Thursday, 17 April 2014

Can a brand cause sleepless nights?

In this case – yes! A certain hotel chain, fronted by the amiable comedian Lenny Henry, is currently looking to build a new 60-bed premises in Ambleside. As surely almost everyone will know – Ambleside is one of the Lake District’s finest destinations. Put yourself in the shoes of those people living in Ambleside or those engaged in running the village’s thriving independent B+B’s or small independent hotels. I imagine there were more than a few winks of sleep lost as the news broke of this new proposal.

But what of the people who simply visit this fabulously beautiful North West tourist delight? Once we start to consider their views I think we might get some powerful insights into the power of brands. Or should that be the hazards of brands? By examining the challenges faced by practitioners of the dark art of branding maybe we will understand better some of the issues involved.

As there are something like 1500 beds already available for tourists in Ambleside, this represents a modest increase of nearly 5% but I would suggest the struggle will be titanic. Battling with locals, planners and general lovers of the Lake District, the brand will have to be extremely resilient even to get to first base. This is not an academic exercise – people love the Lake District and for everyone who says this will encourage more visitors to the area there is a voice which claims it will be a blight on the landscape.

But, assuming go-ahead is given, the battle is far from over as I know well from my experience in marketing brands to the public. It may take many years of detailed research, subtle marketing and persistent brand support to ensure sustained sales. The bad news is it can take next to no time at all for the public to turn its back on that brand. Years of work may be ended and you will not even be involved in the decision process. The public is fickle and investors in brands need to know that.

My example refers to consumer products on the shelves of a supermarket – obviously we’re talking about something on a far larger scale here. If a product is delisted then it is pretty soon forgotten and can be replaced by better and more customer-friendly versions. But what can you do with a 60-bed hotel if the expected visitors don’t come? The stakes are high – win and the Lakes will probably attract a new demographic and get fresh blood to keep it alive longer – lose and the fragile beauty of the whole region is compromised. Think of Prince Charles’s friend with the embossed carbuncle on his face! Poor old Ambleside is faced with a gamble if it goes ahead – let’s hope it does its homework well and pays attention to the branding messages which will be pushed out at every opportunity.

In my humble opinion, this one is an extremely hot potato which could be burning hands for a long time to come whatever the outcome.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Business is no laughing matter.

That statement might well ring true for some people.  It’s all too easy to lose your sense of humour in the heat of the battle – especially when you’re fighting on a daily basis to make your business venture a success. But, pause for a second to reconsider like I did and you might just decide to take a different view.

What got me thinking about this was the story concerning Arsène Wenger’s 1000th match in charge of Arsenal football club. He was given an award at a ceremony hosted by Sir Chips Keswick, the Arsenal chairman. Unfortunately for Sir Chips, he stumbled over his words and congratulated the manager on achieving the laudable milestone of 1000 years in charge! Like the consummate professional he is, Arsène Wenger covered the potential embarrassment with a daft joke. He quickly replied how being in charge for a 1000 games had certainly made him look a 1000 years old. As you might imagine, I wasn’t at the ceremony but I can fully picture the scene and easily imagine those circumstances transposed to a business setting.

There was probably a shared laugh which diffused the tension surrounding the gaffe. The audience no doubt thought better of Arsène Wenger for his generosity and Sir Chips had the opportunity to laugh at himself and reveal his human side. Win win as far as I can see and the relationship between the two men probably strengthened not weakened.

Pretty much the same in business I feel. As the world gets tougher, more competitive and more volatile it seems to me a good idea not to forget basic weapons like a good sense of humour. Whether you’re making a presentation, negotiating with a landlord or dealing with an irate customer, humour can be a good ally.

The second reminder of this came recently when I hosted a post-budget presentation on the North West economy with the IoD’s chief economist, James Sproule, as my speaker. I confess to being a little apprehensive as some 50 people gathered in the room to hear the presentation. Although this had been mostly a positive budget for business, economics can on occasions be a dry topic. A combination of facts and figures and obsessive detail on comprehension-defying subjects such as annuities can send anyone to sleep. So it was with some relief that I could thank the speaker for having been not just informative but also charismatic! By wrapping up the facts in a blanket of humour, wit and parody, the speaker had managed to fully engage the audience, make his content memorable and left them all wanting more.

We can’t all be charismatic to that extent but I like to keep trying – sounds odd but maybe humour is worth a bit of serious consideration.