Brands have got a real problem coming. It’s also going to have a huge effect on some of the biggest economies around the world too.
We all have enough stuff.
Back in Spring 2008, my favourite brand Howies sent a card inside my quarterly catalogue asking if I’d fallen out of love with them, or maybe whether I just have enough clothes for the time being. It has been something that has stayed front of mind for nearly ten years now as I think we are at a stage where we probably all have enough stuff.
I have a newish computer, my car is fine (even with 130,000 miles on the clock) and I have quite a few watches. My Phone is reasonably recent and I really don’t need an Apple Watch, a new TV or another bluetooth speaker. In fact we have TV’s all over the place, bluetooth speakers all over the place and a lovely old valve amp for playing proper music.
I have outerwear coming out of my wazoo, at least six pairs of jeans, two gilets, jumpers, shorts, socks and shirts in every material for every eventuality.
I have access to almost every song ever produced with Spotify and every film ever made, with a combination of Amazon Prime, Netflix and a mildly chipped Firestick.
I adore Oxford United and should make more effort to see them home and away. That’s tribal, it isn’t about the brand. This is an opportunity for tribal experiences like football and they will be one of the few areas to do well out of this.
I love holidays, exploring new places and going to the pub. In fact, probably my favourite thing to do is walk to the pub with the dog, have a few pints and walk home again.
But in effect, I want for nothing.
Which is the problem that any brand faces.
We all have too much stuff.
There is no consumer good that creates real desire, real anticipation and a real need to have it in your hands.
New products are all derivations. Small but barely discernible differences that the brands create to try and make us want them. But the differences aren’t real enough. They don’t add value to our lives and as such, they just become normal, within a moment of owning them.
Social media makes things worse. You can now see that everyone owns everything and we are all bored of this. It’s why so many people are turning away from Facebook and it’s dying on its arse. No-one lives that perfect a life and we can all see through it for what it is.
But if everyone has everything anyway, who is there to show off to and what with?
It’s also why everyone needs to pay less than full price for anything. Why else do you think the outlet villages and discount sites are so prevalent? The only thing left to give you a buzz is the bargain, rather than the brand you’ve bought.
So what do brands do to overcome this?
The answer is to fulfill something deeper than a need to own something. My clever friend Leila pointed out that this is why there’s a huge rise in Mindfulness and Wellness. We are all searching for something more than just the diminishing thrill of owning things. I know with the challenges I’ve been through in the last year, I couldn’t care less about material things, I’m quite pleased to be vertical and pretty much pain-free again.
That’s one hell of a challenge and one thing I can say is that not all brands will survive this imminent crisis.
You can summarise it all very easily in just one line.
If there is no actual need, then the only way to sell is by creating desire.
maybe that is what marketing is all about. Creating desire. The issue I have is that we are all losing our desire for material things and therefore selling anything material is just going to get harder and harder.
It’s a self-imposed austerity that could run for quite a while. With an economy built entirely on buying such things and a Chinese economy built on making these things, I suspect things are going to get a little rocky in the manufacturing-based economies.
They aren’t helping those who need help the most. At the same time, they are scaring potential students away and making the universities irresponsibly rich. They are also creating a future debt time bomb that will bring the country to its knees again, when it becomes clear that a massive proportion of the ‘loans’ are never going to be paid off, in the not too distant future.
Universities are no longer incentivised to deliver the best possible education, but rather strip back the contact time to the minimum they can get away with, whilst still achieving acceptable results. The focus is becoming about getting a result rather than learning to love a subject, inspire a new generation or just progress thinking in their area of study. I’m sure there are many exceptions, but with so many students coming from the middle majority who only got average A levels, standards simply have to fall, whilst universities just get richer.
Universities are now becoming ultra-powerful property owners and managers, creating a near monopoly for student accommodation in their city or campus. We all know that a position of monopoly will always drive competition down and prices up. This isn’t good news for students.
The university is no longer just taking the £9k tuition fee but adding an average of £500 per month for accommodation too, which adds up to £6k on top. Restrictions for private landlords are being added by the universities to make it harder for genuine competition to enter the market. Any graduate of my generation will have lived in some terrible ‘Young Ones’ style places as students and it probably made us appreciate how lucky we were to be gaining our free education and living away from home.
