There is nothing I’ve done in my life that has been more important for my general education than reading. I read a lot. Every day. I read at least a book a week.
I don’t read many books I find particularly challenging (although I have just finished Anna Karenina) and have my Kindle with me pretty much all the time. I make a point of reading the book on there that has been there the longest, so I force myself to read ones I have downloaded and then not quite fancied.
On the often published lists of 100 books you should have read, I’ve normally read 30-40 of them, but most would probably be considered a bit trashy by more educated readers – Not quite James Patterson, but very few in the Tolstoy bracket.
But reading has opened my eyes to things I’d never normally have seen or understood. Life after the Russian revolution in A Gentleman in Moscow, how Afghanistan changed in the Kite Runner and a Thousand Splendid Suns, the German perspective of War in the Book Thief. The impact your words and actions can have in Five People you Meet in Heaven. Every one has taught me something about the world and my place in it, however small.
I think a love of reading is the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.
Bury Knowle Library in Oxford is where it all started. When I was around eight, they ran a reading competition, with actual prizes, for the child who read the most during a summer holiday. I don’t think I won, but it set me on a path that I’ve hardly drifted from throughout my life.
Reading taught me to write too. It’s only by consuming thousands of books that you learn what you like and dislike and inherit some of their styles, almost by osmosis. It didn’t teach me to punctuate properly, as I’m sure some of you will have noticed.
And I do believe that reading is for everyone. you just need to find the right book as an entry point and then work your way through that seam.
In a world, where attention spans are falling and everything needs to happen instantly, it slows things down and can transport you to another place, where the world looks different. You do have to make an active choice to read, rather than graze on the mindless crap and weird attention seekers on TikTok, but I’m good with that. Anything that stops you endlessly scrolling online is a good thing.
I saw a comment on Twitter yesterday where someone asked how long you need to give a book before you give up on it. There are 370 books on my kindle (that I have had for six years) and I have read 360+ of them. I can think of only three or four I have abandoned. The Life of Pi, took me a good 100 pages to begin to hook me in, but it was worth the effort, as the book became one of my favourites ever, with some writing in there I had to stop and stare at and read again for the beautiful way it was crafted.
So, if you don’t read. Do.
You won’t regret it.
I’m not going to write my favourite book list on here, but I will happily recommend a few that have resonated with me.
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.
I ran a brand consultancy for well over 20 years and as a team, we created literally thousands of logos and quite a few brands that you would know. The logo is one element of the branding, but it’s one that is easy to spend a fortune on without getting something you are totally happy with.
Design is a completely subjective thing and one person’s great is another person’s awful. So, only you can decide whether you like a logo or not. The great thing about this Artificial Intelligence design tool which is called LogoJoy is that you can create as many versions of a logo as you like, without having to pay. I have given LogoJoy a full review over here complete with plenty of examples of it in action.
Here’s a film to show you how to do it for yourself. You can honestly create a great logo in under ten minutes.
So that’s it. It’s dead simple and anyone can use this to create a great logo. With the artificial intelligence behind the system, it genuinely learns what you like and the more you use it, the more close it gets to something you’ll love straight away.
One thing I do mention in the film is the difference between pop songs and album tracks. When you have created a few options I would always advise you print them out and stick them on the wall. Don’t make an immediate decision. The one to choose is the one that grows on you and that isn’t always the one you love immediately.
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.
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.
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?
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.
And in Bing, quite different results here with their own two useful articles in first and second place as you’d expect.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.