London Underground – Evidence of a brand emerging

Excuse the roughness of this video, but listen to the sentiment. The conductor/announcer could easily be a dry old chap with no joy in his heart and no understanding about how he can influence the start of people’s day. But listen to this man Carl Downer in action.

What he says is “This train is for all the Brixton crew. Service update, everything irie, everyting cris. Chill out, kick back, no need let anybody cramp your style” And then just before the train leaves he announces “Rastaman driver, take these beautiful people to their destination.”

This is the same announcer, during the Olympics.

And even better, the industry are promoting him too and he’s up for an outstanding customer service award. Good luck Carl.

I wrote this a few years ago and still rather like it!

Johnny Lyle's new brand thinking

One of the things that has always amazed me when working with brilliant designers is where they get their ideas from. How do they rock up every day and create brilliant work that meets and exceeds the brief we set before them?

So I asked some of those in our team, and the answer seems to be everywhere and anywhere. Which is obvious I guess, but it is the main reason that we only look at designers who have a life outside of work and have done (and continue to do) interesting things when they are not at work.

If you stare at a computer all day, great ideas won’t come rolling out, but safe ones will. Ones that you are pretty sure will be good enough to get through, not those that are brilliant enough to really stand out.

So I started thinking about how we know whether it…

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The definition of ‘Unlimited’ – according to Virgin Media

Unlimited? Not at Virgin Media

According to Virgin media, Unlimited doesn’t actually mean unlimited. If you sign up for their Unlimited package, they charge you extra if you make long calls.

What Unlimited means according to Virgin is that you can make calls for 59 minutes and 59 seconds, or you get charged at an eye watering 9.94 pence per minute. So, if you are on a conference call, and it is likely to run over the hour, you have to hang up and then dial back in to avoid any extra naughty costs. To find this out, you have to read 637 words into their legals buried at the very bottom of the details page in six point and even then you need to download a PDF to get the actual price.

Doesn’t sound very unlimited to me. It doesn’t sound very much like the Virgin way of doing things to me either.

Anyone got the number for Talk Talk?

Just sayin…..

Why reviews matter – don’t trust a brand without them

Goldcar are part of the whole rip off strategy
An Express Queue with Goldcar, where you can expect to wait over two hours and then get royally fleeced

I’m not going to hide the fact that I am involved with Feefo who manage customer reviews. It’s obviously made me more aware of why reviews matter. But when I went overseas a few weeks ago, I broke my own golden rule and made an online purchase from a supplier I had used many times before even though they had no real reviews on their site. So I thought it was worth writing down my experience and learnings from it.

The company is Do You Spain. I must have booked cars through them ten times in the past. This time, on our way to ski with family in Andorra, I was lured by an amazingly low price of €42 for the week for a Ford Focus. Wow. It was with Goldcar as Do You Spain are a broker for lots of different car hire companies.

I read the small print that went with it and found a few little treats. Firstly €62 to take it out of the country and into Andorra. and then a full to empty policy on the fuel. So I figured say 55 litres at €1.40 per litre. By this stage we are up to a figure of €181 with no real chance to burn a whole tank of fuel on a 350km round trip to Soldeu and back. But still cheaper than five of us paying for transfers at €75 per person.

I read on and then found a hidden extra which was an €850 excess, in case I crashed it. Sensibly I thought, I can insure that with at £1.99 per day, that has to be £14 well spent.

So when I landed at Barcelona El Prat Airport, and after a staggering two hour wait in the Express queue I was offered the following option. An upgrade to a slightly bigger car. Okay, don’t mind if I do. Fuel at €108, which works out at €1.80 per litre, surely the most expensive fuel in the whole of Europe?

But then the real shocker. Take out our additional insurance to protect the Excess at another €14 per day, or hand over the €850 excess and we will give it back to you if the car is undamaged. Who would trust them not to find some damage after their track record so far. Anyway, the final bill was €258 against the listed price of €42. Not terribly accurate pricing in my opinion. In fact none of the costs related in any way to the quote of €42.

So, on return home, I tried to speak to DoYouSpain and guess what?

Despite many, many positive reviews, they wouldn’t reply to my concerns or answer any of my queries. When I searched around, it appears that lots of people have expressed similar concerns on Money Saving Expert and other forums.

So the simple moral of this story?

Trust brands that display honest and open reviews. Distrust those that don’t. In fact avoid them like the plague. They are hiding reviews for a reason. And sadly, for Spain to recover, it needs to begin to behave itself, treat customers with respect and offer good fair prices we can rely on. Sadly I won’t be using these companies again and when I go back in a few weeks, i’m just paying for the transfer.

