-like end, but it seems to me that publishers still have options and if they make the right choices the end, however it arrives, could still be a long way off.

Those of you who followed my campaign a couple of years ago to try to persuade HMV that there was life after i-Tunes will know that I can’t resist a challenge.  That exercise saw me gathering a bunch of marketing folks with fertile minds on a kind of LinkedIn crowd-sourcing basis and trying to persuade the HMV CEO to listen to a few ideas we had on reviving their business.  I’ll leave you to judge for yourself what his rejection of our offer says about the relationship between success and the “open to ideas” philosophy that I have always promoted.

I’m struck by the similarities between the publishing and music industries.  Both are victims of the digital onslaught.  Technology has provided an alternative to their physical products, everyone is an author these days (even me), pretty well anybody can get published, readers don’t have to leave home to buy a book and last week you could buy any of the UK’s top 10 selling books online for 78pence!  This latter fact is a symptom of another phenomenon, the tendency of business in other sectors, in this case Sony, to give away the publishers’ raison d’etre, in their pursuit of sales of their own dedicated hardware eg tablets.

Publishing also has a similar structure to the music business.  There are publishers like Harper Collins who own numerous brands, they each support many authors and their books are distributed through physical stores and on-line.  Three levels of the business, each of which is under attack.

There are two keys to the future of the book business. The first is brand. It seems to me that publishers have been very slow to develop the brands they own. There are few sectors where brands measure up to the description “community” more than those of a publisher. You’ll know if you’ve been on this blog before that I believe all brands to be, by definition, communities and publishers’ brands are far more readily represented as communities than food products or cosmetics, yet, when I look at publishing houses I can’t see much evidence of them either recognising this or exploiting their good fortune.

The second key is the physical retailers. The front line book stores are suffering the same pressure from e-commerce that HMV did. Businesses like Waterstones are probably making a better job of competing than the music retailer did, but they have a long way to go before they maximise their assetts and even further before they could claim to have a model that will sustain them in the future. Like HMV, physical booksellers need to be more radical in their thinking. Instead of adapting their current model they should be experimenting with complete, ground-up rethinks. My worry is that, again like HMV, they are failing to recognise not just the requirement for such radical thinking, but the urgency with which they need to get on with it.

They might take a leaf out of the book of Ralph Halpern. When he headed up Burton Group he was said to have twenty or so retail formats on test in pilot stores at any one time. It worked for him and I firmly believe that, like any product manufacturer, retailers need think at least two store generations ahead in order to ensure continued success. John Selfridge taught us that retail is about entertainment and bookselling, more than most other sectors, is firmly in the entertainment sector. This means that bookstore owners have to ask themselves, “are my customers looking forward to their next visit to my store in the way they would a football match, concert or theatre?” Sadly most retailers I come across set their bar far too low in this respect. Customers should be feeling like a young lover about their next date with you.

Actually record shops used to be like that, In fact record shops used to be real communities too. I remember hanging out in a record store in Birmingham each Friday when albums were traditionally released, sampling the new stuff and discussing it with the store guys and anybody else who felt like chiming in. You could spend hours at a time in there and I often did. Come to think of it, there was a musical instrument store up the road from the record store with a similar vibe. I met Ozzie Osbourne and Tony Iommi from a new band Black Sabbath there once and they invited me to their gig that evening in the back of a pub in town (Now that dates me!) These days I can get the same kick from a visit to a bike shop like 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn. All these stores are interesting and engaging in their different ways. That’s missing in a lot of retailers these days and its where the answer could lie for retail book stores.

Its not surprising that some of the thoughts I had on HMV apply equally well to bookstores, but these in turn were based on a train of thought I evolved with a mobile phone operator a few years previously. A growing number of retail sub-sectors have to understand that they need to approach selling from a new direction, engaging customers in other areas of their lives creating an environment and establishing conversations into which a sales message can be introduced.

