THE FRIDAY RANT (1)

Hello peeps!! It’s been a while and I’ve neglected you. I’m so sorry. Real work got in the way. (Oh to be a full time blogger, now that really would be awesome – but how does it pay the bills?)

So, to get to the point, we’re launching a new series on the MamaTray blog this week:

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The title is pretty self–explanatory, so I won’t waste any time going into it. Here we go…

First up: the packaging pump.

I’ve got really dry skin. I use a lot of creams, moisturisers, lotions and potions, in an attempt to tame and thwart the daily, desert–like conditions of my skin. And these products predominately come in what I refer to as ‘the godforsaken pump’. Ah, the pump… A great packaging invention way back when, no doubt introduced with the very best of aspirations and intentions. Except pumps don’t work that well once you get down to the lower dregs of the product inside them and you then have to spend what feels like aeons of your life – that you’ll never get back – trying to manually extract the last few centimetres of the incredibly expensive cream/lotion that you placed all your faith in.

When the pump starts to make that dreaded, spluttering noise, there’s a frustrating sequence of events that follow:

a) unscrew the top of the pump, squint your eye and try to establish how much is left inside;
b) discard the top of the pump, in semi–fury, after pumping it a few times to get the excess out first (traditionally managing to squirt the lotion in a completely different direction to the one you had originally intended);
c) turn pump upside down and aggressively ‘smack’ it down onto the palm of your hand to encourage more lotion to flow out (a bit like the move you would do to not waste the last of the tomato ketchup);
d) resort to standing the pump upside down, on an available, clean surface of your bathroom and leaving it overnight to loosen up the contents;
e) ineffectively clean up said surface, the next day (and incur the wrath of the OCD, other resident/s of the house) as the lotion has now cascaded out around the edges and started to crystalise into a decidedly unappealing ‘splurge’;
f) give up, chuck the damn thing in the bin and reach for a new version of the same product;
g) repeat this process, ad nauseam, in the style of ‘Groundhog Day’.

So, why have I kicked off about all of this, apart from it being a personal bug bear? Well, I think it’s because, in our industry, we spend a lot of time and a lot of (other people’s) money creating, presenting and effectively selling a promise to prospective consumers with products, services and brands in general. This will work brilliantly; it’s what you’ve been waiting for, your whole life; this is a brand you can totally rely on; a brand that understands you, inside out, and fits seamlessly with your lifestyle; and this product/service ultimately represents incredible value for your hard earned dosh.

But in this instance, albeit in the niche of skincare packaging, the consumer experience is not in any way living up to the quality of the product inside. A product which has been developed using a very considered formula of scientific musings and rather specially selected ingredients. This is therefore an example of prioritising some form of aesthetic design convention over basic functionality and user experience. Has the Brand Manager – or better still, the Head of Design & Innovation – ever actually used the product for more than one or two pumps, and gone through these same frustrations, then made the call that this is ‘bang on’ and not a thing should change? I think not.

What’s more, this packaging design is contributing to unnecessary wastage. The once upon a time innovation of the packaging pump isn’t really all that innovative, IMHO. Easier on the eye, perhaps, but somewhat ineffective in the hand, more’s the pity. And, no doubt, I’m paying a premium for the ‘convenience’ of the pump format at a personal cost to myself. I don’t dare tot up the minutes I spend each month on the aforementioned sequence of events, let alone consider the amount of semi–finished products I am personally sending to landfill each month. (I diligently place them in the container recycling bin, each time, but who knows where it ends up afterwards.)

So, what’s the answer? I don’t pretend to know anything about industrial design, but I do have some thoughts for consideration, obv, as follows.

1. Bring on the refill

Aside from the development of a very different, more efficient packaging format in general, one no brainer suggestion would be the mandatory introduction of the simple refill for all FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). Dettol do it with their hand wash and the refill bottles are also made of a lighter, less plasticy, more squeezy (and presumably, more sustainable) bottle than the original pump (aargh), which feels better on the conscience. It goes without saying that the refill should be cheaper than the original (must it really be a) pump version.

2. Consumers usually know best

Let’s take a moment to reconsider the traditional U&A consumer focus group (Usage & Attitude). I used to attend hundreds of these when I worked as an advertising planner on P&G, back in the early noughties. They were boring as bat shit for some, but absolutely fascinated me. Watching, and listening to, people recount their personal battles and humiliations with the new product they were trialing, provided genuine insight into how we could turn the consumer experience from distinctly average, to completely bloody amazing. And, give them their due, the nerdy little P&G bods would always go back to their drawing board and get it sorted.

3. Back to some basics

Bring back the simple tube of cream/lotion, all is forgiven… It works. It didn’t need updating, glitzing or pumping. It’s an innovation that stands the test of time. Some brands still use the humble tube in their product repertoire, albeit traditionally for small amounts of lovely, posh hand cream (wasted on me!) versus vast quantities of body lotion. Regardless, the point is this: you can squeeze, roll and manipulate the bejesus out of the product within a tube and get exactly what you paid for (just like you do with a tube of toothpaste, for example, versus the more contemporary (but irritating) toothpaste pump version). And when you’re done with the last drop, you simply ditch it at a rather satisfying fraction of the original size it came in. Bingo.

So, in summary, it seems to me that innovation in this space doesn’t necessarily equal ‘new’ and ‘different’. It can sometimes be as simple as the old mantra: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

I thank you and goodnight. 🙂

 

Next up: ‘loyalty’ programs.

BRANDS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: PART 3

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Today, I’m going to introduce those of you who aren’t already ‘in the know’, to a fabulous, little brand called Scotch & Soda. It’s currently in my Top 5, which is no mean feat, as you can no doubt imagine. In fact, I’m wearing a rather fetching pink and black jumper, as I type, which is a bit like a contemporary rework of a classic Dennis the Menace stripey number…

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I first encountered Scotch & Soda after a client meeting in the big city of Sydney finished a little bit early and I saw a sign in the window of the store bragging ‘70% off’. (Never let it be said that promotions don’t work.)

For starters, I didn’t know there were any interesting, boutiquey type stores up that end of Castlereagh Street, as it’s all big, flashy hotels, bank HQs and (yawn) David Jones. Secondly, I’d not really heard of this brand at the time but the clothing in the windows looked pretty ace – men’s and women’s – so I did a bit of a look behind my shoulder, then ventured in. The look back was because it was mid afternoon in the working week, and despite the fact that I now work for myself, the conditioning of formal work hours, duties and professionalism still lingers in my consciousness.

CAPTIVATING
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Probably the thing I love most about this brand is its ability to completely captivate me. To woo my attention and undying affection, from the word go. There are many factors that drive this, including:

– a great name that really stands out from the pack (I don’t know anyone who drinks scotch with soda, but that’s irrelevant and part of the intrigue);

– the brand literally radiates a really laid back sense of Dutch ‘cool’ (it’s from Amsterdam, so say no more);

– the brand identity and visual system is minimal, chic, largely monochrome (swoon) with a lovely typeface and some handwritten shenanigans (a brand after my own heart);

– the clothes horses in the marketing collateral are impossibly beautiful people but, crucially, are effortless rather than forced or fake in either their expressions or styles (they genuinely look like they absolutely dig the clothes they’re in and are feeling pretty special to be involved);

– the clothing is different, quirky and anything but run of the mill, or a conventional slave to the latest trends;

– my love of all things sparkly and starry is played out in full technicolour glory in both the clothing and the retail store (more on this later).

COMPLEX
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Ok, enough of the praise for a moment. When I exercise due strategic diligence and interrogate the brand a little deeper, I find some things that could do with a bit of work. So, first up: the brand architecture is confusing and there are mixed conventions at play.

For those who don’t work in branding, or a strategy department, brand architecture isn’t to be confused with the design and master planning of beautiful buildings like in Grand Designs. Brand architecture is about how you structure and organise different products/services so that the relevant customers can easily navigate them and understand that while each of these brands are presenting you something slightly different, they are all being offered by the one, main, master brand.

In this case, Scotch & Soda target 4 distinct audiences and they get brownie points for making an effort to structure and distinguish their product offerings around these categories. So, they do clothing for men, women, boys and girls and each line carries its own mini brand (or sub brand, if we want to get into the technical lingo). Here’s what I mean, in visual terms:

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Where it gets a bit tricky, is that the descriptors for these 4 sub brands are cute, but different, in the sense that they don’t form one, cohesive set. This might sound a bit pedantic, but the devil is often in the detail. The women’s sub brand is in French (Maison Scotch, ‘La Femme Selon Marie’) as is the girls’ sub brand, well, partly (‘Scotch R’Belle, Tales from Amsterdam’) – which comes from nowhere as not only is it a Dutch brand, but also the remaining sub brand names are all in English. The men’s sub brand seems to run the show, carrying the same descriptor as the whole site: ‘Scotch & Soda, Amsterdam Couture’. And, finally, the boys’ sub brand has the cutest name: ‘Scotch Shrunk, Born in Amsterdam’. My aforementioned Dennis the Menace jumper carries a label that brags: ‘Star de la Saison’ – now, I’m probably the lady to know the word for ‘star’ and I can tell you that the French for star is definitely not ‘star’. Of course, we women all love a bit of Frenchy couture but, still, it all seems to jar a little in terms of a brand language. As well as undermine the Dutch thang, big time.

Second thing to note is the all important brand story, usually to be found lurking in the ‘About us’ section of any good website. This one left me desperately out of the loop on the real story behind the brand. There’s a lot of detail here but it’s not a story, as such. It lacks characters (the people behind the brand) and a plot (how/why this all came to being and what we can expect next). Shame.

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The third, and final, complication is the nitty gritty pricing strategy. After discovering the store, I later had a browse on the website. I found some things on the site that I really rather fancied. But I wanted to try them on instore first, to fully suss them out. I’m definitely not one of those serial online shoppers who orders things in 2 sizes, or 3 colours, fully prepared to send the ones that don’t make the cut back. I’d rather cut to the chase. So, I went instore and found 2 out of 3 of the items on my wishlist. Even better, they were subject to a 25% reduction. So, there were better prices instore than online. That turns convention on its head, but not necessarily in a good way. People are used to better deals online nowadays, so often bypass a store if they are bargain hunting. Furthermore, every time I’ve been instore, there’s a new discount format at play. One day it was 25% off on men’s only; another day it was 25% on women’s only; another day there were no discounts; and on my first visit, as I mentioned above, it was 70% off everything. In reality, you therefore never quite know what discount/price you’re going to pay on any given day. Which is kinda spontaneous, but also kinda sporadic. And, if the website is always full price – apart from when there’s a big, national sale – you’re going to have more traffic instore, than on your site. Maybe. You see my conundrum.

COSY
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The Scotch & Soda store on Castlereagh St is terrific. It’s cosy, like your cooler, older sister’s bedroom: a haven of colour, delicious clothing you can only dream to own, dramatic mirrors, wool (at this time of year) and even exquisite bronze wire hangers. (Hangers are very underrated in clothing stores but God it makes a difference not to have that battle where you pick one thing up and they all start falling off because they’re on those cheap, wire hangers that you get from the dry cleaners. Impression. Is. Everything.)

Some other things I really enjoyed about the store:

– warm lighting that actually makes you look good even if the clothing doesn’t technically suit you;

– a manageable amount of clothing, organised neatly on hangers or arranged in inviting piles of colour, fluff or pattern;

– non intrusive helpers who let you try things on, in peace, but are right there when you need them with a smiley little face;

– talking of the assistants, they’re really down to earth versus salesy, genuinely able to take an interest in you and your story, complete with a sense of humour (I always test this out…) and they are exactly that cooler, older sister/brother, just not in any way older than you!

