General marketing rants

Insulting customer service and an embarrassing missed opportunity

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Do you watch movies?

I do – and lots of them too. I find movies a good way to give my brain a few hours rest from the reality of life. Sad, I know.

To feed my habit I subscribed to Love Film by post, which is a pretty good service. For just £14.99 a month you get to have three movies out at any time – and as soon as you post them back, you get three more sent to you. I watched 9 films in one week before!

But sadly, and like so many businesses, their good service disappears when you try to cancel.

That’s because you can’t cancel if you have their movies in your possession. But every time I sent them back, they posted me more! And that’s despite me twice confirming my cancellation by telephone.

So I did exactly what you would do. Out of share frustration I cancelled my direct debit payment in the vain hope that would stop them.

But no. Those efficient people at Love Film just kept on posting.

Then I got an email. It confirmed I’d not paid and my subscription was cancelled. But it also confirmed I had three of their movies. They were correct, I did.

At this point, here’s what a smart business would do.

They would ask me some questions that might help them in the future. Maybe:

  • “Why am I leaving?” or;
  • “What did I value about their service?”, maybe even;
  • “Did I find their service convenient?”.

They could have used this opportunity to try to change my mind. An offer or incentive mayAn offer be?

Sadly not. In fact this is what they said:

  • Please note should the discs still be outstanding after that point we will have no option but to pass your details onto our debt collecting agency (CreditLink Accounts Recovery Solutions) for the recovery process.

In case you’re wondering if you read that correctly, you did. They actually threatened me with a debt collection service if I didn’t send my movies back!

That is not just insulting to me – it is shameful on them.

So I sent their movies’ back.

And will never use their service again.


This is a good example of one of the things advertising does.

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I was walking through Bristol Temple Meads train station recently where I saw a real life example of how advertising works. I don’t mean direct response advertising.

I mean advertising that is developed to change our perception of a product. And to usually add some kind of perceived value so we pay more for it and want more of it.

But, and this is the killer, this is achieved without really changing the product itself. Or making it significantly better than its competitors either.

The product I’m talking about is coffee. And the brand benefiting from its advertising was Starbucks. It was illustrated like this:

There is a Starbucks coffee shop positioned only about 5 meters away from an AMT coffee booth in Temple Meads train station. I’m no retail expert but I think the AMT booth is actually better placed to catch your attention.

Anyway, both sell very similar products. And to my knowledge neither product has any meaningful differentiation or competitive advantage.

However, Starbucks was packed with people buying their overpriced coffee. But the AMT booth was empty. Yet they charge less for coffee.


Because the Starbucks brand and the advertising that support it communicates a perceived value. It tells you their coffee is premium (whatever that means), that they source their ingredients from Fairtrade suppliers and that they generally love the planet.

This is very emotional. Starbucks understand that emotion plays a massive part in peoples buying decisions. If it didn’t, and it was practicality that drove purchasing decisions, most people would buy from the AMT booth.

After all, you have the same product, at a lower price and available in a more visible / convenient location. In fact, you have to walk around the AMT booth to get to Starbucks!

And there you have it. Starbucks’ advertising communicates a perceived added value which means they can charge you more money for an undifferentiated product.

There are 1000s of other examples of this of course. For example, the Stella Artois lager brand used to use the positioning line “Reassuringly Expensive” in its advertising. Yet Stella Artois is not much different to most other lager that contains similar alcohol content. And just how different, apart from being lower in price, is Red Rooster compared to Red Bull?

Rory Sutherland explains how advertising changes perception of value far better than I could dare to even dream of. To watch him doing this with hilarious examples just click here:

A great example of how not to convert a hot lead into a sale

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Last week I was doing some research for an online training tool I’m developing. I contacted a company that have a very similar product to the one I want – in fact I’m pretty much stealing their idea.

They were very courteous and generous with their information and gave me the contact details of the company that built their tool.

As most folk do these days, the first thing I did was visit their website for more background information. And the website was pretty good as it happens. In fact within about 3 clicks I got the name and number of their Marketing Manager, and on top of that, it also had a big photo of her smiley face too. Next to her face were the words “If you would like to talk to me for a free and no obligation quote please give me a call.

