Tag Archives: brands

Grrr… Michelle is a bit rattled!

I’ve had some really crappy customer service recently. And it’s got me a bit rattled, so I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard, and vent a little.

“Choose Express Post and your T-shirts will be with you in time for the Hottest 100!” Well I did, and yet they weren’t… They arrived on the Tuesday after the Sunday countdown and are now sitting in a redundant heap on the kitchen table. $12.95 doesn’t sound much, but it’s the principle. Two emails of complaint to customer service later and I’m nowhere near getting even a decent apology, let alone my money back. It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it? Or, better still, there’s the age-old caveat of “during periods of unprecedented demand”… But how was this unprecedented? These T-shirts were specifically designed for the most infamous event in the Triple J calendar AND, get this, they were on sale to raise money for Lifeline. Ipso facto, they were meant to zooooom off the shelves!

Then there’s the coffee machine I bought my husband before Christmas. He has one of those December birthdays which is tricky – do you go large for the birthday, or save it for a couple of weeks? I went early in this case. But the honeymoon of that “we now have our own coffee machine, look how much money we’re saving” feeling was shattered a few weeks after Christmas when it started leaking water out of the bottom like a sieve. First, the (reputable) café owners didn’t believe me and tried it themselves to check there was actually an issue. Erm, thanks for the vote of confidence. Then they sent it off to the manufacturers to be fixed, leaving me with no apology, and no way of making coffee in the meantime. The vortex that is the ‘service centre’ means no one could tell me when our machine would be back in my possession. And the little information I did glean was through me making all the effort – visiting the café, plus calling up for an update. When it did return, a couple of weeks later (a couple of weeks!!), it was all smiles from the café dude, free coffee beans, and an escorted product placed back in my car.* He was lovely and a far cry from the sheepish, somewhat sullen, confrontation-avoiding man I dealt with at the time of crisis.

Finally, for a Throwback Thursday experience which has never left me, there is the introduction of the (somewhat annoying) host at the front of your classic retail store whose role is to essentially trap you en route to where you want to go. Seemingly friendly, but often very far from interested in allowing you through. In this particular store, I wanted to buy what a retailer would refer to as ‘an accessory’ rather than a large ticket item. They live at the back of the store, far from where I was accosted. So, I was eventually deemed not worthy enough to be restrained any longer, and allowed to free roam. I wasn’t impressed with the selection, and I had questions to clarify. Looking round, no one was free – I was in the area where the hard-core contracts were being signed, and everyone was head down with their respective customers. I therefore left, went across the road to a competitor and spent triple the amount of money I intended to thanks to some real ‘fluffing’ and metaphorical ‘stroking’. They elevated my mere accessory to a real ‘must have’ and I left the store with two of them, a real pep in my step, and quite the unnoticeable dent in my wallet.

Some observations on the above:

  • No brand is beyond the need to care and serve
  • The customer should always be given the benefit of the doubt
  • Employees need to be equipped to have tough conversations
  • Don’t let bad will build and fester – keep customers in the loop
  • ‘Service’ shouldn’t ever be about getting rid of people/putting them off/moving on to the next person**
  • Never judge a customer’s spending power by the size of their wishlist – the big ticket item lurks in all of us

They say that an unhappy customer tells 9-15 people about their bad experience – think I’ve just done a little more than that – and it takes 12 good experiences to make up for one bad one.*** So, time for a name and shame? It’s 24Hundred, the T-shirt provider; Coffee Brothers in Mona Vale; and good old Telstra, who lost out to Apple!

Michelle is always open to having a discussion about your brand, your customers, and your employees, and overcoming pitfalls. She promises not to talk about herself in the third person again, unless absolutely necessary.

* In his enthusiasm to close my boot, and get me the hell outta there, he forced his grip against the electric closing feature. And now, on occasion, it doesn’t close properly… 😩

** Centrelink and Medicare, take note!

*** Stats courtesy of: https://reputationrefinery.com/96-of-unhappy-customers-wont-complain-to-you-but-will-tell-15-friends-infographic



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…


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.

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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).

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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.

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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…


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…