But graduating with £50-60k of debt is a bad thing. The thought of the debt is enough to put off some very bright young people who are scared of carrying that debt burden through their life ahead. Even worse when the government up the interest rate to 6% it is just asking to be bundled up and sold to the highest bidder, which means the graduate debtor will be pursued mercilessly for payback.
A reasonable earning graduate who becomes say a senior leader in a school by the time they reach 30 years old may be paying back £300 per month for their loan. They will also be paying into their pension at the same time. They may also be trying to buy a house or even bring up kids. It is just not possible to do all of these things at the same time unless you are from the very richest elite, where money isn’t an issue anyway.
If you don’t need a degree to enter your intended job, more and more will conclude that it doesn’t make financial sense to do so. As such, far less will actually go and our university sector will become ever more desperate cost-cutters.
There will also be millions of graduates who never get to the earning threshold to pay the loan back and little incentive for them to earn over it and start being hit hard by the payback they will face when they do.
So my solution is simple. Introduce proper means testing again, so the poorest get the most help, the richest get none and change the payback of a loan into a payment into a personal pension.
We should cap university tuition fees to a sensible level. Ensure class sizes are sensible too and agree a minimum amount of contact and one to one time.
We also need to cap accommodation fees so they are at least reasonable. £500 per month rent is the price of a small house per month to rent, not a single bedroom in a flat with five others who all share a kitchen – unless you are in central London.
And finally, add a new type of graduate tax, where they pay an extra few percent, but that tax goes into an individual pension contribution account for them to claim when they are old enough to retire – however old that may be by then. That way, they become self-sufficient and the state is paid back by helping them to provide for themselves in their old age.
University education should be free and accessible to everyone who is bright and motivated enough to pursue it. It can’t just be a right for the rich or those with the nerve to go massively into debt and mortgage their own futures.
I was at east Midlands Airport recently and they have something of a captive market for their meal deals with both Superdrug and WH smith offering meal deals for £3.99. On the surface this looks like great value.
WH Smith is a brand that started 224 years ago in 1792 in London and has 1,351 outlets with 615 on the high street and 736 travel outlets in airports and stations. It turned over nearly £1.2 BILLION in 2015 and employs 14,500 people.
So with all of these years of experience, heritage and the sheer number of interested parties, you’d think they would understand the concept of authentic brand values. Built on this history and surviving the worst of the high street recessions they really ought to know better.
But they don’t. They have an own brand product in store called ‘Munch’ which is entirely fake.
Munch, which is a range of sandwiches and wraps, tells you you can ‘Grab a bite of the good stuff’. A pretty compelling proposition for food on the go. They back this up with a brand support statement that says ‘Gloriously delicious food-to-go. So irresistible everyone wants to get their paws on it! Satisfies even the wildest of appetites…’
But the sandwich was disgusting. I didn’t want more, I never want to eat it again, I never want to eat anything for sale in WH Smith. I didn’t even want to finish the sandwich. Eating it, made me feel ill and dirty. Eggshell in the egg mayo didn’t help and even the bread was stale and unnatural. So I had to have look at the ingredients.
This was a total shock. I was genuinely horrified with what it contained and it bore no relation to the brand values all over the packaging whatsoever.
Even trying to ignore the fact that claimed ingredients added up to 118% (It must be all the shit they have piled in to make it taste less natural and healthy) the list was not all all irresistible. In fact it was entirely resistible.
I won’t be eating ‘Munch’ again. I’d suspect that if this is how WH Smith run their business, they are in trouble. I’ve talked about Tesco in the past and the start of their problems being with the quality of their products, which all came true. Any brand that says one things and delivers another like Abercrombie and Fitch will be found out soon enough. WH Smith are that brand.
I’m no whistle blower, but if I had any money invested in WH Smith, I’d get it out fast. This is a brand heading for the gutter.
The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.
And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.
Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?
The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.
It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.
British Steel first appeared in 1967 which was formed out of the nationalised British Steel Corporation (BSC). It went on to be privatised and launched as British Steel plc in 1988. It was even big enough to be part of the FTSE 100 Index. In 1999 the company merged with Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus Group and even then, many of us thought it was a mistake and would start the end of the steel industry in Britain. It’s easy with hindsight, but it looks like that was right.
And it’s why we need British Steel again. Quality, traceable, home manufactured fabulous, british steel. It may not have been a glamorous brand, but it was one we knew and understood.
There is a new standard in Europe called BS/EN 1090 and what it says is that EVERYTHING, right down to welding rods has to be traceable back to source. No traceability, no CE Mark. This is currently impossible with imported steel as there is no way of knowing where it came from. If you don’t know how it was made, where it was made or what it was made with, then how can you guarantee it is safe? For an insurer, how can they assess that risk?
So for me, bringing back British Steel would be a huge step forward.
So maybe this is just too obvious to be useful but if we are about to lose our steel industry and 15,000 jobs anyway, then surely it must be worth investing in this industry again.
We poured billions into our banks to save face more than to save jobs and now it must be time for this support to turn to one of our core industries. Steel.
Even taking the finances alone. 15,000 families will be immediately having to draw benefits for some considerable time. Let’s say an average of three years. Then by my maths that’s at least £1bn million over this period and ongoing devastation to communities that just don’t need more bad news.
If you take Port Talbot as a case, then maybe energy is the issue? This can be solved with the Severn Barrage. Every aluminium producer in the world seems to use Hydro Power to smelt aluminium, so why not clean steel up at the same time and make it go green. That’s a bargain at between £10-34bn – which makes the saving of steel look positively cheap.
British Steel is Britain through and through. It’s literally what our country was built with and by my very simple way of thinking, something our government should not just support but make it a model of how decent targeted intervention can help rebuild Britain from our proud industrial heritage outwards.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but my first reaction when I heard that VW had rigged the software in their cars to behave differently when it detected it was being tested, I thought “wow, that’s clever”.
There’s no doubt they have done a huge amount of harm to their brand and damaged the trust that has been built over many, many years. They deserve a really big fine as they have been found out as liars. Brand owners who lie generally get found out and they generally struggle to build their brand back up afterwards.
But, do they deserve to be put out of business when it is near certain that every other manufacturer in the world is pulling the same stunt, without having been caught yet?
I think not.
It’s bad yes, but it isn’t life and death. They will be hit hard enough with a potentially huge decrease in sales and profits for years to come.
So for me, the talk of a £20bn fine is excessive. When you add in the lawyers scurrying around like leeches starting Class Actions in the US and it’s getting ridiculous. Assume £10,000 per car and this could easily be another £50bn on top. Really, have they done £70bn of harm?
As I work with some great theme parks, I am a member of the Themed Entertainment Association. One of the benefits of membership is their organisation of visits to some of the best the world has to offer, to see what they do and how they do it. And I have just come back from Puy du Fou, and can safely say that it is, without doubt, the best theme park in the world.
It’s a total one of a kind and without any of the conventional rides you associate with other theme parks. It draws in the local community, trains all its own staff through its academy, creates everything internally (even the shoes and costumes) and delivers spectacular, emotive and beautiful shows that you have to see to believe.
It’s been created by Phillippe de Villiers, the father of Nicolas de Villiers who runs it today (and who showed us around). The control Nicolas still exercises is phenomenal. It’s not like any other brand. If anything it’s a little like Google in the way they controlled their growth in the early years but this has lasted for 35 years already. He even interviews the shortlisted kids for the academy and watches every Cinescenie to be able to feed back to the managers where they could do the show even better. The level of detail they manage is unbelievable and even the back stage areas are immaculate.
We had a totally jam packed 48 hours and got to see behind the scenes of nearly every show. Here’s a summary of the best of them.
The first show I saw there and an amazing introduction to life at Puy du Fou. It’s filled with eagles, horned beasts, vikings and marauders, all backed up with huge explosions, gigantic flames and boats magically appearing from stage left and under the water, with the performers disappearing with it. Animals everywhere and a large cast. It’s an amazing start and an even bigger ending.
The Knights of the Round Table
It’s a story of Excalibur with Merlin, mermaids, sword fights in the water, horses walking out of the huge hidden caverns underwater and probably the simplest of the whole lot we saw. It’s great fun, has the best safety warning I have ever seen (hilarious) and I saw it twice.
The Secret of the Lance
This is a huge show that just keeps on growing. Spectacular horse riding, massive sword fights and jousting and flames everywhere. Then a disappearing castle, another HUGE castle that moves and rotates and amazing sounds and effects everywhere. There are things going on all over the place and we were lucky enough to get to see behind the scenes here. It was sooooo good, that a few times during the show I felt myself becoming a bit emotional.