In essence, Scotch & Soda is just a little bit different from the usual clothing brands that we have on offer out here in Aus. It has a wow factor but blink and you’ll miss it. I only discovered it thanks to my client’s office location, but now I’m well and truly hooked. I’ve just added some key items to my ‘casual wardrobe’ (not to be confused with my ‘corporate wardrobe’) and I’m like a pig in shit. At the end of the day, the successful clothing brands are often the ones who not just fit your your lifestyle, but enhance it. The clothes are cool, so they make me cooler. When you’re wearing cool clothes, you have more swagger. When you have more swagger, you have more confidence in yourself and what you have to offer the world. And, even better, you go to a cool café and someone compliments you on your clothing and you feel like a million dollars. And a brand that can help you feel like a million dollars is definitely a keeper. ☺

Until next time…

BRANDS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: PART 2

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Ah, the lovely Officeworks. Stationery. Post–its. Sharpies. Swoon… ☺

Officeworks is a chain of Australian retail stores that sell, yep, you’ve guessed it, office supplies. (For my U.S. readers, the original concept was based on Office Depot.)

It was established in 1994 by Coles Myer, which is now called the Coles Group, and forms part of the mahoosive Wesfarmers Limited empire. Phew, glad we got that clear. Officeworks is therefore a sister company to some other pretty great brands – one of which is bound to come under the spotlight in the not too distant future – including:

– Bunnings (the haven of choice for the man of the house);
– Kmart (have you seen how cheap & fetching their ‘knock off Adidas’ sportswear is?!);
– Target (that’s ‘Tarjay’ to all of us, now – thanks Gok, we’d honestly never ever have got there on our own).

I frequent Officeworks quite a bit. Now I run my own business, I have the perfect excuse to ‘just be passing’ and to thoroughly browse the aisles for essential supplies. The fact is that there’s no stationery cupboard for me to pilfer from anymore. And, to be honest, they were actually never as exciting as a trip to Officeworks. It’s resplendent with vibrant pops of colour, painstakingly neat organisation and beaming little helpers at every turn. Well, not every turn. It depends… (More on that later.)

When I first arrive, I traditionally want to be left alone to peruse what’s new – you know you go to a store too much if you only look for what’s new. A bit like my trips to IKEA with my friend Laura, but that’s another story for a later date. So, yes, I like to be left alone during the first few moments across the threshold, to feel the vibe so to speak. Apart from the infamous day when I discovered the Alexandria store redesign and about a kilometre of neon Sharpies, just to the left of the front door, to get my grubby little mitts on. (They’re not grubby, I can assure you. It’s just a phrase. I’m very handy with the antibacterial wash.) On that day, I squealed loudly, with delight, at the nearest employee and he mirrored my reaction. I think he even jumped up and down a little bit with me… It was awesome.

PRACTICAL
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Officeworks slots into the same ‘useful’ bracket as stores like the aforementioned IKEA, Kmart and Target here in Australia. And it’s comparable to brands like Argos and Tesco Direct in the UK. They sell shit you really need and each purchase does, in its own little way, make your life that little bit easier. They give you ‘solutions’. It’s a terribly overused word these days, especially in the technology space, but we do all have pressing, first world problems that need solving.

For example:
– running out of space (because our eyes are a hell of a lot bigger than our storage areas);
– ever increasing mounds of paperwork (stuff we feel the need to file to ‘deal with later’ rather than action at the time and store electronically);
– the need to scribble down all of those ‘golden nuggets’ that people utter during increasingly long business meetings (so we can never refer back to them later);
– the desire to dream up new ideas and ‘winning concepts’ on paper, through craft, or ideally a dose of Play Dough or Lego (and, thereby, try to remember what it was like to be a child with limitless imagination);
– and, of course, the inherent need to express our individual personalities with any particular colour/style/finish we want that particular day/week/year (and offset the ‘drudgery’ of having to work for a living).

Officeworks can solve all of this, incredibly efficiently. When I ordered my first, major business order, it arrived in less than 24 hours and with no delivery charges! As I stated in my Facebook post about the event, I was genuinely like ‘a pig in shit’. Incidentally, others don’t always seem to have the best experience, as a quick browse through the Officeworks Facebook page reveals. That being said, they let people rant on there; they seem to respond very swiftly to people’s gripes, in a nice and straightforward tone of voice; and, crucially, they do something about it. Hurrah!

Finally, in the practical stakes, there is, of course, something to suit each and every budget. Which is a given these days, but they do the product tiering in such a way that if you do choose ‘lower’ or less than premium, to put it bluntly: the item doesn’t look like a pile of crap and stand out for all the wrong reasons.

PROFESSIONAL
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The Officeworks brand has undergone a few rebrands. In 2008 it was a low cost warehouse, that just happened to sell office supplies, and it carried the classic ‘Lowest Prices Everyday’ endline. Not a million miles away from any other big, service brand out here at the time, I’m sure. In 2012, it updated the line to ‘Big Ideas. Lowest Prices.’ A concept probably concocted in the same workshop as the now infamous line that its sister company Bunnings carries: ‘Lowest prices are just the beginning’. Regardless, it’s nice to have something in there about ideas. It’s way better than ‘solutions’ and it speaks to creativity, to the power of inspiration and it overtly sits before the value message, which is really important, IMHO.

All round, they’ve made a great effort with their branding. It’s painstakingly consistent across every brand touchpoint – and believe me, I’ve absorbed a lot of them, as Officeworks is firmly positioned in my current Top 10. Probably even my Top 3. This consistency and ‘slickness’ shows they dare to care and make an effort to be/look/act professional, to attract and secure repeat customers. The layout of the EDMs (electronic direct marketing i.e. salesy emails) is exemplary: bold headlines with an inherent thought (e.g. ‘Clean up’ rather than ‘Kitchen essentials’); simple, structured visuals; and a lovely little set of icons – I challenge anyone to deny they love the easy navigation of services these little beauties provide in a world crammed with promises galore.

Some other things I found out about Officeworks, while researching this post, include the little known fact that it ended its relationship with the paper supplier APRIL (who?) over claims that the company was illegally logging Indonesian forests. Hooray for a company with ethics and a code of conduct! They also, allegedly have free Wi-Fi in all stores nationwide. Who knew?! I can see a nice little message carried by that natty little proof point: because work never has to stop while you shop; at Officeworks, your business travels with you; for the customer who is ‘always on’; because giving is in our nature. Ok, I’ll stop now.

