Why reviews matter – don’t trust a brand without them

Goldcar are part of the whole DoYouSpain.com rip off strategy
An Express Queue with Goldcar, where you can expect to wait over two hours and then get royally fleeced

I’m not going to hide the fact that I am involved with Feefo who manage customer reviews. It’s obviously made me more aware of why reviews matter. But when I went overseas a few weeks ago, I broke my own golden rule and made an online purchase from a supplier I had used many times before even though they had no real reviews on their site. So I thought it was worth writing down my experience and learnings from it.

The company is Do You Spain. I must have booked cars through them ten times in the past. This time, on our way to ski with family in Andorra, I was lured by an amazingly low price of €42 for the week for a Ford Focus. Wow. It was with Goldcar as Do You Spain are a broker for lots of different car hire companies.

I read the small print that went with it and found a few little treats. Firstly €62 to take it out of the country and into Andorra. and then a full to empty policy on the fuel. So I figured say 55 litres at €1.40 per litre. By this stage we are up to a figure of €181 with no real chance to burn a whole tank of fuel on a 350km round trip to Soldeu and back. But still cheaper than five of us paying for transfers at €75 per person.

I read on and then found a hidden extra which was an €850 excess, in case I crashed it. Sensibly I thought, I can insure that with http://www.carhireexcess.com/ at £1.99 per day, that has to be £14 well spent.

So when I landed at Barcelona El Prat Airport, and after a staggering two hour wait in the Express queue I was offered the following option. An upgrade to a slightly bigger car. Okay, don’t mind if I do. Fuel at €108, which works out at €1.80 per litre, surely the most expensive fuel in the whole of Europe?

But then the real shocker. Take out our additional insurance to protect the Excess at another €14 per day, or hand over the €850 excess and we will give it back to you if the car is undamaged. Who would trust them not to find some damage after their track record so far. Anyway, the final bill was €258 against the listed price of €42. Not terribly accurate pricing in my opinion. In fact none of the costs related in any way to the quote of €42.

So, on return home, I tried to speak to DoYouSpain and guess what?

Despite many, many positive reviews, they wouldn’t reply to my concerns or answer any of my queries. When I searched around, it appears that lots of people have expressed similar concerns on Money Saving Expert and other forums.

So the simple moral of this story?

Trust brands that display honest and open reviews. Distrust those that don’t. In fact avoid them like the plague. They are hiding reviews for a reason. And sadly, for Spain to recover, it needs to begin to behave itself, treat customers with respect and offer good fair prices we can rely on. Sadly I won’t be using these companies again and when I go back in a few weeks, i’m just paying for the transfer.

Domino’s deserve success for their incredibly brave decision

I’ve never been a big fan of delivered pizza. It always seems to be a bit like wet cardboard and the cheese is so tasteless and slimy that it just makes you feel unhealthy even thinking about eating it.

Pizza to me is a beautiful italian food made with fresh bright ingredients and it’s something that we’ve always made at home with the kids and their friends to introduce them to simple tasty cooking.

And now to their eternal credit, Domino’s have admitted the same. They had obviously commissioned some focus groups where people told them how poor their product is and shock of all shocks they listened.

You can see the site they have produced to talk about the story here.

And look at the video they have produced using their real staff, showing how much it upsets them when people tell them how bad their food is (and probably that they are likely to lose their jobs if the sales don’t pick back up.

We have long been fans of customer feedback with our involvement in feefo. It shows that listening to your customers is one thing, but actually having the nerve to do something about it is a far bigger and braver one.

Any business that has the balls to stand up and say their product wasn’t good enough in this direct a fashion, to me, deserves success. I haven’t tried their new pizza yet, or their old one for that matter, but I have to say, that I am vaguely tempted.

Yell Hell – Will Yellow Pages Evolve or die?

A big pile of Yellow Pages, festering in a window

Yellow pages used to be one of those businesses that you relied upon to provide calls that lead to sales. They were at the top of their game, the top of their market and charged accordingly. We had many of our clients paying £600 plus for a tiny quarter column and in a single section. They were unionised so we had to provide flat artwork, with an NGA stamp on the back of it far later than anyone else in the industry.

It was worth the hassle though because it worked.

But now I’m sure that it doesn’t.

