Fine just isn’t good enough

This is not a Beef Roulade, this is an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta
This is not a Beef Roulade, this is an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta

Marks and Spencer have been fighting back over the last few years with their strong campaign that says “its not just a thingy, its an M&S thingy” and it has felt like its been working. I only say this, because a brand essence has been really embedded when you hear kids and adults alike using the expression in everyday conversation.

Now M&S have been trying to help us in these recessionary times by reducing te price of the ‘Dine IN’ menu from £15 to £10.

But I have often argued on here and in other places that it will only work if the product your are peddling is actually as good as you promise.

Father’s Day yesterday and after a nice walk, what could be nicer than popping into our local M&S for their ‘Dine in for £10 deal’? Great idea but incredibly bland (at best and horrid at worst) food and that for me, is the start of the decline for the whole of the M&S brand.

We decided to start with the Beef Roulade.

mmmm Sounds nice.

It’s not a normal Beef Roulade remember, its an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta, served in a sweet vine ripened tomato sauce. (random capitalisation followed exactly from the packaging).

Unfortunately it wasn’t nice. It was pretty horrible and had the texture of a rolled up beefburger with some tangy cheesy peas stuffed up the middle of it.

The pudding was fine, the wine was fine and even the new potatoes were fine. But that’s it, they were just fine.

Fine is just not good enough. Fine is failing. Fine is forgettable and fine is feeling like I won’t bother next time.

To maintain or even grow a brand you have to do brilliant stuff, over and over again.

In the paraphrased words of Tony Parsons from his book Man and Wife, you have to allow your customers to fall in love over and over again.

When you make brand promises as big as M&S have been making, you have to not only wine and dine them, you have to be the perfect date, who brings flowers to you, says nice things to the future in laws and remembers all the little brothers and sisters birthdays. You have to be perfect. Not fine. Perfect.

My dine in for £10 meal was far from perfect. The main course wasn’t even fine.

It wasn’t just a meal and it wasn’t just an M&S meal, it was an entirely forgettable M&S meal.

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Innovate or its gonna be roadkill

It seems obvious to most of us that unless we innovate with our brands we die, but why do so many organisations and brand owners slowly drift into mediocrity? Branding is far more than changing logos, it’s about renewing the entire presentation of an organisation to its customers or agreed target audience, who may become customers of the future.

The Little Chef brand in UK is a great example. Their Olympic breakfast used to be exceptional but year by year it became less Olympian and more local track event. Bits started dropping off and others became ‘extras’ pretty soon a simple breakfast became a £10 plus extortion.

By the time they drafted in ‘expert’ Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame, who is quite obviously a brilliant chef, but as far removed from a motorway service as could possibly be imagined, the cheese had most definitely moved. It was so far gone that no amount of PR could bring it out of hiding.

Over almost ten years there was a generational change (or neglect) that meant an entire new audience grew up NOT using Little Chef as their roadside café of choice.

The rather excellent site Motorway services info rates Motorway services over a number of different ratings to do with cleanliness, friendliness and pricing and then rather weirdly. gives them a burger related rating.

Tebay in Northumberland always wins because the owners – as it is amazingly, still privately owned – care enough to keep renewing their offer and ensuring their staff are behaving as they would want, the prices are what they would be happy to pay and the showers are ones they would even use themselves.

Bottled water in most services is actually much more expensive than petrol or diesel (at over £1.50 per litre) and in these value aware times, most people are wising up and either bringing their own ‘value’ products (from home, from Aldi or even from taps) that the likes of Moto will soon start to seriously struggle unless they renew, and renew fast.

I drive thousands of miles on Britain’s motorways and for me the biggest mover of cheese (and pickle and ham etc etc) has been Marks and Spencer. The arrival of their brand in services has brought a new price structure and a level of quality only seen before in the likes of Tebay.

There is nothing new in marketing and ever was thus. The clearest example we were given whilst training in marketing at college was the Swiss watch industry being decimated by Swatch. They just didn’t see the competition coming from electronics. Whilst they haven’t quite died, the volumes of mechanical Swiss watches is far smaller than in the 60’s.

Brands have to innovate, in any industry. The road to LONG TERM branding success is littered with glorious failures and quiet disappearances, but if it can happen at the roadside, where could it happen to you and your brand – more importantly, what are you doing to ensure that you move the cheese before the others realise it has even moved.

Ps if you want read the ‘Who moved my cheese’ book that I refer to in this article, click below.

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson