What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler?

What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler
What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler
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.

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Virgin are still living their brand

Virgin Trains Vs East Midlands Trains

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.

Thanks Sir Richard.

Why I won’t be buying an Apple Watch

This is why you don't need an Apple Watch - The DeTomaso Matera Automatic watch

I am a big fan of Apple. I have been forever and at 49 years old, one of my claims to fame is that I have never owned a PC of any description. I had a few Nokia phones in the early days but that’s about it. I have been Apple through and through since around 1989.

But I won’t be joining the masses in buying the rather overpriced Apple Watch. I simply can’t see the point. It alerts you to what your phone is doing in your pocket and you’ll look like a dick if you talk to it (who really uses Siri other than to make it tell you jokes?). You’ll very quickly give up checking all of the notifications as they are so frequent anyway with five email and even more social media accounts on my phone. What’s compounds the misery is that being on Bluetooth all day will only make the battery life even more useless again. It’s bad enough having to charge my iPhone twice a day, but my watch too?

No, sorry Apple. This is a step too far for me. It’s not making my life easier. I’ll stick with my simple mechanical watch that tells the time. It doesn’t try and multi-task or be my personal assistant and it manages to wind itself just by being on my wrist. No batteries, reliable as you like and it glows in the dark so I can read it at night.

Thanks Apple, but no thanks.

Offsetting formal education for young people – Why rushing to university may not be the only answer

Why rushing to University may not be the right answer
Why rushing to University may not be the right answer

In the old days (of not many years ago), if you did okay in your A Levels you went to university. Better grades meant a better university and a better university meant a better job for life. Right?

With successive governments targeting more and more young people going to university there is a danger of doing more harm than good. You create half a generation who feel like they have failed – even if they were never destined to be academic – and you create a false hope in those that do complete degrees that they should automatically have a right to a graduate level job which pays more than the equivalent job with no degree entry qualification.

I think this has all changed. With the introduction of paid tertiary education for all, graduation taxation and prospective debts which will last a lifetime, it begins to offer more exciting alternatives to the conventional red brick university route. A ski season or two seems remarkably cheap by comparison. You earn, whilst you learn to live away from home and render yourself far more employable and have an amazing experience at the same time.

Travelling the world alone or in groups, will undoubtedly broaden your mind, enhance your experience and make you far more employable than a peer who has just done a degree whilst living at home. In my design agency days we were far more interested in whether someone as interesting than if they were qualified. Expedia’s ‘Travel yourself interesting’ campaign was brilliant (and won lots of awards)

This generation of young people will work longer, be healthier, live longer and see more of the world than we ever will. They’ll see medical changes that hadn’t even been dreamt of in science fiction, so why does forcing them into a school grading and exam system from year six onwards make sense? Why not encourage offsetting tertiary education for a few years to see the world and experience a bit of life before they have to decide what they want to do for the rest of it.

At eleven, I still wanted to be an astronaut or a train driver and yet this is when the average student has to begin to decide what their future holds. I’m not sure your average 18 year old facing a 60 year working career can know, or should be forced to decide what shape their life will take. So, why not let them take a few years?

A 25 year old that’s seen the world, seen poverty in a third world country first hand, slept on a beach,  skied for a year and maybe had to work some terrible jobs to make ends meet and has a far better chance of being driven to succeed and really KNOWING what they want to do than an eleven year old who’s only been to Disneyland.

There’s nothing wrong with Google Glass, but they defined their audience wrongly

Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company
Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company

One of the most important elements of creating a brand is deciding who your audience is. Most of us think we know intuitively. And yet for me, really putting the work in here is often overlooked. The more you understand the needs, thoughts, desires and motivations of your REAL audience, the more fully you can wrap the brand around them. You create something they need before they realise they need it, rather than reacting to others.

So, in the last few weeks, Google have just admitted with Google Glass that they got this audience definition completely wrong at launch. It was aimed at techies and geeks. All of us have probably laughed at someone at a trade show talking to their glasses whilst recording everything they see?

So whilst there has been some celebration in it being scrapped as it has been unpopular with consumers for reasons of privacy invasion, its real use was in a professional environment.

With the need for medical staff to both protect themselves from litigation and bring in external help when they need it, Glass is perfect. It allows a paramedic at a scene to call upon external expertise in an instant. Who would laugh at that? And it also allows a doctor to record every part of a procedure and log it with a patient’s records, in case anything goes wrong, or more positively if anything unexpectedly goes right and they can refer back as to why.