And this is where it all went wrong!

As when I telephoned the Marketing Manager two things happened:

1. Firstly she said to me that nobody at her firm was called the name I’d asked for. After about 30 seconds of confusion I realised something. She was being incredibly sarcastic as I’d pronounced her surname slightly wrong. In my defence she has an unusual surname.

2. To add insult to injury the second thing she did was truly amazing. As she demanded, in a very aggressive tone, that I explain “What on earth I wanted from her as she was busy and where I’d got her details from”. I responded, politely, that I was inquiring to see if she was interested in building me a training tool for my £20k budget. And I quickly followed that up with “But I am no longer interested in talking with you”. I then put the phone down.

If you are in the business of selling things, and most businesses are in one way or another, I suggest you get polite and helpful people to answer your telephone. Not rude ones that lose you sales – and in this case that sale was £20k.

Also, don’t employ people that are so full of their own importance that a conversation with them almost makes you vomit.

Unfortunately such people are common in marketing roles.

Rant over.

Mick Jagger couldn’t get it. But this might help you give it. Free literature review of satisfaction in the legal market.

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Good, if not great, customer service is as the very heart of marketing. There has been tons of academic writing on the subject and one of the leaders in this area is Professor Sally Dibb of the Open University.

In simple terms, if your customer service exceeds customer expectations (which will be based on your marketing mix and communications) you’ll push people up the loyalty ladder so they become ‘advocates’.

The reason for wanting advocates is simple. They move past being repeat purchasers of your service (which is pretty good anyway) to becoming insistent on only buying from you – therefore making you more money!  And if that wasn’t enough, they also become walking advertisements for you too – telling anyone that will listen just how good you are and why they should buy from you too.

Want proof of advocate power? Just think about the people you know who buy Apple iphones. The only thing they do more than talk about them is play with them.

On the other end of this spectrum is my father-in-law who will only go into pubs in Nottingham that sell Castle Rock beer brands. Castle Rock, by the way, is a fantastic example of great marketing. The pub market seems to have been shrinking by the day as our nation seems to prefer getting drunk at home with half price bottles of wine from Tesco than going down the pub.

However Castle Rock, a Nottingham based micro brewery and small pub chain, has developed a real niche and reputation for quality real ales (award winning I think), great quality grub and traditionally decorated pubs that attract nice folk. They are by no means the cheapest pubs around but their business seems to be booming.

I’m sure you could analyse their offering with Porters Three Routes to market, as their model seems to be based on focus and differentiation – but I might be wrong.

Anyhow, I am currently talking to a research consultancy about a project for Flint Bishop which I think would increase customer satisfaction and build on our differentiation.   The consultancy, called Customer Plus, recently sent me a helpful literature review of client satisfaction in the legal sector which is a short and interesting read.

Download free literature review of client satisfaction in the legal sector.

PS: A word of warning on customer service. Always remember that no matter how many polished marketing communications messages you give, just one bad experience will undo the lot. Period.

PPS: If you want to find any gaps in your customer service perception and the reality of the actual experience you deliver, SERVQUAL is a good start.

English and Welsh lawyers are waking up to a new competitive threat. It’s called bullshit, also known as PR.

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Law firms inEnglandandWalesare preparing themselves for battle. In October this year the Alternative Business Structure comes into force, opening up the market to a new glut of competition. 

In addition to this, and the seemly increasing number of unqualified Will writers and employment law charlatans exchanging crap advice for hard earned money, is QualitySolicitors. This is to my knowledge the UK’s first legal franchise which is being fronted by everyone’s favorite TV show panel judge for the mentally ill –  Amanda Holden.

The QualitySolicitors concept has taken a hammering from the legal world who, by and large, feel they are cheapening the profession. Whist there is a real danger of this, most comments I have read by lawyers could be translated into: “we’re scared and don’t know what to do.”  

I actually think that their approach, and that of the Alternative Business Structures, might result in law firms taking an objective look at themselves and sharpening their own marketing efforts. In addition law firms might benefit, by which I mean make more sales, by ‘piggybacking’ on the back of a general increase in awareness of the need for their services – for instance that 4 out of 5 people still don’t have a Will.