Yellow Pages started in 1966 as a supplement to the Brighton telephone book and spiralled upwards from there. In 2008, they produced 104 different regional copies and distributed them free to 28.4 million UK homes.

My new 2010 copy arrived on Thursday last week and was left on my doorstep. I looked at it for a day or so and then emptied into the recycling bin without even unwrapping it. I’m not alone. Every single person I have asked has done the same, so the advertisers money is literally being thrown away.

And that’s because the brand hasn’t evolved anywhere near fast enough to remain relevant. It’s currently swamped under a debt of £3.8bn and had an underlying loss of over £1bn last year. So why is it still insisting we need these doorstop directories and why are advertisers still paying to be unseen?

I can only conclude that if they are losing that much money, they are either paying too much to print them, too much to distribute them or their advertising revenue has fallen to a level a long way below breakeven. So they need to implement a massive and structural change to remain relevant to an audience that is behaving very differently to those that were around in 1966.

In 1993 they ran one of the most famous TV commercials ever, but surely poor Mr Hartley could now just buy it on Ebay or a specialist book finding site online.

192.com are running an e-petition (which is a thinly disguised advertising campaign) to get you to sign up to say ‘no’ to printed directories. In these environmentally conscious days, they have a point and I for one can’t remember an occasion when I turned to the Yellow pages for the search I needed.

A blatant promotional e-petition from 192.com to get rid of Yellow Pages directories
A blatant promotional e-petition from 192.com to get rid of Yellow Pages directories - click the pic to vote yourself

The figures from Google show that 87% of all online activity begins with a search and they handle over 7 billion searches in any given month. According to Wikipedia, who reference Nielsen and other independent studies, they have a very slim percentage of Internet searches.

And their online version Yell, is a bit rubbish. It’s no better than any other internet search as it doesn’t come with a recommendation like Facebook and even Twitter can provide and it doesn’t allow you to feed back as to what you thought of the suppliers using something like Feefo so we can begin to trust those who advertise and tell the cowboy from the craftsman.

It’s very easy for me to have a pop at someone like Yell when they are down and on their way out, but for them to not evolve, is signing their own death warrant. There’s a slightly different logo on the Yell site (whoopee) but it is in effect, exactly the same product as when they launched it to the market – before Google were any form of force – in 1996.

There is such a strong theme emerging in my thoughts that any business now will have to be different in a few years time, that it worries me how many more of these classic institutions are going to go the same way.

Woolworths did, Waterford Wedgwood did and Yellow Pages probably will, so who’s next?

Evolve or die, because this generation isn’t like previous generations and the next one will be different again.

Thanks to Sue Tortoise for her Yellow Pages image. You can see more of her lovely natural work here. She seems to work more in the field of nature and all things flora and fauna, so it was a surprise to find this image amongst her collection. Anyway, thanks Sue.

When is a consumer review not a fair review?

Last year I bought a new camera. It’s a Pentax Optio W30 and was hailed as a great camera by some of the review sites.

This review really rates it with the only apparent downside being that it can’t shoot in raw. That’s okay, I don’t know what Raw is anyway. Why would I need that?

And so does this apparently independent review. In fact it is the one that I referred to when I bought it.

So why then is the camera, just a bit rubbish?

No-one seems to tell you that the pictures it takes are fine in blazing sunshine, but really bad when the light even fades a little. They are so grainy as to be unusable – even as tiny pics.

If you compare the shot I got with my camera to the one that my colleague Tim Garratt captured at the Little Boots concert in the Bowery Ballroom, New York, there is simply no comparison. He was using a Ricoh Gr Digital.

Tim Garratt's shot of Little Boots at the Bowery Ballroom New York - Brilliant
Tim Garratt's shot of Little Boots at the Bowery Ballroom New York - Brilliant

Compare and contrast with…

My own rather poor effort at capturing Little Boots in all her shiny glory in poor light
My own rather poor effort at capturing Little Boots in all her shiny glory in poor light

Now I’m no brand slut. I tend to pick a brand and stick to it until I find something better comes along, but I was soooooo disappointed with the performance of the Pentax Optio that I can’t really consider many positives about the brand overall. Because my expectations were so high having read so many positive reviews, my disappointment is compounded to destroying my trust in the entire Pentax brand. The reviews had raised my expectations, the product couldn’t deliver on those promises.