PERSONAL
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Playing in the area of functional, everyday, office supplies, it wouldn’t be unthinkable to keep things very straight bat and unemotional. But I’m pleased to note that Officeworks likes to make just the right amount of effort to ‘jazz up’ their wares with a few little personal trimmings. For example, the invoice attached to the (rather mundane) email confirmation of my order, clearly stated: “Thank you for your order. We appreciate your business.” Haven’t had one of those for a while and, come to think of it, my own invoices don’t even suggest as such. Hmmmm.

Another example would be a recent campaign, which travelled consistently well from instore comms, to EDMs and the mail out brochure stuffed into my post box, to the blog itself – who knew they had the latter? It challenged us to determine what our ’pen–sonality’ is. Somewhat clunky in language, sure, but the bright, cheery visuals of a selection of the 648 different types of pens they stock (yes, including the wonderful Sharpies) broke up the usual blue and white format of their branded communication, as did the hand drawn lines and smart musings on what you might be like depending on the pens you favour. I’m pleased to say that given I go for the ‘Artsy Pens’ every time, my individuality and imagination apparently has no limit and I might even be the next Picasso. Ha!

Of course, personal touches are not just delivered in the written form. They’re even better when delivered in person. Which brings me to the employees. As with most retail stores, it’s a mixed bag. My experience of Officeworks is that there are a couple of extremes at play:

1. the super enthusiast – really knowledgeable and an incredibly willing helper, complete with a personality and obvious sense of humour;
2. the aimless drifter – wanders the aisles, dreaming of better careers, avoiding eye contact and delegating enquiries onto the aforementioned enthusiasts, when things get real.

We all know, without any help from me, which employee delivers a better brand experience and more satisfied customers, but the bigger question is why the drifters are there? If they don’t love stationery, don’t dig the power of organisation and efficiency, or, at the very least, don’t want to help others in some small way, then why choose a role at Officeworks? It’s not the only option. Isn’t life also just that little bit temporary and fragile these days to be doing a job that bores us silly? I’m no doubt overlooking critical factors, not least the state of the economy and the ever increasing number of mouths to feed, but still.

The managers, instore, look great. They’re clearly ‘into’ what they do. And I’ve worked with enough service brands now to know that the shadow of the leader plays a big part in the morale and commitment of the employee being managed. So, where does the problem lie? Can Officeworks afford to be picky with the people who come through their doors looking for a job? I’d like to think so. But perhaps they don’t pay well, or don’t encourage enough of an internal culture to spread the good will from the enthusiast, to the drifter. Who knows. I’m willing and able to help them through this conundrum, by the way, should anyone from Officeworks be reading this. 😉

All in all, I absolutely love Officeworks. The fact that the word ‘stationery’ is enough to give me palpitations is only one part of the package. In reality, it’s nothing flash, but it’s a really, really useful ally to have in my brand repertoire. The mighty Staples is out here in Australia – there’s one near me too – but I’m not remotely tempted. When a brand delivers what it promises, time and time again, it has me hooked. I’ve worked out that visiting my local Officeworks is a form of ‘retail escapism’. (Not to be confused with retail therapy – that’s entirely different.) On my last visit, I was so ‘in the zone’ that I politely asked a (not unattractive) man in a blue top where the A2 portfolio cases were. He didn’t work there. Awkward.

I’ll end with a gratuitous picture of Post–its. Until next time…

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BRANDS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: PART 1

From this week, the tone of the MamaTray blog becomes a tad more serious and the post, a good degree longer. So maybe grab a coffee before you embark on this one…

I’m taking at look at my experience of certain brands, as a normal customer on the street – not your average customer, given I work in branding, but a paying customer nevertheless.

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First up, is Coles. For my non–Aussie readers, Coles is a retail giant (supermarket, plus the usual extensions into areas like car insurance, credit cards and the such like) and Number 2 in this market, with 8.8 million customers. Its biggest rival, Woolworths (Woolies to the locals) boasts 9.5 million customers and has recently been heralded as the most valuable brand in Australia. Grocery prices are eye–wateringly high in this market, compared to Europe for example, so the main focus of the supermarket brands is to talk about value, with secondary messages about ‘freshness’ and ‘quality’.

I’m a regular Coles customer. It was the supermarket located near my first residence in Sydney, ‘fresh off the boat’ from the U.K. and I’ve stayed with it, by and large, for my main weekly splurge. I tend to opt for online shopping, to help improve my overall quality of life, but I also visit the stores from time to time. I have no complaints about the quality of the groceries, they’re always very fresh and well presented, and the delivery guys who come into my home with the shopping have good banter. (Yes, I always put them through their paces, to fully ‘road test’ the customer experience.)

BEING HUMAN
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As a retailer obsessed with offering the very best value to its customers, Coles has gone down the path of creating ‘catchy’ (or desperately annoying, depending on your tastes) ad campaigns, complete with slogans galore and 80s jingles, sung by ageing U.K. rockers. (So proud.) The ‘Down Down’ campaign is the most notable of these – it claims that prices on pantry staples and essential items will stay ‘Down Down’ at a consistently low price. Presumably therefore helping you manage your household finances better. Bingo, bango.*

In recent weeks, the campaign has taken on a whole new level. The line is now: ‘Deeper Down Down’. Items which were already ‘Down Down’ are now being reduced even further, some up to 34% lower than the original! However, when I add in the accompanying visual device, for some context, as depicted below – a red, enlarged hand, with pointing forefinger, I’m convinced that at least a few of you will find your minds drifting to the same land of innuendo that I did. (Do any of you remember the lyrics to ‘Deep’ by East 17, btw?)

‘Deeper Down Down’. Really? Is this the kind of language you want/need to see from a leading brand? Or a retail brand which offers products that line your pantry (ahem) and comms that constantly pervade your consciousness? I wasn’t convinced this new direction was a goer, so I tweeted Coles about it. To their credit, they replied. That’s all I wanted. A brand that responds to my concerns and one that acts like a human being:

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BUMPS IN THE ROAD
As I mentioned, I’m most likely to do my Coles shopping online. What I’ve started to notice, is that it seems to be very hard to deliver a consistent, seamless customer experience through this channel, despite recent upgrades to the web portal and ‘back room’ technology.

My typical experience goes a little something like this…

1. I carefully plug in my (extensive) weekly shop, from the comfort of my sofa/bed, on the iPad, using the absolute God–send of a tool called the ‘Usuals’ list, that keeps a record of all of the products I have ever purchased.