So, good on Google for admitting their mistake and repositioning. It’s not often a product that was given such a big launch and failed is given a second chance. In the longer term, I can see this, or its derivative, becoming standard headwear for anyone who has to deal with the general public.

 

Why ‘The Apprentice’ is bad for business

Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice
Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice

For years I’ve been avoiding avidly watching ‘The Apprentice’. Last time I watched it, I saw them attempt a dreadful rebrand of Margate. But this week, I was asked to give it another go and I found myself hating it even more.

The group had the task of creating a new dessert product to sell into the major supermarket groups and the team who did worse only managed to create and sell 15,000 units in their allotted few days, whereas the winners sold 23,500. So why do I think this is so wrong?

1. The competitors behaviour in the boardroom was horrific. Initially they worked as teams but were encouraged and delighted by the fact that they should back stab their other team members in front of “Lord’ Sugar. I’ve been in business for a long time and maybe I’m the naive one, but a situation where the other person has to lose for you to be able to win is not a situation I recognise or respect. I don’t believe it sustains good business.

2. ‘Lord Sugar’s’ feigned ignorance was appalling. He sneered at one of the competitors for referring to their target audience as ‘grazers’ If he genuinely didn’t understand this term, is he qualified to judge such a programme?

3. The situation itself was completely ridiculous. For young people to believe that it’s the norm to pop into a development kitchen and create a new dessert without even a nod towards costing it up properly (more Saffron anyone?) is bad enough, but for them to carry on the myth by pretending they had secured pitches in front of Tesco and Waitrose is even more ridiculous. For them to pretend that they then ordered units without any production ability or drawn out negotiation just perpetuates the stupidity.

4. And then it came to the judging. The esteemed ‘Lord’ Sugar decided who he wanted to belittle first. A young lady with an idea about a healthy eating restaurant chain emanating from Sunderland was literally laughed out of the boardroom. But what had changed? That was the business idea she had pitched to get onto the programme, so when did it suddenly become something worth ridicule? It was nasty and spiteful and all to do with bullying on TV. She had been set up for that fall since she agreed to join the programme.

For me, business is built on the old fashioned values of mutual respect, trust and hard work. Throw in some luck and grasping the good opportunities that present themselves, whilst knowing which ones to pass over, is the difference between success and failure.

The Apprentice is X Factor business. Nothing to do with ANY of these business values and everything to do with creating shocking TV and making money at any cost, despite how many people you harm on the way. If this is the impression we give young people about how business behaves, in my opinion, very few of them will choose to join us. Those that do will be horrendous colleagues trained in the very worst of business behaviour.

This isn’t an apprenticeship, It’s an ugly beauty parade that’s causing harm to the future of business.

Thanks to TV Choice magazine for the picture of the pin up boy for business, Lord Sugar.

Vines – Maybe not just for the funny things in life

Vines aren't just for fun they could be for education too
Vines aren’t just for fun they could be for education too

My colleague from Notts TV Hollie Brookes sent this over to me and whilst on the surface there are no real surprises – young people prefer Vines and dominate the user stats, it does start to show that there’s an indication of more significant changes ahead.

There are a few key points in this for me.

1. It’s not just a great way for marketeers to target teens, it’s also indicative of their falling attention spans and that means we need to consider where else this impacts.

For example, does this imply that the education system needs to  consider a move towards teaching through very short video clips?

2. Does it mean that there is a general move away from long copy text? I know from my own stats on here that if I write more than 200 words, the readership drops off very quickly.

3. But look at the opportunities it presents too. The big one for me, is the question as to whether Vines could become the new mnemonics as a potential way to teach? Could the looping, repetitive nature of Vines be a great way to reinforce simple messages?

The risks in Social Media – Direct Line style

It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with social media.

We’ve lured a world famous actor to come and be our ‘face’ and recreate the look of Pulp Fiction’s Winston Wolfe.

We’ve produced a great series of TV ads with our new character ‘Mr Wolf’. They are genuinely different ads for the space in which Direct Line operate.

And then they throw it to the real wolves by using sponsored posts all over Facebook and their existing customers get hold of it.

Direct Line Harvey Keitel Mr Wolf. Social Media is more difficult to handle than you think

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are have been 224 comments in the first 14 hours and as far as I can see, every single one of them retells a story of how they have been badly treated by Direct Line or commenting on Harvey Keitel’s decision to work in the insurance market.

For me, this can be nothing but bad for the Direct Line brand. Assuming most people have 250 friends on Facebook, these negative comments have already been seen by at least 50,000 people with a negative endorsement. If you add the 223 shares, this problem could be much worse than it first looks.