In a similar fashion, a few years back I created a magazine for Philips comprising features on successful projects in highly specialised business sectors. The features were compelling to the target market, but more than that, by ensuring that they were each written as a showcase for specific Philips products and concluded with a call to action and a contact device, we turned an entertaining magazine into a powerful sales tool that is still doing the numbers. I’ve also created community projects for manufacturers and service providers. Introducing products and services to consumers in the context of other areas of their personal lives engages them on an entirely different level. This I believe is how bookstores need to start thinking. Its not new of course. Its commonplace in the US for bookstores to be incorporated into coffee shops or restaurants, an idea that has been adopted in parts of Europe and even the Middle East (I have such a venue close to where I currently live in Bahrain).

While the front-line would benefit from radical thinking, publishers need to start making things easier for themselves and instead of engaging head-on in a battle with digital and e-tail that they just won’t win, turn the page and focus on the aspects of their business that their competitors just don’t have. They need to tighten up their brand definitions, get a better grip on their customers and start building relationships with them based on something other than price. Forget readings and signings, they aren’t sufficiently radical to make the difference that this sector needs.

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The real price of discount retailing

With markets as tough as they are it’s not surprising that more businesses than ever are weighing up whether to adopt a short-term tactical approach or hang tough with the longer-term strategic thing.  Retailers are right at the centre of this dilemma and you only have to glance at your local high street or shopping mall to see the choice that many have made.  Stores with perpetual sales or cut-price offers have become a feature of the retail landscape in pretty well every country around the world.

Even though they know that the path to instant gratification has an inevitable pay-off, cake today is becoming an irresistable proposition for idea and cash-strapped marketers, who can only be aiming to be somewhere else when the bill arrives.  So, what is the price of this kind of short-termism?

In this context there are two types of retailer – those who sell branded goods and those whose offer comprises mainly own brand.  The first group can be further divided into premium and mass-market.  The premium retailers, by and large, are chasing margin with high prices.  They are usually the last to have to make the short-term/long-term choice because their clientele are well-heeled and unfamiliar with the financial reality most of us live with.  On the other, far more popular side of the street, mass-market sellers of branded product are “champions of the consumer”.  We rely on them to negotiate with manufacturers on our behalf to deliver the branded products we all hanker after at advantageous prices.

The own brand retailers come from a different direction.  The value of their proposition is entirely their own making.  Customers recognise own-branders as an authority in the things they sell and trust them to use their knowledge and experience  to produce great value product of their own.  Retailers like this that come to mind would be Ikea and Marks and Spencer.

Now consider for a moment discount promotions as a concept.  Again, you could say they come in two kinds.  The first is the seasonal event that we have come to expect.  This is legitimate.  We understand that these promotions are the retailer’s way of clearing slow-moving stock or ends of lines and as long as it remains occasional it and the retailer will retain credibility.

The other kind of discount promotions are those run by struggling retailers to generate sort-term business.  These usually achieve their immediate objective.  The problems arise with repetition.  You must have heard people dismissing retailers as “the place with the sale on all the time”.  The perpetual sale isn’t credible, so let’s not kid ourselves that consumers are buying this line.  If a product appears to always be reduced to 99p then that’s all its worth to the consumer and no amount of double pricing is going to convince them otherwise.  We’ve all witnessed the Pierre Cardin brand get pulped in markets around the world.  Once a respectable, desirable brand, constant deep discounting has reduced it to a bargain basement brand.  Nobody pays full-price for a Pierre Cardin suit because we all know that it will be 70% off next week!

So, when do you start heading into the mire of perpetual discounts?  The answer is the minute you abandon the accepted seasonal event norm.  Then its just a matter of how far you venture in this direction and how quickly you get back to firm ground that determines whether your business is irreversibly damaged.  Discounting is like a drug habit.  Initially the hit is rewarding – you make a load of cash quickly, but as you stick with it your dependency increases and the reward diminishes.  You lie awake at night racking your brains for new superlatives to up the anti in your advertising, margin disappears and eventually your turnover will too.

Your hard-won brand community will dwindle.  We wear the products we buy and carry branded shopping bags with pride as badges of belonging.  Where’s the cudos in belonging to to the cheap shop community?  Customers will feel betrayed.  The brand that you have devalued to junk had defined their status.  Now you’ve pulled the plug.  Your authority disappears over night and whatever you say to try to re-establish value in your offer is futile.  You are just a cheapskate discounter and there’s no way back!