2. When I checkout, I inevitably get told (by an annoying pop up) that some of the products I have chosen are not stocked at my local store. This is confusing.
• Firstly, why do I, as the online customer, need to know that Coles is getting my items from a particular store? Surely, it is one big store. Like one big pie for those who love David Brentisms.
• Secondly, the local store named isn’t actually so local. There are at least 4 nearer stores that I would personally have chosen to get my stuff from. It’s probably a bigger, more convenient store for Coles to use.
• Finally, I have to remove said items, versus take their suggested alternatives – hoisin sauce, for example, is not what I would describe as a viable alternative to French vinaigrette dressing…

3. I finally checkout. The site now has the nifty technology to store my card details, so there’s no more scrabbling around to find the card in question and run the risk of it all ‘timing out’.

4. On the day of delivery, I always receive an email – an email that I dread – informing me that at least 3 or 4 items are out of stock. (Out of stock? You’re a retail giant and things like yoghurts and loaves of sliced bread are not what I would consider to be specialist items…)

5. When the delivery actually comes, however, I often receive some of the items that it claimed were out of stock. And sometimes, I even get the items that it told me were not available at my ‘local store’ that needed removing from my online trolley. Wow, that’s a minefield of missed fine detail. Coles must lose money when its paperwork (and emails) claim items are missing and don’t charge me for them. And, what’s more, I potentially over–order items, as I think they’re not available. That doesn’t represent ‘value’ for either of us.
• Case in point: the man of our household likes a weekly chicken schnitzel. It’s not a big ask. But every time I order them online, they’re out of stock. So, this time, I ordered 2 different kinds of chicken schnitzel, in order to guarantee that at least one pack arrived. On my last delivery, both arrived, despite one being flagged up as ‘out of stock’. Except one pack didn’t contain chicken schnitzels: it was pieces of raw chicken breast that could be schnitzelled (I presume that is a real word?) if I had some eggs, flour and breadcrumbs to hand. The webpage depicted what can only be described as a chicken schnitzel – or a chicken schnitzelled, if I may – not raw chicken breasts. Either way, I only paid for 1 of the 2 packs, so technically no loss from my perspective. Perhaps, even a serendipity.

crumbed-chicken-schnitzel

So, you see my concern. Is the technology behind the online shopping platform not able to keep pace with the shopping lists we order, or is it an issue with back office/operations behind the selection of our items instore by the assigned ‘personal shopper’? Or, perhaps, a bit of both? Either way, the online shopping experience is currently not as seamless as it promises on the newly designed website, and it could potentially damage the overall customer experience of shopping at Coles.

BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
The above ‘bumps’ eventually made me branch out to the enemy and try Woolies online, to compare and contrast. For starters, it didn’t seem as popular, as I could get a delivery slot the very next day. (The Coles one gets booked up really quickly, especially on Wednesdays, the free delivery day. Those slots are like gold dust!) Perhaps Woolies simply have more ‘men on the ground’ but who knows, I’m trying to think like a customer here. Secondly, their delivery charges reduce the more you spend, which made me feel excellent. (The Coles charges go on time of day, so presumably around factors that make it cheaper for them to deliver.)

The process went like this:

1. Aside from the inevitable ‘having to start again’ and choosing all my items from scratch (from a printed–out list of my Coles ‘Usuals’) the Woolies online process was pretty standard. No local store shenanigans, but a different selection of brands to choose from which sent this brand freak into complete turmoil, as you can imagine.

2. There were items I removed from my trolley before checkout, which turned up on the day in the delivery, and I was charged for them, despite not wanting them.
• (In addition, I rashly ordered 7 packs of Roma tomatoes, thinking I was actually picking 7 Roma tomatoes, but luckily they were out of stock, so we didn’t have to eat tomatoes with everything for the next few months. Phew.)

3. The delivery arrived, half an hour early. Bonus. The delivery man said approximately 4 words to me, despite my attempts at a bit of social interaction, and he was gone.

4. I promise I’m not making this up, but guess what was totally missing from the order? The bloody chicken schnitzels!! No out of stock warning, no apology. I got straight onto the customer service line, to discuss, and the whole issue was dealt with in a very slick, professional manner (he rang the driver to check they weren’t still smuggled in the back of his van; they weren’t; he issued a refund which cleared the very next day; there was also a very well branded, email to confirm).
• On the call, I also mentioned the items I had removed from my online trolley, turning up in the delivery, and he agreed that was strange. The next day, I was refunded for them, despite him not telling me this would happen, which I guess would fall into the ‘surprise and delight’ brand behaviour box.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 6.55.01 pm

How did I feel after the deed was done and dusted? Hmmm, essentially, a little underwhelmed by my foray into the adulterous waters of a rival service provider. At best, I think I’d potentially play them off against each other, especially when I can’t get a Coles delivery slot until about 5 days after I want one. But, I won’t fully commit to Woolies. I missed the banter, if I’m honest. Getting a bit of chat with my delivery – on the traffic, the weather, how popular raspberries are at the moment, the fancy new handheld devices that are ruining their lives, whatever. So, above and beyond an efficient and seamless experience, I’m after a bit of good, old fashioned, human interaction. I shop online for ease, but that doesn’t mean I want a soulless brand experience.

What I would say to Coles, is that I represent one (particularly demanding) customer segment and there are many others out there, evaluating their own choices of retailer based upon the more tangible, functional experience they receive. And, currently, Woolies just about has the edge on the online shopping front. A little bit like they just about have the edge in the market, per se. It’s not a big edge by any stretch, and it’s begging to be surpassed.

Until next time… ☺

* A phrase used within this post, purely designed for the satisfaction of Mr David Sutherland – the originator of said phrase – and others who are aware of his unique way of phrasing things.

