Slogan vs. brand promise

A funny thing happened the other day. After a roguish water bottle exploded in my bag, my work diary was looking less than smart, so I ordered a mid-year A5 black day-to-a-page diary on Amazon. I specifically wanted a black one – always slick and classic.

A few working days later and I receive my package on time and unwrap it, eager to write my first to-do list on the fresh, new pages. Organisation Central, here I come!

To my dismay and, frankly, annoyance, this is what I was greeted with:


Yup, it’s red. And by way of explanation? A carefully written Post-It note: “Sorry. Red only.”

Well, sorry Amazon seller, but I didn’t want a red one; if I had, I would have ordered a red one! I felt like scrawling underneath: “Sorry. Only ordered black” and sending it back.  But that in itself is an annoyance; now I have to re-wrap it and make an unplanned trip to the Post Office. All they needed to do was send me an email to let me know.

Amazon has a brilliant reputation but this was not good form from one of its ‘trusted’ sellers. It got me thinking about brand promise and expectation, so I checked to see what Amazon’s slogan is on the website, ready to tear it apart with my recent poor customer service experience. After all, a brand is only truly successful if it delivers on its promise all the way through the consumer experience.

But Amazon has no slogan to tear apart. Interesting; I hadn’t realised that before. I guess, when you’re as big as Amazon and everyone knows who you are and what you do (normally very well, I might add), do you need a slogan at all? Google, Starbucks and Virgin clearly don’t think so.

Is not having a slogan a cop out? Arguably it is one way of not having to live up to a very high expectation, which if a brand (inevitably) doesn’t reach every time, might “undershoot and sully” its reputation, as Helen Edwards asks in her recent Marketing magazine column. Maybe, but she goes on to make the important point that, “It is more subtle than that. You can bet that a great brand like Google, with smart marketers on board and skilled agencies alongside, could devise a stunning sign-off if it chose to”.

Whether a brand chooses to have a slogan or not, one thing’s for sure – actions speak louder than words. On that note, I wish Nike did diaries, JUST in black.


Sandwiches with a smile

Everyone has slightly OCD bugbears. My sister hates people loudly eating crisps next to her on the train and my friend has apoplexy every time a salesperson puts the phone down on her. Mine? Rude waiters/ waitresses. Well, bad customer service in general really. But a brusque waitress has to be the pinnacle!

Waitressing has stood me – and many of my friends – in good stead. Having personally seen the handsome monetary proof of delivering friendly, good service, I cannot help being very observant of waiters and waitresses in a restaurant. Put simply, if they are brusque and rude, they ain’t getting a tip. Because if you spend £50 on a meal out and eat ingredients that, if we’re honest, cost a fiver, the rest of the ‘value’ is purely service (and not having to wash up afterwards).

The catalyst that got me thinking about this was seeing the recently published results of the J.D. Power and Associates Customer Service Roundtable in Las Vegas. Every year  J.D. Power evaluate more than 800 brands by measuring five key customer “touch points,” including people, presentation, process, product, and price.  Jaguar came out well this year, on the grounds of satisfying customers with an outstanding new vehicle sales experience. As I’m not quite in the market for a Jaguar, I got thinking about brands that I enjoy being customer serviced by, so to speak.

One stands out above the rest: Pret A Manger.  In all my years of Pret sandwich, salad and (reckless) brownie eating, I have yet to meet a Pret employee who is anything less than charming, upbeat and super-efficient. And with so much personality! A comment from Ewan Stickley, former Head of Training at Pret, sums it up perfectly. When he was a manager in a Pret store the nicest thing anyone said to him was: “I like coming here because I get served by human beings.” And it is the individuals who deliver good service, not companies.

99.9% of time Pret’s food and service are unimpeachable. It was to my great dismay, then, that the last time I bought a toasted sandwich from Pret for lunch, when I opened my precious, warm cargo back at the office it was…BURNT! And not just a bit, one corner was officially inedible. But did I go back in a huff? No.  

It’s this kind of customer loyalty that will stand companies in good stead when the going gets tough. It’s all very well having a sparkling marketing strategy and smashing its profits, but if its ‘brand ambassadors’ (read: staff) are rude, at some point a company will feel the consequences. It may start off as a mere ripple, but it could become an angry customer-fuelled tsunami. Something to bear in mind in the age of the highly visible (and potentially incendiary) online restaurant review!

The man with ideas for energy

When people are asked to “name a high profile entrepreneur” the usual answer is “Richard Branson” or perhaps Stelios. Maybe even Bannantyne.

But a new businessman is blazing a trail for the hottest PR profile around. Dale Vince has ideas for energy. His company Ecotricity has invested millions in green energy since its set-up in 1996, and is championing solar power and wind power in a way that is rattling the cages of the traditional energy providers. Ecotricity is now the seventh-largest retail supplier of electricity in the UK and one of the biggest builders of wind turbines. Vince, founder and owner, could be worth up to £100m.

Increasingly, Vince is creeping into the public consciousness, an anoraked, surfer-haired, wind-swept visionary for a greener, slightly less smoggy future, and he must be driving the power giants mad. Firstly there’s the copyright war with EDF over the green Union Jack. Then there’s the ongoing battle with local councils to resurrect more of his awe-inspiring wind farms.

What about the press ads challenging Sir Richard Branson to discuss his green plan for the future and lobbying government to use the money spent on fuel poverty allowances to build the Severn Barrage energy generation scheme?

What Vince demonstrates to me is the often-touted maxim that a good idea without the right execution is, well, a bit of a waste of time really.

Ecotricity is offering consumers something genuinely different – but more importantly, its founder is championing a singular, consistent message in a challenging controversial way. He’s built his brand around his persona in a direct snub to the faceless energy brands and acknowledged that a business with a personality will always be more compelling than a conglomerate with a logo – whether that logo is green or not.

It’s a lesson to us all in how to wake up and disturb a complacent market, and a case study in launching a personality brand.