WH Smith Munch – A brand with fake values is a brand that is destined to fail

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.

WH Smith Munch Sandwich a brand with totally fake values
WH Smith Munch Sandwich a brand with totally fake values

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…’

WH Smith Munch Sandwiches with a brand statement that is totally fabricated
WH Smith Munch Sandwiches with a brand statement that is totally fabricated

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.

WH Smith Munch Sandwich - The ingredients 100% horrible with an added of 18% of total shit
WH Smith Munch Sandwich – The ingredients 100% horrible with an added of 18% of total shit

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.

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Is Google playing fair with competitors search results?

I’m not going to say much here, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. I have talked about Google and their monopolistic power previously. Google is still totally dominant in the global search market. You’ll see from this graphic below that they have 67.78% of total search share compared to the next biggest Bing with only 13.27%. That’s over five times the share. In the Uk, this is 86.6% for Google and only 8.88% for Bing, which is over ten fold.

Share of search market April 2016
Share of search market April 2016

So you would expect that their results would be completely above reproach wouldn’t you? They’d play fair as they are in such an obvious monopolistic position right?

Wrong.

I wanted to understand how seller ratings worked in Bing. Were they any different to those in Google? Was there anything else I needed to know?

So an obvious search term produced the following results in Google with no sign of Bing on the whole of the first page.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Google
Bing Seller ratings search results in Google

And in Bing, quite different results here with their own two useful articles in first and second place as you’d expect.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing
Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing

So based on my search intention of trying to find more information about ‘Bing Seller ratings markup’, which produced the most useful results?

This does look remarkably like a playing field that is not at all level. Naughty Google.

Since I wrote this earlier today, Google have been all over BBC news for their alleged abuse of power with Android too.

 

The best theme park in the world – Puy du Fou

Puy Du Fou

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 Vikings

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.

Triumph’s Sign

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.

Richelieu’s Musketeer

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…..

Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu's Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.
Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu’s Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.

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!

The Cinescenie

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.

A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
The Land Train that takes you around the park
The Land Train that takes you around the park

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.

The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beuatiful hotel room in disguise
The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beautiful hotel room in disguise

Summary

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.

Real engagement for brands is more than just online engagement

I saw this video today by Gary Turk and shared it on Facebook on my personal account. Without any form of promotion, today it has been shared 40 times which is exceptional. If you watch the video it talks about real engagement.

Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on facebook Johnny Lyle
Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on Facebook

As a brand and social media specialist who shows real brands how to treat their customers and behave online, it is a very, very timely reminder that real engagement is about far more than likes, shares and a few extra follows. You have to be brilliant offline to allow people to get you online.

Real engagement is about getting inside people’s heads. It’s about becoming part of their lives, so they can’t live without you. It’s about building proper relationships where you give things as well as just take them.

Real engagement is real life and that’s what Gary’s film shows us.

The problem with Google Certified Shops Programme

google certified shop badge

When Google started in 1998, they had the aim of ‘organising the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. This was backed up by the mantra or brand value ‘Don’t be Evil’. Over recent years however they seem to have concentrated more on the former and slightly less on the latter.

Their new ‘Certified Shops Programme‘, whilst not evil in concept, does seem to wrestle even more power under their control. So what is it?

On the surface it looks simple. It’s a programme that puts some standards into the sellers so that the buyer can buy with confidence from any online retailer that displays their symbol. It’s free to the seller and free to the buyer. They even offer you £1,000 of buyer protection, in case things go wrong. That’s brilliant. It’s a total win, win right?

Wrong.

Here’s my thinking – which is only conjecture and my opinion.

For the retailer

  • Signing up will become a necessity if you want to sell via the Google platform and with over 90% of the search market in the UK, you will not be able to trade without it.
  • Mediation of any issues is handled by Google, they decide what is right and wrong in the transaction and act as judge and jury.
  • You cannot deal with the irate or happy customer at all. You are allowing Google to negotiate any issues on your behalf.
  • If you disagree, you lose seller status and in the worst cases, they could put a manual penalty on your search position. This could kill your business overnight.
  • You have to hand over all of the transaction details of your customer to Google. As the customer has to sign in on a Google account to participate in the buyer protection, they are handing over ALL of their previous search behaviour too.
  • Google then have the right to speak to your buyer directly and ask them about their experiences with you and with others online, it’s in their terms and conditions.
  • Google can then build a perfect behavioural picture of ALL of your customers and who else they have shopped with, or ever considered shopping with.
  • With this profile of buyer behaviour they can feed this into their AdWords and PLA advertising algorithms, so all of your precious keywords and hard earned click/conversion behaviour are essentially made available to everyone else in the market if they are prepared to bid more for it than you are.
  • Google focus the seller power into fewer and fewer sellers as not all will have the sales figures to qualify for the Certified Shops Programme, and they control those sellers’ access to market. Maybe not evil, but certainly wielding an enormous amount of power over the market, maybe even monopolistic power.
  • You no longer own any element of your customer relationship, Google do. You signed it over without noticing. They can just cut you out of the deal next time and sell any access to your customers to the highest bidder.

But that’s okay as the buyer is protected right?

  • The £1,000 buyer protection is a lifetime figure. if you make a claim up to this limit, you lose out going forward, you can never be protected again.
  • You have 60 days to claim and they make it very clear that this is no form of warranty.
  • Buying on a credit card offers far greater protection, without any of the data sharing. The retailer pays the transaction fee.
  • By sharing all of the buyer and search behaviour you have ever done over to Google, you are allowing them to read every one of your emails and feed you tailored advertising and promotions.
  • Google now have the power to limit the searches you see. because they know you through studying all of your behaviour online, they can choose what they allow you to see. Maybe this is taking it too far, but they could genuinely only allow you to see sellers THEY approve rather than the ones who may be more up your own ethical or behavioural street.

So in summary, as yet it’s too early to say, where Google may take this, but it’s certainly a huge programme and one that could wreak total havoc on the seller environment and begin to affect all of our buyer behaviour online.

PS, if you ever want to trick the system try the difference between a logged in search in Google Chrome and then one that you do in private browsing mode in Safari or Firefox. You’ll find quite a difference in the results you see in search.

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.

 

Abercrombie and Fitch is Rethinking its Brand

Mike Jeffries A&F Messed up his own company - Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke

Mike Jeffries A&F Messed up his own company – Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke

I love an article like this. Total Customer are reporting that Abercrombie & Fitch are having to remove their branding from their branded products, because it has become a turn-off for customers.

Last year, I wrote a post about their CEO Mike Jeffries treating their potential customers with huge disrespect, so I have to say whilst I’m laughing at their misfortune, I’m also reminding myself that you simply cannot ridicule your own customers.

Seven quarterly losses in a row tell quite how bad it is for them. This will eventually kill the brand, just like it did for Gerald Ratner.

Oops.

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?