OFFICE ETIQUETTE PART 5: THE PITCH

1. CHEMISTRY
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The kick off, ‘chemistry session’ of a pitch is a fantastic chance to charm the pants off the clients from the word ‘go’. Not every agency is smart enough to request one, so it’s still a move that helps you stand out from the crowd. To be clear, building ‘chemistry’ with a set of potential clients should not be confused with any form of heavy petting, or more besides. It traditionally involves sitting across from a desk, armed with smart questions and creds (where appropriate), lots of charming smiles and a healthy dose of witty banter. It’s a session where the clients get to see you ‘gloves off’ and build a rapport, before the formalities of the actual pitch, where you’ll be dressed up to the nines and on your bestest of best behaviours.

So, embrace it. Smile your biggest smile. Be your most charming self. Laugh naturally, at any of their jokes, with a sensible touch of restraint/decorum at this early stage. Demonstrate that you are seemingly normal, trustworthy and hungry – for their business, not the freebies and their expense budget.

One of my first every chemistry meetings took place in London, quite early on in my career, with a rather stuffy crowd of government department officials. But we (the dream team) had them eating out of our sweaty palms in no time at all. When we got back into the car at the end of the meeting, my MD helpfully informed me that I had black ink smeared down one side of my face and in my (very blonde) fringe. Timing, as they say, is everything. Had he informed me earlier, I wouldn’t have been quite so sassy in the meeting. Were the clients amused by the ink, or my smart alec insights? We’ll never know… (But we won the whole pitch, the following week.)

If you don’t go for it, you’ll never know. But seeking to removing the ‘death chasm’ that can exist between clients and agencies from the very start of the pitch process is always a great strategy.

2. DREAMING BIG
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The minute the RFP lands in the inbox, the agency goes into overdrive. Especially, the resident Executive Creative Director. It’s his time to shine. And it’s his department who can seal the deal. Cut to a grandiose vision of pitch theatre. It might be any thing from an arty mood reel, to a full blown (and shot) commercial, complete with jingle and endline – let’s face it, there’s still a fair few ECDs from the 70s/80s/90s (delete as appropriate) knocking around today. Does this highly creative extravaganza fit with the proposed ‘flow’ of the pitch story or the strategy that is yet to be developed? Will it technically create that all important ‘wow factor’? Who dares to question whether it does any of these things? The best approach is to let him/her/them get on with it, while the rest of the team sets its mind to the brief at hand and demonstrating the agency’s ability to deliver on what’s required, and more besides. On pitch day, these carefully considered creative visions rarely see the light of day – either they never actually materialise into a physical manifestation that can be shared and circulated, or they don’t end up technically ‘matching’ the rest of the content being presented and are snuggled in the bottom drawer, for a later triumph.

Either way, you love them for having the balls to go after their version of how the world (or at least, this pitch) should be. And then, true to form, they turn up to the pitch itself and their mere presence is enough to ‘wow’ the clients into saying “yes please, where do I sign?”.

3. RUNNING ON EMPTY
asleep-at-the-desk

Pitches take over your entire being if you find yourself a few levels below the upper echelons of management in an agency. Let’s not forget that they’re not our day job, they’re an add on, but a crucial means to an end for the continued successful wellbeing of your hallowed agency. The associated symptoms experienced by the dedicated, core pitch team include:
– visible grey ‘saucers’ under the eyes;
– severe sleep deprivation and bouts of amnesia caused by sheer fatigue;
– a reduction in usual standards of body hygiene (due to a lack of time for personal grooming);
– skin rashes (often angry and extreme) and unsightly blotches;
– strange bowel movements (caused by a dependence on take away food, consumed outside of normal eating hours, and the first stages of alcoholism);
– a sharp increase in weight (see point above).

The only way to get through this is to ‘man up’ and carry on. Catch a power snooze whenever you can, even if it’s in the stationery cupboard while you’re waiting for the bulk print run to do its thing. Oh, and definitely learn how to bind a document in advance, rather than on ‘the night before’ the pitch. It will stand you in great stead. ☺

4. F.H.B.
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I encountered this phrase during my first ‘brand’ (versus ‘advertising’) pitch. For context, I’d worked all night. No matter how organised you are in advance of a pitch, something will happen and you end up working right up to the wire. Especially if you’re the strategist in ultimate charge of the ‘deck’ and a person who wants to maintain some form of cohesive flow to the story you’re going to tell (and sell) the next day, despite everyone chucking in their two cents’ worth of content at the final hour.

So, picture the scene: enthusiastic clients streaming into a room, desks laden with useful leave behinds, the screen all powered up, me pre–presentation and all fired up. Then the lunch gets wheeled in – it’s been decided that we’ll eat before we get stuck into the detail. The clients have travelled into London on an early flight and what they really need is some sustenance. (Don’t we all.) The measly selection of unappetising wraps appears – there’s just enough for approx. 2 wrap portions per person. I eye up one that is non-congealed and non-fishy (it’s too early, and way too risky to take on the tuna extravaganza with an empty stomach). And as I move slowly in for the kill, I hear the command: “FHB, team. FHB.” I look confused. My Account Director rolls his eyes and explains: “Family hang back. Let the clients have their fill first.” It would be ambitious for anyone to have their fill with that selection of ‘treats’ but they did, and I didn’t.

I tell you what – next time, let’s push the boat out and order double. Now there’s a thought. Doesn’t success beget success? (David Brent told us this when he said every good door–to–door salesman buys a bigger and better car than they can afford, to reassure clients that they’ll be buying from an obviously ‘successful’ business.)

5. TECHNOLOGY BREAKDOWN
computer-says-no

Something that can happen on pitch day, always happens. You can have the most whizz bang of devices/screens/audio systems on the market, with all the bells and whistles in the world, but they will still break down. Or look like they’re working, but not work. Or work in the practice run, then stop working in the actual pitch. Work for your friendly I.T. man but not for you, once he’s left the room, the clients are sat down and you’re ‘on’.

Arguably, worse still, is the ‘version control’ nightmare that comes with the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ effect of a panicky pitch team played out in full technicolour glory. As you start to present, you quickly realise that it’s an old version of the presentation and you need to ‘ad-lib’ that all important last-minute content that isn’t currently visible. Cue: silent scream in your head. But, just like any performance, professionals can improvise and style things out with aplomb, regardless of the conditions we find ourselves thrown into. It’s not a guaranteed pitch winning strategy when you’re forced to flourish like a phoenix, out of the chaos of your paltry electronic offering, but we do it. Every time. Thanks to such saving graces as adrenalin and the ever–present quest for a pay rise.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that I prefer using boards and pre-printed material for pitches and big presentations. I have a better success rate with those, that’s for sure.