So are they really independent or are they part of a blogger outreach programme. They give cameras and cash to well respected bloggers and ask them to write technically sound and positive reviews to drag in gullibe muppets like me.

Maybe I’m being cynical (again) but I now finding myself doubting any reviews and feedback unless I know it’s independent. If there were loads of independent reviews then I’d be more inclined to trust the supplier again.

Perhaps I should have looked beyond the first two reviews that Google threw up. Perhaps I should look for a mark of independence such as Feefo offers, or perhaps I should just go and buy a Ricoh GR Digital?

In fact, that’s just what I’ve done, so the Pentax is going on Ebay tonight and I’ll refer my potential buyers to the exact same great reviews that are out there for them to see!

Why Feedback from your customers is vital

And then I found this, which was another interview with Nick Wheeler of CT shirts speaking at the Leaders in London Conference. He makes great shirts and other accessories but obviously keep his customers very happy indeed. How does he know? he actually asks them what they think!

I’m a bit biased because i Love Feefo, but to get one of your customer envangelising about your brand like this is priceless!

What are the eleven rules and three checkpoints for brilliant branding?

This is my checklist for starting to look at any branding project, in order to capture where the business and the brand already is.

As I’ve said in my work for Purple Circle Branding and on many occasions, branding is not about logos, it’s about a whole raft of ideas that come together to create an overall branded experience. Think of the logo as the marker to know you have arrived at the correct place and you’ll see its context. For me, the brand experience covers every aspect of an interaction or even a potential interaction – so therefore manage it.

In some particular order with the most important first.

1. What are its values and are they published for all to see. More importantly, is there evidence of them actually being lived throughout the organisation?

2. Is the merchandise/product/service supporting the brand experience and actually making it more positive or undermining it by not being as brilliant as it should be?

3. How does the brand speak and look visually? Is it on brand and consistent in every application that’s out there?

4. Has it defined its customers. Can you see from what you are looking at who it is they are expecting to engage with/sell to – and is it who they are actually targeting?

5. How does the website work. Does it look the part, publish the values and really live them?

6. Are the logos being used of a consistent feel. Not necessarily all in the same place and at the same size (as this is just consistent logo usage) but creating the same sort of effect wherever they appear?

7. Are they practicing CRM or MCR (maximising Customer relationships) by engaging with customers in every positive way possible?

8. Is there evidence of customer feedback. Do they use a product such as Feefo to ensure they are constantly engaging with their end users. In effect, are they engaging in dialogue or just giving them diatribe?

9.  Are employees engaged and leading at every level. Are they ‘chattering’ externally in a positive way using social media platforms? When you meet or speak to them are they brand advocates, or sales prevention officers?

10. Does the marketing collateral also talk the talk or does it drift towards the desperate in its sales message or continue to reinforce the brand, create the tribe and sell the dream.

11. Is the SEO on track too? A brilliant brand understands writing for SEO and is employing the best techniques throughout the experience.

This is all well and good. There are now only 11 things you need to manage to make a great brand but from this, you need to define three more final things.

1. What are the problems caused by low scores in any of these areas?

2. What does success in any of these areas look like?

3. Conversely, what does failure in any aspect look like?

These are obviously only rough guidelines and there ill need to be a variation for any specific sector but as a brand owner if you manage all of these well, you won’t be far off a great brand.

Here are a few examples of ones I’ve worked on over the years.

Helping our clients business fly – or is it the other way around?

We ask our clients to put a lot of trust in our advice when they go through a rebrand, but its not often that the favour is so completely repaid.

Well it was today – In some style.

The client, Ed Lennox from Feefo is a very keen pilot and as we were meeting at Wellesbourne Airfield in Warwickshire where he is a member of the flying club, he offered to take me for a few spins around the airfield.

Never having been in a four seater plane before, I was obviously scared off my head, but having just read ‘Yes Man‘ by Danny Wallace (A great book and well worth a read), I was forced to say yes, even though I’m a bit scared of heights!

Anyway, the following pictures prove we went up in 30 mile an hour gusts and flew out over Stratford on Avon.

Brilliant Fun and I’m not scared anymore.

If you fancy joining yourself, this is the link to the Flying Club.