This is a huge great roman spectacular played out in a purpose built amphitheatre that seats over 7,000 people. Again, it starts off quite small and then just grows and grows. The cast is huge and varied and whilst the story is their own version of history, it’s still truly amazing. Just look at the pictures.
I saw this one twice too. It’s the only inside show and simply massive. Perhaps a little hard to follow in french, but I found it far more enjoyable to just watch the show and ignore the story. It’s breathtaking but you aren’t allowed to take photos, so this is a sneaky one of the set, just as the flamenco dancers start going crazy. It’s quite reminiscent of Riverdance with horses and water and swords and explosions and…..
The Phantom Birds’ Dance
Now this was a real highlight. Again I saw it twice from two different seating positions. The first time from down in the pit gave a great view, but the second time, right at the back at the sides gave you far closer access to the birds. The show itself is incredible with beautiful, haunting music and a cast of over 170 birds. If you are going to sit at the very back, it’s probably best to shuffle forwards just a little so you don’t get pooped on by a vulture, like I did. There is simply noting like this anywhere in the world. It is totally breathtaking.
The Organs of Fire
This was the first night show I saw and can only be described as breathtaking (I’ve used that a lot haven’t i!). It starts with a lone violinist emerging, her dress lighting up and her floating around the lake playing music until she meets the pianist, who does the same. The orchestras appear, huge fountains emerge and an even bigger organ suddenly appears to add to the music and the gigantic party. I thought it was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but I hadn’t seen Cinescenie at this point!
Now this show breaks record after record. It’s the largest permanent show in the world with a nightly cast of 1,500, all of whom are volunteers. None of them get paid. There are 3,400 of them trained to play their roles and it’s held 28 time per year in front of a crowd of 14,000. For the volunteers, it’s a huge social and cinematic event and they train all year. It’s so popular that there are over 1,000 on the waiting list to volunteer and you can’t buy tickets for the event for another year. I won’t say too much about it but it is simply massive, incredible and beautiful (and hard to photograph). I have again, never seen anything like this. It started at 10.45 pm and went on until well after 12.15, so it’s a good long show too. It’s worth it for the fireworks alone.
The TEA Team
Being with the TEA gave us an all access pass to the whole site and the team that created it. It was a huge privilege and worth the membership in its own right. For only three days away it was completely exhausting, but to be able to get to see this place was worth it and i’ll be back to do it again.
Are you watching Nottingham?
It does however make me sad when I see references to knights, castles and even Robin Hood himself that my home City of Nottingham, can’t even get an attraction out of the ground to recognise our most famous son. The French have delivered a genius show that would draw in millions of visitors if it was created here. Nottingham still hasn’t delivered a single thing. So, Nottingham, please take note. Puy du Fou turns over €74m and is very profitable, filling every hotel for miles around with it’s 1.9 million visitors per year. A little of this would go a long way.
Where we stayed
The accommodation offer is quite new, but growing fast. They may look like simple tents, but they house a fabulously well equipped four poster bedroom with wet room, two bunks for kids and even decent wifi.
If you have kids you have to come here. If you don’t come anyway. It’s amazing, awe inspiring and unique. It’s the best kept secret and the best theme park in the world. And it’s my new favourite.
I have been with Natwest bank since my first day at University in 1984. My business banks with them too and so do all my family members based on my own previous good experience. I have paid extra for the ‘benefits’ of the Black Account at a cost of £24 per month for years and years, having been transferred over from the previous Private Banking Account, which I paid £200 per year for before that. I guess you could call me a loyal customer. So you would hope for some loyalty in return right? Err, wrong.
As you can see above, on the very front of the Natwest member Benefits site it says
Just one of the benefits of your Black Account We rely on our mobile phones so much these days, it’s comforting to know as a Black Account customer, you and your family members that live with you have such valuable cover. With Black Account mobile phone insurance, your mobile or smart phone is covered against loss, theft, unauthorised use, damage or breakdown, wherever you are in the world. You’re automatically covered but if your phone is registered, it may make the process quicker if you have to make a claim. Cover is for a maximum of four phones owned by you and family members.
