Innovate or its gonna be roadkill

It seems obvious to most of us that unless we innovate with our brands we die, but why do so many organisations and brand owners slowly drift into mediocrity? Branding is far more than changing logos, it’s about renewing the entire presentation of an organisation to its customers or agreed target audience, who may become customers of the future.

The Little Chef brand in UK is a great example. Their Olympic breakfast used to be exceptional but year by year it became less Olympian and more local track event. Bits started dropping off and others became ‘extras’ pretty soon a simple breakfast became a £10 plus extortion.

By the time they drafted in ‘expert’ Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame, who is quite obviously a brilliant chef, but as far removed from a motorway service as could possibly be imagined, the cheese had most definitely moved. It was so far gone that no amount of PR could bring it out of hiding.

Over almost ten years there was a generational change (or neglect) that meant an entire new audience grew up NOT using Little Chef as their roadside café of choice.

The rather excellent site Motorway services info rates Motorway services over a number of different ratings to do with cleanliness, friendliness and pricing and then rather weirdly. gives them a burger related rating.

Tebay in Northumberland always wins because the owners – as it is amazingly, still privately owned – care enough to keep renewing their offer and ensuring their staff are behaving as they would want, the prices are what they would be happy to pay and the showers are ones they would even use themselves.

Bottled water in most services is actually much more expensive than petrol or diesel (at over £1.50 per litre) and in these value aware times, most people are wising up and either bringing their own ‘value’ products (from home, from Aldi or even from taps) that the likes of Moto will soon start to seriously struggle unless they renew, and renew fast.

I drive thousands of miles on Britain’s motorways and for me the biggest mover of cheese (and pickle and ham etc etc) has been Marks and Spencer. The arrival of their brand in services has brought a new price structure and a level of quality only seen before in the likes of Tebay.

There is nothing new in marketing and ever was thus. The clearest example we were given whilst training in marketing at college was the Swiss watch industry being decimated by Swatch. They just didn’t see the competition coming from electronics. Whilst they haven’t quite died, the volumes of mechanical Swiss watches is far smaller than in the 60’s.

Brands have to innovate, in any industry. The road to LONG TERM branding success is littered with glorious failures and quiet disappearances, but if it can happen at the roadside, where could it happen to you and your brand – more importantly, what are you doing to ensure that you move the cheese before the others realise it has even moved.

Ps if you want read the ‘Who moved my cheese’ book that I refer to in this article, click below.

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson

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2 thoughts on “Innovate or its gonna be roadkill

  1. Little Chef was an iconic brand – Consistency was a key – you knew what you were goijng to get wherever you were! In fact, scarily, looking back it was maybe too much a ‘way of life’ in my early career ‘out on the road’!!

    I do remember being in a Little Chef some years ago, and when asked by the very nice lady on the till ‘was everything alright with your meal?’, I replied ‘the steak was very tough and inedible’.’Oh’ she replied ‘we’ve had a few say that today’, and carried on processing my bill!!

    I’m not blaming her – I think she was following ‘the script’. It appears that maybe they had their ‘blinkers’ on back then.

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