Anyhow, aside all that, law firms will start to understand just what a dog-eat-dog world we live in and how marketing can have a massive impact on their fortunes. This brings me on to my main point, public relations. A marketing tool that wields huge power but is very rarely used to full impact by law firms.

This is clearly not the case at QualitySolicitors. A couple of weeks back Amanda Holden appeared on ITV1’s This Morning programme promoting the brand she is paid to. She apparently commented: “You can walk into WHSmith… there is a list that is now recommended by the public, for the public, of solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off and who can help you. And it’s completely free, you get advice free and then you can get any information you need.”

Asked who drew up the list of solicitors, she suggested QualitySolicitors had official Law Society backing as she continued: “There’s a governing body for solicitors and what they’ve done is they’ve gone to each town, they’ve picked the best solicitor from each town so there’s not a whole load of them and they’ve done a survey, they’ve contacted the clients… listened to the feedback, picked the cream of the crop and put them on that QualitySolicitors list.”

This is bullshit of the highest order that has got thousands of solicitors up-and-down the land moaning on websites and contacting the law society to issue a clarification.

However law firms need to wake up as this is how the competitive world of business works. At every opportunity businesses try to get valuable media coverage, preferable via a celebrity, to promote their brands even if what is being said is questionable. Even if an apology was made by QualitySolicitors or a clarification issued by the Law Society the message is out and the damage done. Now I am not condoning lying about your service and marketing proposition, I’m just being honest about the reality of business and the tactics used.  Law firms need to stop obsessing about competitors marketing efforts and look at how they are going to compete in a new competitive world.

Is advertising a dirty word for the online community?

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I was reading an article recently and, according to the Advertising Bureau’s annual report,  Facebook saw its year-on-year display advertising rocket by 27.5% in 2010. This now means that Facebook accounts for almost 25% of the UKs online advertising revenues which stand at £4b. Research in advertising trends now shows that £1 in every £4 spent on marketing and advertising by British companies is spent online.

After reading the article online, I continued down the page (as I always do, but by now should know better) to read the various comments posted in response. I was amazed by the rancour aimed at people who had ever dare click on an advertisement – and also the level of superiority of those who had resisted the advertisers best attempts at luring them in.

There were literally 100’s of posts from the ‘morally superior’ describing people that click on ads as morons.

Here’s the thing. I am not defending online advertising as I often find it irritating and, as a fairly heavy internet user, don’t recall clicking on an adertisement to further my interest in any product or service.  As a marketer I have not invested much in online advertising as campaign ROMI has been achieved by using other elements of my communications mix – although I wouldn’t rule it out as in the words of Richard V Benson “There are only two rules in direct marketing. Rule 1: test everything. Rule 2: Refer to Rule 1″ A maxim that should be applied to both the message and medium in my opinion.

However I don’t view the people clicking on advertisements any lower in class, social standing or brain power than me. However I do hold the view that people making such derogatory comments are pompous twats – who spell their anti-commercial/capatalist revolutions with a very small r.

The thing that really irritates me with this smug bunch is that they don’t seem to appreciate that 100s of online services, including Facebook, are paid for by ‘dirty advertisers’.  I would be very interested to see just how high their morale ground is, and deep their pockets are, should Facebook and others start charging say, £300 a year, for the privilege of having an advertisement free service!

According to Bob Bly we might see more advertising tosh!

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I was discussing the topic of my first ever blog post with a marketing colleague of mine this morning – the fact I think the Halifax ISA Baby TV advertisement is tosh of the highest order. However she made a very good point and one that marketing, and particularly advertising folk, forget all too often. That is, it doesn’t really matter what I think of the advertisement. All that counts for the Halifax is how successful the advertising campaign has been at generating enquires for its ISA products. In the words of advertising copywriting guru Bob Bly

“The goal of advertising is not to be liked — it is to sell products. The advertiser, if he is smart, doesn’t care whether people like his commercials or are entertained or amused by them. Commercials are a means to an end, and the end is increased sales — and profits — for the advertiser”

Based on Bob’s quote I guess you can be assured that, if the Halifax processing department is currently knee deep in applications, the ISA Baby advertisement won’t be the last incarnation of their dreadful mock radio show campaign!!!!!!!!