6. THE POST MORTEM
Paparazzi-Maggie-Zaboura-KitGuru

Sometimes also referred to as ‘the wash up’, the post mortem following the pitch can be messy. Especially if it plays out after you’ve got an inkling that you’re going to win the biggest pitch in town and there’s an agency tab in a venue that serves alcohol…

The same learnings from the Christmas Party apply here. Go for your life and make the most of what’s been provided – you’ve more than earned it. But, keep your wits about you. Know your limits (given the demands of the pitch, your body will be pretty broken already by now, so it won’t take much). Avoid salacious advances from the more senior members of the team, unless you genuinely want to go down that path, of course (and totally fancy the pants off them).

A great tactic – hindsight is a fabulous thing – is often to leave wanting more. Get trolleyed, make merry, then exit subtly like a slinking cat in a (trusted) cab and wake up free of paranoia, guilt and the need for at least one avoidance strategy.

OFFICE ETIQUETTE PART 4: THE SHARED KITCHEN

The shared kitchen is another workplace environment where seemingly normal, decent human beings have the potential to turn into absolute monsters. Some key themes running through this week’s post, include: stealth, contamination, lack of respect for others, balls (not that kind) and sheer bravado.

1. DOUBLE DIPPING
double dipping

The traditional, communal option for lubricating one’s toast in an office is far from glamorous. The classically provided ‘table spread’ does not resemble butter, or any form of margarine you’ve ever tasted before. It makes even Flora Proactive look delicious… And, on a weekly basis, some bright spark will happily double dip their knife in the spread with the jam/peanut butter/vegemite or vice versa, sullying the aforementioned items with common, old, table spread. Throw some toast crumbs into the mix and before you know it, the spread looks like someone’s rather unappetising breakfast leftovers. When you find the tub of spread in this state, it’s easy to think the right option is to delve back into the fridge and gently ‘borrow’ Sarah from Client Service’s posh Lurpak – see Point 3 below – but a little bit of scraping and excavation on the table spread usually makes for a more P.C. solution to the problem.

Verdict: if you’ve been lucky enough to find a clean knife, then cherish it and play nicely.

2. SMELLY BUSINESS
smelly business

Working week lunches don’t have to be boring, just ask the people who insist on heating up something thrillingly exotic in the microwave. It ranges from leftover Laksa/Jalfrezi/Dragon Chili extravaganzas they proudly created for dinner the night before, or just a little something they’ve rustled up right there and then. Either way, it smells. A lot. And wafts throughout the open plan office and meeting rooms, warts and all. It’s bad enough around  lunchtime, but even worse when it’s 11am, or even earlier in some cases. (Some people eat at really weird times.)

Verdict: when you work open plan, you need to think of others now and again, and assess (in advance) the lingering impact of your lunch choices. Save the exotic gases for your own home, in more ways than one.

3. DASH & GRAB
dash and grab

There seems to be a thieving villain lurking in all of us when it comes to the delights that linger in the communal fridge. These range from delicious home–cooked treats in Tupperware and carefully made sandwiches nestling in transparent (there’s the problem) zip lock bags, to that special bottle of wine that you were chilling before you took it home for dinner and the beers that were meant to be shared on Friday night. The trickle effect of this subterfuge manifests in passive aggressive, handwritten notes (or sometimes even printed out ones, complete with clip-art) issuing threats, warnings and accusations to all and sundry. While the notes are amusing to read, the victims in question tend to whinge about these things for a while following the actual event, so spare a thought for the long-term grief that others have to endure, all thanks to your inability to keep your hands to yourself.

Verdict: you share a fridge, not food. Make/buy your own you selfish b*st*rd.

4. KITCHEN HOG
kitchen hog
Some colleagues frequent the kitchen area more than others. I’m particularly thinking of the muscle men who have a strict and frequent diet to maintain, complete with any form of protein, fruit and veggie fix that’s on offer out there. Not only are they bulky chaps, who take up quite a bit of room in what is usually a pretty cramped space, but they also attract attention, questions and admiration from others during the food preparation stage, meaning yet more dwell time and even less surface area for the rest of us. Sometimes his presence will even coincide with the lovely lady in finance who’s permanently on a health-kick and spends hours preparing that delicious salad and fruit compote. Yawn.

Verdict: prepare it all the night before and spend your life savings on Tupperware pots. Now there’s a thought.

5. DITCH & RUN
ditchandrun

If we think back fondly for a moment on the etiquette surrounding the shared toilet facilities of an office, it’s no coincidence that the same animals are at work in every other available space of the open plan working environment. The tendency to behave in a completely polar opposite fashion to how they would behave in their own home is played out fully in the ‘ditch and run’ kitchen scenario. You’ve eaten a delicious meal, you return to the kitchen, you don’t bend down a fraction of a metre to put your plate in the dishwasher or strain yourself to turn on the tap for a rinse. Instead, you do a swift look around to make sure no one’s watching, then ditch your plate on the draining board or in the sink, adding to the already humungous mound of dirty dishes. After all, it’s someone else’s job, right? Well, not really, because at some point, the sink becomes impossible to use in terms of the actual function it has been designed for, and some poor person has to de-stack all the yucky dishes out of the way, so they can use it. If you notice, it’s always the same 1 or 2 characters that clear up after everyone else, bless them.

Verdict: buy yourself some disposable, plastic plates and cutlery if you are literally that lazy. Or, ideally, go and sit on the naughty step until you finally realise the error of your dastardly ways.

6. FREEBIE VULTURE
vulture

One of my favourite characters to observe in the open plan office environment is the ‘freebie vulture’. They have extra-sensory powers which allows them to be alert at ANY given time to the possibility of free food. It could be the simple rustle of a chip pack opening, the more obvious clinking of glasses and stubbies, or perhaps, simply the awkward chuckling that precedes the first few bars of ‘Happy Birthday’ at a team gathering. The vulture is ever ready to respond and make their moves seem both effortless and coincidental. The casual swing by at the exact spot of the low-key birthday festivities, or styling it out at the end of week wrap up presentation (by a different team, please note) are all classic manoeuvres. As is the meerkat look up from the desk as someone has just arrived around the corner with pizza for the late night shift.