But this simply isn’t the case. It turns out that unless you read the fine print, your family living at home are only covered if they are still in full time education.
My daughter who has finished her A levels and still has an open and unconditional offer to study Photography in Nottingham is not considered as being a member of my family as she was starting work the next day, despite still being 18 years old and living at home.
The ‘Benefit’ is administered by both Aviva and Carphone Whorehouse and despite having spoken to all of them, the claim is still being rejected.
It’s not surprising that people have little time and zero respect for banks as the brand they portray behaves completely differently to the one they live. You can’t trust banks and it seems you can’t trust insurance companies. And with a Five Star Defaqto rating, it makes me wonder whether they can be trusted too.
So, social media works if you want to get huge multinational companies cave in and start behaving reasonably. It does still trouble me that it is only those that shout the very loudest who get some form of justice, but in this case, Natwest, Aviva and Carphone Whorehouse have backed down and paid the claim for a new iPhone. Thank you – Particularly to Andy at Aviva Support. Now do us all a favour and change your policy to be more reasonable and cover all family members – or change your advertising to make it clear it is only for under 23’s in full time employment.
What happened in the accident was nothing short of horrific and has wrecked young lives forever. I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been and it must never happen again, anywhere in the world.
But for a moment, I would like to take a slightly dispassionate look at what I believe will happen to the brands of Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler.
Firstly I think the brand of Alton Towers will be fine, it will be damaged for a while, numbers will be down, but in reality, there is never a safer time to visit any attraction than just after an accident. Every early warning system will be on super high alert and the HSE will be crawling all over their every move. Alton Towers is a British superbrand and the way that Merlin CEO Nick Varney has handled himself in the press has been, in my opinion, nothing short of excellent, open and honest. He has allowed all of the bad news to come out, offered refunds to anyone who wants them and generally sounded very distressed by the incident. He has displayed good human values that people will relate to. He has four kids himself and I’m sure they use the park themselves, so of course he would want it to be world class safe – what parent wouldn’t?
Merlin are a world class brand. I saw a presentation from their Head of HR at Blooloop live a few weeks ago and they are delivering standards worldwide. I think this means you can rest assured that they will be running the most stringent safety checks on every one of their rides in every country they operate (which is a lot). Merlin will now get better because of this – everywhere.
But for Smiler, the future is less certain. There is an awful argument that this only adds a new element of danger to the ride for the real risk takers, but I hate this argument. For me, risk in an attraction MUST only ever be perceived. Real risk is just not appropriate in a fun environment.
So I think Smiler is on its way out. I would suggest that it will be removed as quietly as possible (press coverage allowing), maybe with the costs covered by the German manufacturers and it will turn up with totally new branding and maybe a new track layout in another market (The Far East or possibly Eastern Europe). The Smiler brand is busted and if I was in charge, I would bite the financial bullet and get rid of the bad name it could yet deliver.
In the meantime, I can only wish for a speedy recovery for those who have been injured both physically and mentally. And thanks to the London Evening Standard for their image. Here’s the link to their article.
I was in London for a very early meeting last week and chose to travel out of Grantham on the East Coast mainline that is now operated by Virgin trains. It was always a quick route, normally cheaper than East Midlands Trains and in my experience anyway, dead reliable.
I have always have had high expectations of Virgin and their brand. They promise a lot with their values, so they have a lot to live up to.
And they didn’t just live up to them, they completely exceeded them. Perfect service, genuinely chatty, friendly staff and a great choice of breakfast options delivered to your table at no extra cost. (my bacon sarnie was lovely thanks) and free wifi that was fast enough to be usable for work.
On the way home later, they added a choice of hot meals or a selection of (very tasty) sandwiches and wine or beer and teas and coffees, again all included in the price. It just feels like they are being generous in every respect, even though the actual cost must be tiny, the perceived value and the warmth this drives towards the brand is massive.
Today i’m back on the slightly more expensive and slower East Midlands Train to Nottingham. Full priced menu, wifi that doesn’t work properly (It’s so slow that I can’t even load Speedtest.net to test how bad it is). The staff are still very friendly and I did get a glass of wine on the way home, so overall, i’m not particularly inspired to travel on this route again. It’s Grantham and Virgin for me.
So this proves that you can drive your brand values right through to your service standards and you can keep delivering them over and over again and find new ways to win over and delight your customers.