Mistaken identity

BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, and names synonymous with supplying fuel to drivers for nearly a century have built their brands around quality of products and trustworthiness. “You can be sure of Shell” and other such taglines have seeped into our sub-consciousness as a byword for keeping us moving, safely and efficiently. So what is the effect downstream when a corporate catastrophe takes place?

As the magnitude of the environmental disaster unfolds as a result of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is not only the board of BP that is feeling the increasing ire and wrath of the public opinion.

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Success and failure in the snow

On 18 December more than 2,000 people were trapped in the Channel Tunnel after five Eurostar trains broke down due to cold weather. Some passengers were evacuated but many faced what was described as a “complete nightmare” with up to 15 uncomfortable hours stuck without access to food, water and toilet facilities on the stricken trains. When the snow hit the trains the Eurostar brand promise of ‘The joy of the journey' was found lacking. Customers complained of no information, food and drinks were not distributed and little in the way of crisis management seems to have materialised. Mechanical failures aside,nobody in a position of authority at Eurostar HQ or on the trains themselves recognised what was happening in relation to their brand.

Four days later much of England was hit by more snow chaos. Falling mid-afternoon, the snow came down thick and fast causing travel chaos. An area badly affected was High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. So much so that over 100 people found themselves stranded at the John Lewis department store on the outskirts of the town. Instead of taking the simple, understandable decision of closing the store and turning out the customers and staff to struggle home on their own, the decision was made to open the store as a makeshift ‘hotel’. The quick-thinking staff at John Lewis had turned a difficult situation into a brilliant demonstration of what the John Lewis brand is and how it is very much ‘lived’ by its staff.

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A sense of place

Location, location, location isn’t everything for venues that seek to maximise their revenue potential – what matters more is a relevant and meaningful brand. And with
many UK venues gearing up for the 2012 Olympics, smart branding takes on a whole new importance.

The most sought-after venues aren’t just an address – they’re a name, and all that goes with it: meanings, associations, values and personality.In other words, they’re brands in their own right. And while location and facilities remain an important factor, venues are embracing the possibilities of savvy brand positioning to attract wider audiences and increase revenue streams.

The potential gains are high: the UK corporate hospitality market alone rose to £1.1 billion in 2007, a growth rate of 25% since 2003. And despite the credit crunch, it’s projected to keep on rising. The Olympics are of course a prime factor: London venues in particular are upgradingtheir facilities – and their image– in time for 2012. Those that don’t
risk missing out on the bonanza.

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It's good to be good

Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword used in corporate annual reports – it’s fast becoming a necessity for businesses. A combination of public pressure and growing legislation makes it harder to dodge your social and environmental responsibilities. Yet in the global fuel retail industry, with a few notable exceptions, sustainable thinking has barely got off the ground.

The reason may well stem from the nature of the industry: fossil fuels are bad for the environment, therefore there’s no point in trying to make a difference. But this blinkered viewignores rapid developments both in the economics of sustainability and in the global brand landscape. Put simply, ‘being good’ not only looks good for your brand, it can also do serious good to your bottom line.

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At your service

However good your product, if you don’t provide the customer service to match it, sooner or later your brand reputation is going to suffer.

Everyone talks about great customer service, but comparatively few brands actually deliver it. A remarkable number of brands struggle to get even the basics right – polite staff, available to customers who need them, with enough training to be able to answer the most common questions.

Here are some of Jamie Cardoo, Circle Account Directors, favourite examples of great service experiences – plus a warning that even the best can fall flat on their faces if they don’t pay attention.

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