Michael Eavis – Glastonbury – How to build a brand


I was lucky enough to be invited to see Michael Eavis of Glastonbury fame speak at Confetti Industry Week yesterday. The whole week is designed to give students access to real industry people and occasional legends to put their own futures into context and get insight into the secrets of success. It’s a brilliant marriage of business and education and feels very much like the future route to success for HE and FE colleges. I have no doubt that some of the young people in that room yesterday wil be inspired to even greater success.

Michael Eavis is a quite unassuming 77 year old man, who was clearly nervous in front of a relatively small audience. I guess it’s not often that he is examined that closely in his shorts and t-shirt by 200 young people. What he did though in his interview was lay down the simple rules as to how to create a brand from scratch. What was even better is that he never mentioned or hinted that Glastonbury was a brand in any way, shape or form, he just did it, by doing the right things. Another accidental hero of branding.

So as a tiny bit of background. He started the festival in 1970 with Marc Bolan headlining and (eventually) paid him £500 for his appearance. Tickets were charged at £1 each. He lost £1,500 but as he was funding it from his family dairy farm, he could afford the losses, so he kept on reinvesting in the product itself, making it better and better each year. It wasn’t until 1982, when it finally turned a profit and was recognised as the global phenomenon we know it for today.

So this is the secret to building any brand – Which isn’t that different to what I wrote in 2009.

  • Do things right.
  • Keep doing things right.
  • Keep investing in making it better and better over and over again.
  • Don’t think ‘how cheaply can we make this’ but rather ‘how good can we make it for the money we can afford to spend’.
  • Be passionate about what you do and really care about the little details, they are the difference.
  • Act decently, treat both suppliers and your customers with respect and you will get loyalty back in return.

I don’t think I was expecting to be inspired by Michael Eavis, but I was and i’m pretty sure that an awful lot of other people were too.

Picture of Michael Eavis borrowed from MixMag, with thanks.

Rocket fuel for advertising – the future is Artificial Intellgence

wargames - AI in action and a little less powerfu than Rocket Fuel
wargames – AI in action and a little less powerfu than Rocket Fuel

Advertising was never a very exact science, we all knew that 50% of our spend was wasted (but famously didn’t know which 50%), but that’s all changed now and changed forever.

I was lucky enough to be in a presentation from Lucy Arkwright of Rocket Fuel, who’s strapline is a rather cool ‘Artificial intelligence. Real results’. I haven’t seen a more amazing presentation in some time.

In short, what Rocket Fuel do is use single pixels on page to track a users real traffic. Then, using Artificial Intelligence (ie learned behaviour) they build up a picture of your real internet usage and shopping habits. It’s far more than just clicking likes, it’s about behaviours and real moves to action. So, less of what you say you’ll do and all about what you actually do.

As an example, with a traditional ad for a dishwasher, the agency buyer would just buy space in a magazine and hope enough people looking to buy their dishwasher wandered past and happened to want one at that point in time.

This was largely replaced by behavioural retargeting of ads (those ones that follow you around on the internet) which repeatedly show you dishwasher ads if you have ever clicked through to a site selling dishwashers or large kitchen appliances.

What the Rocket fuel system does is understand your specific behaviour. It begins to learn what brands you are most likely to buy and when you are really in the market to buy them. It knows to stop serving you ads when you have seen it more than a given number of times (your personal preferred number and not the rest of the worlds) and then stop serving you ads if you have actually bought a dishwasher from anywhere online. It’s like the Perfect Market, but all the sellers now have all the information. It’s a perfect, perfect market.

The AI bit is the really clever technology. This learned behaviour is done through a billion decisions per second that the system makes about how you like to think, shop and browse online. And this doesn’t just change the game a bit, it changes it completely.

I’ll leave you with a stat to prove the point.

The average click through rate (CTR) on a conventional online display ad is 0.03%, so all in all, pretty wasteful. and clicks aren’t anywhere near as good as actual conversions.

In one of the Rocket fuel examples, they showed that 40 percent of purchases of new BMWs in North America in the second quarter of 2012 were influenced by Rocket Fuel advertisements.

None of us had actually noticed that it wasn’t 50% of our ad spend being wasted, it was 99.97% being wasted. And it’s now with this system it’s back to being closer to 50% again.

When this technology rolls down to smaller users, it will change the way advertising is bought and sold completely. And forever.

Wow, just wow.