Compare this to the number of views on YouTube (only 3,573 after eight days) and you can see that the negative power has been at least FIFTEEN times more effective at reaching people. It may have gone viral, but hardly the type of viral they were hoping for.

One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line
One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line

Social media is both friend and foe. If you open yourself up to comments and feedback on such a public platform you need to be 100% sure you can cope with the responses. The old adage of ‘never asking a question you don’t already know the answer to’ may have been a prudent way of thinking before they ran this campaign.

I suspect a few people in the team at Saatchi (who produced the campaign) will be getting an ear bashing for their decision to try and amplify the positive effect of their advertising spend by engaging with Facebook and REAL customers.

 

The truth about Paypal – Can you really trust them?

We all love Paypal don’t we? They are friendly, quirky, simple and make all of our lives easier. The ad says so.

Or so they claim.

As a seller they have a brilliant seller protection programme, that protects you from chargebacks. So far so good.Paypal Seller protection Programme

But it happened to me on my data business that I recently sold. A person in the US paid £799 for a copy of my full business database, added all of the checks and balances required to pay with a credit card online. My system sent them the email with the download code and they duly downloaded it – even to the area of the city the card was registered in.

And two hours later they started a claim for a chargeback.

It’s okay i’m protected by Paypal’s first class cheeky, chirpy seller protection programme aren’t I?

But no. I’m not. Because I didn’t POST them a disk with the data on it.

So Paypal, a business that has grown entirely to serve the digital economy in which we trade, does not protect sales of items that can be paid for and transferred digitally.

It’s all clearly explained in paragraph 11.6 on page 12 of their 31 page terms and conditions that we’ve all read. Right?

Paypal Seller protection is worthless shit

 

How can they get away with it?

Well, apparently as the goods I sold weren’t ‘tangible’ they had no value.

Any brand that has a truth which is that far from a users reality will soon get found out. It’s an untrustworthy, rotten way to do business.

So be warned. If you are selling a service, a download a digital file or anything that won’t go in a good old fashioned letter box, then maybe Paypal isn’t for you. I’m not using them for my next business, I think i’ll give Sage Pay a try instead.

 

The ‘Unconscious Uncoupling’ of Grass Roots Football

Grass roots footbal in decline in the UK

I coached kids football for five or so years with my mate who was one of the other parents. Together, we took our team to win their league at Under 12’s. It was quite a proud moment.

The reason I stopped was that in that same season I had a genuine death threat from an opposition parent (who our team had beaten) which was a little unsettling to say the least. It’s kids football, it’s not really that important is it?

But football is now in general decline at grass roots level for exactly that reason. The fun has gone and for many parents it’s a desperate chance for a ticket out of poverty. Winning is everything and if their son or daughter is the next big thing, they’re made for life. Statistically, football is the sport that it’s easiest to get rich at. Assuming the top two leagues are generally pretty wealthy, then you have around 500+ players earning mega money in the UK alone. Add in the other European Leagues and the rising Far East markets, and it’s comparatively easy. In golf or tennis, this may only be the top 50-100 in the world.

But this week, Sport England announced it has cut FA funding by £1.6m after a grassroots decline. Football is in trouble. Never before has the professional game been so completely disconnected to the grass roots game. Unless they address this, the game will just slowly wither and die. There won’t be the players coming through to feed the national teams and there may not be those growing up with football as part of their life as were were.

So, the solution?

Simple for me.

1. Make football fun again. Don’t play competitive football until they get well into their teens. Kids want to play football with their friends, they don’t care whether they win or lose, It’s the parents who do. They’ll play their competitive games in the playground anyway, without their parents screaming at them and taking the fun away.

2. Build respect into the game from the outset. The FA are now attempting to teach this to the kids, but they need to keep the parents away as normally that’s where the problems lie.

3. Keep the game sizes small so all the kids get lots of time on the ball to raise their overall skill levels. The more they play the more they will improve and in theory the more they should want to play.

4. Stop players in the professional game from swearing on the pitch and saying anything AT ALL to the referee. Look at rugby for a model here. It’s flawless and everyone calls the referee ‘Sir’ as they have ultimate power on the pitch and off it.

I don’t really care about England games anymore, I’m not even that bothered about the Premiership. I’ll always be an Oxford fan, but my love for the game and more importantly, it’s future as a national sport is in jeopardy unless they change the way the game is played at the very bottom of the footballing pyramid.

ps, Thanks to Ruby Lyle for the image of Charlie G.