If your regular customers don’t abandon you they’ll do something even worse –   they’ll only turn up for the deals that you make no money on and the only new customers you can expect are all broke like you.  When The Full Effect Company went into one well-know organisation a few years back, we discovered that a third of their customers were actually costing them money because they only bought the bargains with little or no margin.  There was no spoon-full of sugar to help the medicine go down in this case, we just had to loose 30% of their customer base.  However, there are few shareholders who would stomach this kind of treatment unless, as we did, you manage to get back on track very quickly.  We replaced those customers with new, profitable ones within twelve months and met the company’s growth targets.

So, before you launch your umpteenth BoGoF this year give some thought to where this road is leading.  You may not be planning to be around when this chicken comes home to roost, but there aren’t that many juicy retail marketing jobs around, so you might want to think again.

Latvians show Greece how to smile in the face of austerity – Its all just National Branding

As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful.  You don’t believe me?  Well try this.

So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now.  Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks.  What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected.  So, what’s the trick?

There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness.  They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all.  Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate.  While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task.  Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast.  The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.

The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride.  The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any.  If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight.  Greeks are largely in it for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney.  From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.

National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years).  Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.

In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either.  Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too.  In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.

A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction.  Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history.  ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months.  A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread.  I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.

So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours.  You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.

Why Brands are communities

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto a discussion on a LinkedIn forum headed “What does a brand mean to you”.  A large number of marketing people have responded with definitions of what a brand is (which I’m not certain is quite what the author of the question actually meant) and, as usual with these things, the contributions are variously, almost there, misguided or just plain bollocks! 

Nobody, in my view, actually nailed the definition of a brand, which, given that the group is for marketing people, is at best sad and maybe even criminally negligent, but certainly explains why marketing, or marketers, get bad press.

For a few years now I have earned a living from debates like this one that take place in my seminars and workshops, but these are conducted with people who are there to learn.  I have to admit when I witness so many supposed experts failing to nail, what is essentially “marketing #101” I sometimes feel like just giving up and opening a sub-Post-Office in the Outer Hebrides!

There may be no absolute “right” answer to this question, but there are clear wrong answers and many of those that appeared on this discussion are just too ludicrous to repeat.  Among the “almost-got-its” though are suggestions that a brand is a promise, reassurance, differentiation or a set of values.  In fact a brand is all of these things, but they are elements rather that the definition itself.  A brand is a whole lot more.  These people need to join the delegates to my workshops in digging deeper to get to the real root.    Never since I first sat down and gave this subject serious thought, have I been in any doubt that a brand is a community.  The reasons that I stick to this concept are innumerable, but here is an outline of my rationale.

Since Abraham Maslow first explained it to us in simple terms its been generally accepted that humankind is on a journey toward self-actualisation.  I don’t see any reason to disagree with Maslow or the thousands of psychologists and researchers who have since advanced and refined his work.  At the risk of over-simplifying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, he characterises self-actualisation as a state of absolute confidence in one’s own being, values, position – emotional self-sufficiency if you like.  Our journey from humble beginnings has progressed through a number of levels to a point where are secure in some respects, but still seek approval and need to feel belonging, so we join communities – tribes, clubs, religions, and brands are a part of this pattern of behaviour.

In modern society we have a vast array of membership options available to us and we also have complex personalities with many traits, which we would all ideally like to express, but merely joining a group or club isn’t enough.  To gain the approval that we crave we need to demonstrate our belonging and to this end we adopt badges.  We can support a soccer team and we wear their strip, we drive a make of car and apart from actually driving it around we carry the logo on our key-chain.  We wear clothes with labels exposed, we carry shopping bags from our preferred stores for days or weeks after we actually made our purchases and we wear crosses on chains and other trappings of religious groups.  In some countries people join gangs and wear their “colours”.  There’s no doubt, we not only have to belong, we need to be seen to belong.

As marketers we commonly use research that defines people by their subscription to newspapers, the cars they drive, the luxury goods they own or the stores they shop in, so its surprising that so many marketers don’t get this flip-side of the same coin.

