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 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.


Norton Anti Virus – Getting it right on Social media

A while ago I laughed at O2 for trying to get down wiv da kids and getting it horribly wrong. What they did was try to speak in the voice of their audience rather than in the voice of their brand .

Norton, on the other hand have stuck to their script and still intervened with one of their customers. This is a far cleverer way of handling it and shows a great choice of strategy for social media. Nice one Norton.

Norton Anti Virus getting down wiv da kids

Brand experience by Disney

Selena Gomez and Mickey Mouse hugging
Selena Gomez and Mickey Mouse hugging and creating a memorable brand experience

As i’ve said before, brand experience is about caring enough to control the tiniest details of your brand and how it is perceived by your customers.

Well, I heard a Disney detail that I loved recently, which you may not have noticed before and it’s perfect and tiny. If  as an adult or child you hug Mickey Mouse, he will not let the hug go before you do. Think about it. It’s really clever. If a child gets the perception that Mickey needs to move on, they would be devastated. Mickey would then become a character, or worse still, someone doing a job and not their friend. They need Mickey to be seen as a friend for as long as possible and caring about the hug, could be enough to keep it going for longer.

There was another great detail I heard too, which was that if someone shouted ‘Andy’s coming’ near any of the Toy Story Characters they would throw themselves on the ground and play dead. This would have been massively open to abuse but perfect. Sadly it’s been debunked as a myth.

Michael Eavis – Glastonbury – How to build a brand


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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of Michael Eavis borrowed from MixMag, with thanks.

It’s all about brand, brand, brand now

We once had a client tell us that it was impossible to differentiate in his market (he sold tiles). He told us bvery clearly that it was all about price, price, price. As you can imagine, we didn’t quite agree with him.

Well, know, some 15 years later, it looks like we have been proved right after all.

This new survey in Marketing Week about the top global brands shows an amzing statistic or two.

Brand seems to have now become more important than anything in making a purchase decision.

Making a decision to buy on price alone has declined in the past 10 years from 16% to 7%, while deciding to buy on brand alone has increased from 43% to 59%.

So it’s no longer price, price, price. It’s brand, brand, brand.

The trouble with Tesco

Tesco - a brand to trust? Hmm, Not in my opinion.

Tesco as a business isn’t doing badly. It’s profits are still huge, even if they are slightly down on previous quarters in the UK.

But for me, this is masking a much bigger brand problem and that is because nothing they offer is special any more. They don’t make customers feel valued, they don’t surprise or delight us, they just keep chipping away at prices by chipping away at suppliers who have no choice but to chip away at the quality.

We have always believed that the way a brand should behave is to decide a price and then see how good you can make the product for that target price. To me, Tesco look like they are aiming to produce all of their goods as cheaply as possible and not seeing how good they can make them for the money.

This is a short term profit boost that leads to long term decline.

Look at the section with motoring and cycling products. If you are even slightly into either pastime, you will see that what they are selling is utter crap and not cheap either. This is one tiny category in a huge store, but it’s reflection reaches far and wide in perception. If everything in the store is as badly produced and as nasty as this, why would I trust the brand overall?

Unless they up their game, start focusing on quality again and start treating their customers as intelligent individuals who do have a choice, this will be the first of very many profit warnings to come.