Verdict: always ‘out’ the freebie vulture with a pertinent question (“do you even know whose birthday it is?”) or comment (“have you moved onto our team now?”) so they get that you’re in the know. Only those with the biggest balls (perfectly innocent reference) will continue apace.

Next week: The Pitch

OFFICE ETIQUETTE PART 3: THE CHRISTMAS PARTY

This is the big one. The party of the entire year. The small payback for all that hard graft, sweat, tears, ulcers, panic attacks and sheer sleep deprivation that has dominated the rest of the year. Step on in, the water’s lovely and warm…

1. PEAKING EARLY
1. peaking

Free alcohol tastes sooo much better and it therefore tends to slip down the gullet a lot quicker too. And this is not a situation where anyone has the right to tell you to ‘go easy’. You’re dressed up to the nines and have totally earned this festive moment, so you’re going to enjoy it, God damn it!

As our drunkenness increases, other symptoms may come into play, including:
– a decrease in rational thinking and the ability to sense-check key behaviours
– a heightened sense of affection for others (regardless of your former friendship/relationship status) and a burning desire to be inherently close to people
– a pertinent need to share one’s current exuberance with people who aren’t actually present at said event, e.g. drunk dialing/flirty texting/saucy status updates

Peaking early at this party can significantly increase the likelihood that you find yourself in the situations illustrated within points 2, 3, 4 and 5 below – and potentially, all 4.

Verdict: if you know you’re a one shot wonder, or a little bit of a lightweight, do yourself a favour and find a bit of pace so you don’t end up in that taxi home, a couple of hours in, and miss all the action.

2. DAD DANCING
2. dad dancing

Anything goes when it comes to shaking your tush on the dance floor this festive season. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to try out a few new moves that you’ve been wanting to add to the repertoire for a little while now. The standard of tunes is usually pretty reliable, everyone’s in the mood to cut some shapes and those that aren’t, are usually propping up the bar or making friends, elsewhere. The thing to watch out for though, is the good old dance circle. You know that moment when the crowds part like the waves of the Red Sea and people are egged on to try their hand in the middle. If you’re a natural extrovert, don’t let me stop you heading on into the limelight. All I’ll say is that it’s usually the best dancers who jump at the chance to wow the peeps, or the drunkest dancers, who the rest of the pack are definitely laughing at, not with.

Verdict: a bad dance lasts forever. The video will be circulated before you’ve even got home.

3. CLIENT SHENANIGANS
client drunk

Once upon a time, some head honcho of an agency thought it would be a great idea to invite clients to the Christmas Party. Great for the honcho, as they usually get to hang out in the equivalent of a VIP area, with no riffraff, or simply make a tactical exit from the party, after they’ve had their fill. Not so great for everyone else, when that certain type of client, who doesn’t know all that many people there, becomes your social equivalent of a cling-on. They’re nice people and you really don’t mind hanging out, but you do that all year, and this is your time to let your hair down. Worse still, a select few have the tendency to become a tad lecherous – the ones who decide to finally act on their burning ‘agency crush’ and get a bit over-familiar in the wandering hand department.

A drunken client makes for excellent viewing and endless social currency for the rest of the week. I’ve put many a sozzled client in a cab home, despite their insistence that they wanted to stay on to the bitter end of the night. One of our clients famously ended up being dropped back in the reception of his workplace after he lost the ability to control (all of) his bodily functions and the cabbie refused to take him any further. The next morning, early doors, his colleagues all found him there, in quite the state of ill repute. We live and learn.

Verdict: handle your clients carefully at the party. Introduce them to everyone, to make them feel welcome, and always have the human decency to help them make a graceful exit at the end of the night, where applicable and possible.

4. OUT & PROUD
4. out and proud

Free-flowing alcohol + ‘schools out’ vibe + beautiful, creative, fun-loving people = bloodbath. Hormones run high at the Chrimbo bash. It’s a key part of the enjoyment factor and no sprig of mistletoe is ever required. You’ve had your eye on that certain someone all year, or even just for the last 5 minutes, and the alcohol/cocktail of substances has fuelled your loins, so in you go.

Beware: there is an all-seeing eye at play, in this season. Take it from someone who, as a bright-eyed Grad, was snogged by a (somewhat older and ‘technically’ married) Creative Director in a seemingly quiet corner of the bar. I say ‘snogged by’ as I prefer to remember the stealthy, illicit incident as a one-way event. The next day, everyone in the agency knew my name and a few of the ladies were ever so slightly green–eyed bitchy, as I don’t mind telling you that he was a bit of a looker. Not the best way to make friends though, or assert my capabilities as a worker bee…

Verdict: be under no false illusion that there is a quiet, surreptitious, ‘romantic’ moment at a Christmas party. People will stare, point, laugh, gossip, judge and then e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y forget. Fortunately, fame, in this context at least, is transitory.

5. THE SLUMPS
5. drunken slumps

Passing out in public is the fate of a select few at the annual festive shindig. It’s easy done when you’ve downed a good quota of the alcoholic beverages on offer, had your fill of the canapés, got a bit clammy from all that grooving, and then finally sourced a comfy spot to take solace in.

Verdict: if you start to feel a bit on the sleepy side, get a dose of fresh air to help rejuvenate your mojo. There’s bound to be something going on out there anyway, with the smokers, or some salacious revellers who decided to finally get a room, in an alleyway.

6. THE AFTER PARTY
6. after party

If the destination of choice for the after-party is a ‘back to the office’ situation, there’s a high probability that this is the moment when the shots, nudity, gyrating, snorting and popping is all likely to get in full swing. This second bash is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for those who have any remaining inhibitions. One after party – back in the halcyon days of London advertising – allegedly kicked off with the big cheese unveiling a mountain of coke on the boardroom table and issuing the ‘get on it’ call to action. The rest, as they say, is history.

Verdict: make sure you can hack it, before you decide to tackle the after party. And leave your sense and sensibility firmly at the door.

Next week: The Shared Kitchen