We choose the communities we do because we feel they represent certain facets of our character or belief system, but complex as we are, it would be rare to find a group that covered all the bases so we join a number of groups with high-profile values and beliefs that together represent most of the values and beliefs we feel are important in ourselves.  This gives rise to each of using a portfolio of brands.

Brand communities work in the same way that neighbourhoods do.  We move in because they are the kinds of places where people “like us” live, but we’ll usually bring along values and traits that are new to that community.  For example you might be an executive on the up and move into a quiet up-market district and be the first resident with a motorcycle or motor home, or the first member of an ethnic minority to move into an English rural village.  Unavoidably, your arrival and introduction of new features, values or traits will change the dynamic of that community.  It’s the same with brand communities.

There’s no doubt that we judge people by the brand communities they belong to, just as we judge people by the company they keep.  You must have heard someone comment on an acquaintance as “mixing with the wrong kind of people”, it works both ways, but a brand’s character is not only defined (in part) by its members, but by the other brands it associates with, so distributors, retailers and other brands that these retailers also offer all influence our perceptions. You can see how the company a brand keeps influences perceptions in niche fashion brands that start as exclusive trappings of affluent middle or upper classes and become chav icons.

Smart brand guardians will influence this to their advantage and will leverage the opportunities these changes bring about, but most of all the role of a brand guardian is to ensure that their brand is always “vivid”.  There is no place in the grand plan for grey or me-too brands.  If you want to be worn as a badge of belonging (and believe me you do!) you have to be distinctive, make a statement, stand for something.  Today’s brands can’t hope to amount to anything unless they stand out.  This means being abreast of current topics, airing them and taking a stance that will give members and potential members something to hook on to.  As Anita Roddick did with Body Shop.

The values that brands represent, the causes they support and the style they adopt combine to infer a promise.  A brand may not be a promise or a proposition, but there is a promise inherent in every brand – it’s the consequence of joining it.  I ask my delegates to think of their Brand Promise in terms of the way in which a customer’s life will be transformed by buying into it, and I mean “transformed” because these days nothing else cuts it!  You can ignore it if you like, but whether you choose to acknowledge and manage your brand or not, you do have one, people recognise it and if you don’t adopt causes and manage it your promise will be taken to be “don’t care”, which is not attractive.

This also underlines the importance for those who are responsible for administering the brands to understand that neither they, nor the corporations that employ them “own” brands.  There is nothing more democratic than a brand community.  Every member has influence and the direction it takes is dictated purely by weight of opinion.  Members are not confined to customers either.  Distributors, retailers, suppliers, investors are all players.

If you are asking what the point is of all this, its simple.  I call the relationships we have with brands “Brandships” and they work just like the relationships we have with our friends.  You know and trust your friends, you take their advice, you will put yourself out to be with them and you might even place your life in their hands.  Likewise, followers of a strong brand will go out of their way to buy it, they’ll pay more for it than a competing brand and if that brand wants to introduce range extensions they’ll readily try them.  This in turn aids distribution, reduces reliance on advertising, enhances margins and cuts down that critical time span between product launch, the emergence of competitors and profitability.  Basically, a strong brand adds to efficiency, which is the point, the only point in fact, because the single thing that separates commercial success from a failure is efficiency.

Is your customer support a bit of a let-down?

Most businesses these days understand that they are driven by Brandships.  Many appreciate that Brandships are built on trust and few would fail to recognise that if their words and deeds are in any way inconsistent, either with each other or with their Brand Promise, they stand little chance of establishing the level of trust that success is built on.  So where is it going wrong?

Having acquired this wisdom, organisations around the world now devote a great deal of time and invest heavily in initiatives designed to represent their brand values consistently at every touch-point.  Getting every communication to say the same thing is the essence of integrated communications.

Because customer acquisition for all the reasons I’ve explored here in the past, is getting horribly expensive, Brandships are more valuable than ever, which is why businesses are increasingly seeking to improve their customer support,  a factor that is accentuated by the growth in e-tailing where the incidence of customer complaint is, as I mentioned last month, a bit of an issue.

I’m encouraged by the increase in the number of businesses who, instead of trying to make customers with a complaint feel like Oliver Twist asking for “more gruel”, have adopted a no-quibble replacement or compensation policy.  It seems that,  at last, the penny has dropped on this one (Although you’ll note from my earlier post on this subject that Halfords still don’t get it!).  However, you can have the best complaint resolution policy in the business, but it ‘aint worth a hill of beans if your customers have to navigate a maze of on-line and telephone obstacles to get to it!  There’s no more telling evidence of a genuine commitment to Brandships than an organisation’s on-line or call-centre process and it’s certainly taken by customers as a pretty good guide to brand values.  So why do so many businesses get it wrong?

My guess is that they simply don’t recognse what’s happening.  I’ve been advising senior execs lately to call up their own customer support line from time to time, rather than rely on the KPIs they get every month.  Whether your process is automated or not, the way you handle after sales contact with customers can be pivotal to the success in Brandships.  This isn’t just about damage limitation (because nearly all the calls you receive are going to be potentially damaging), many businesses have demonstrated that you can actually reverse the momentum, turning a potentially damaging situation into one that strengthens Brandships, if you handle them correctly.  For most this is nothing more than aligning the process to the brand model, which, sadly, few businesses do well.

In recent weeks I’ve experienced both the best and the worst in customer call handling.  The worst being the episode with Halfords that I reported on here last week and a more recent still, an encounter with HP’s customer dis-service process that starts with their un-navigable web site, designed to send you round in circles until you screw yourself!  Yes HP seem intent not to engage with you unless they absolutely have to, which is a pity, because if you can get around the system and actually manage to speak to the person you need, the response (in my case anyway) was exemplary.

I was also disappointed when re-visiting a brand that I have been happy to deal with for years.  I have never before had cause to complain about Polar UK, The local distributor for Polar, who manufacture heart-rate monitors for athletes, but I’ve called and spoken directly to their service people in the UK a number of times.  Such an old-fashioned process may have been a little at odds with their global positioning, but it was very reassuring and, overall, it worked.  Sadly, they have succumbed to pressure to automate their calls handling, but in their case the band-waggon has a wheel missing.  In fact, its possibly the most bumbling and poorly conceived process I have come across for a good while and the antithesis of everything that I have come to expect of the Polar brand.  This takes me right back to the principles of Full Effect Marketing – individual marketing elements, which because they are neglected, neutralise some of the brand building benefits of higher-profile elements that the business is investing in.  In other words … waste!

The up-side of my engaging with customer service processes has been a discovery I made of a business that specialises in designing models that actually contribute to brand development.  Brand Audio in Edgware, North London, will study your brand (even work with you to help you profile it if you haven’t already) and then bring it to life in navigation, messages and music.  Just what every business needs in fact.  This isn’t about hardware or programming (although I’m told they can provide that too), its pure brand development and while I am sure they are not alone in this space, it made me feel good to know that there is someone my clients can turn to for this kind of specialist help.  Brand Audio work with a host of leading brands who recognise the need to prioritise their customer handling processes.  At least, one route to great Brandships (and therefore a healthy business) is in the way you interact with customers on-line and on-phone and I recommend to every business to address this area of their marketing before its too late.

Footnote: Brandships, as it suggests, is the name I use to describe the relationships we have with brands.  Enter the world of Brandships at http://www.thefullblog.com or follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet.

Halfords’ customer service sucks – well, it would if I had my way!

I’ve never had anything against Halfords.  In fact, I could refer to various supportive comments that I have made over the years.  They seems to have carved a niche for themselves in the bike sector, they triumphed in a deal to distribute Boardman bikes, they were smart enough to partner with an auto service business and now fit the products they sell to motorists and cyclists alike and they made the forray into Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their staff in the UK at least, while nothing to write home about, are certainly, if Mary Portas is to be believed, as good as you would expect from a multiple specialist retailer these days.  On the down-side, their on-line performance leaves a lot to be desired and dealing with their head-office at any level is a bit like wading through porridge, but its my recent experience of their approach to customer support that has sent my overall personal satisfaction rating way into the red.

OK, so Halfords aren’t having the best of times at the moment.  Like-for-like sales are down and despite all the usual excuses – recession, weather, cost of car ownership etc – that always has something to do with the way you treat your customers.  You’d be right to point out here that, last we heard, profits were up, due in part to a concerted effort to drag their back office, logistics and pipeline into something approaching the twenty-first century – Oh, and a quick reverse out of the Czech Republic and Poland.  Nevertheless, I still hold on to the idea that if you treat your customers well you’ll succeed whatever the size the market may shrink to.

Halfords has never gone out of its way to make customers feel wanted.  It wasn’t that long ago that they undertook to respond customer-support e-mails …  wait for it …”within eight days”!  Communication has been a bit quicker lately, but that’s not a lot of use if they aren’t being helpful.  Someone should point out to them that making statements like “we value your custom” and “we pride ourselves on our customer service” is all very well, but until you actually resolve issues its only “lip-service”, not “customer service”!

If you drop your Tesco shopping on the way to the car, Tesco will replace any broken items.  They don’t have to, it’s just their way of making you feel good.  You may consider this as giving 110%, but, let’s face it, it costs Tesco tuppence and the value to them in customer satisfaction ratings is worth far more than that.  Yes, every little helps!  In contrast, telling you they make every effort to make you satisfied, is “job done” in Halfords book!

Last weekend I bought a four-litre plastic container of concentrated screen-wash from Halfords, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I placed it in the passenger foot-well of my car and drove home, only to discover, when I arrived, that the foot-well was now an inch-deep in screen-wash and the container was almost empty – no doubt where that had come from then!

I took it back to the store where the manager pointed out that the seal that should have prevented the cap from coming off the container, had been broken, presumably by someone in the store, which he added, was not unusual.  He replaced the purchase, but I still had a screen-wash lake in my car and thick-pile carpets that don’t come out just like that.  On his instructions I e-mailed Halfords’ customer service to seek recompense for the cost of having my car bailed.  And after a couple of days I received a reply.  Apparently, they don’t see that its anything to do with them and suggested that if I had taken proper precautions while transporting the screen-wash I wouldn’t now have an on-board swimming pool, steamed-up windows and a very smelly car.  I get the impression they think that by explaining this to me they resolved my issue.  I’m sure I just went into their customer service database as another satisfied customer, but right now I feel as though the customer service manager should personally suck the screenwash out of my carpets!

They may be making a profit, but with an attitude to customer service like this, in a shrinking market I wouldn’t put my money on this lasting long!

Brand Britain or Big Society. Could Cameron use some marketing expertise?

It may be another word for the kind of national service the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have only recently abandoned, but it seems to me that David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea is missing a basic ingredient for success.

Those who have followed my comments on National Branding in the past will understand where I am coming from on this.  I’m all in favour of a self-supporting society and a move away from the nanny state that far too many of us have grown to rely on, but are those who are driving the Big Society initiative seeing it as a step towards Brand Britain or reliant on it?  My feeling is that in order to get there you have first to nurture a feeling of belonging among the populous and, judging from the debates on the Big Society that are currently taking place, this just isn’t there and the media are doing their usual best to divide us still further.

I see there are a number of facets to the Big Society.  There’s the need for us to stand on our own feet as individuals again, there’s the need to cut the cost of the services and resources that have supported the lazy and over reliant among us and there’s the belief that by focussing on community and encouraging people to participate, society and our nation can begin to realise the many opportunities that a community mindset opens up.  However, government is missing far too many opportunities to “big up” British and Brits’ achievements and, as I have said before, this is a key component of any Brand Britain development programme.

If I am reading Dave’s agenda right, I can’t see anybody grabbing and managing this initiative nor can I see what is being done, apart from a lot of talk (which has its place, of course) to get everyone on the same page.  If the “Big Society” is, after all just a money-saving scheme, then David Cameron is surely missing the bigger trick?  Anyway, ultimately it won’t work, because the people who are supposed to be implementing the programme at local level have neither the skills or experience to make the right judgements or the motivation that a real Brand Britain campaign would provide.

Cameron and the Tories may have come closer than previous governments to getting this kind of campaign right, but we need a whole lot more internal marketing and brand-building to be brought to bear if the Big Society is going to be the really worthwhile initiative I hope and believe was the intention.