xrematon

August 13, 2016

The way things should be

Filed under: Business,Customer Service,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:31 pm
Tags: ,

I am occasionally inspired to write stories about positive customer experiences.  It doesn’t happen that often, mind you.
This time it’s Amazon’s turn to be under the rosy spotlight. Let me tell you the story…..

Once upon a time, on Jan 3rd 2015, a lucky little girl was given a Kindle Fire as a belated Christmas period. She played happily on it through out the year, but sadly, during the Christmas holidays next year that much beloved Kindle was left on the floor and trod upon, cracking the screen so badly that it no longer worked. Kind Mummy decided to get in contact with Amazon to find out what could be done. She pressed the magic May Day button to talk to a nice helpful person, realising as she did so that it was exactly a year to the day that the Kindle had been first purchased – in other words just outside the 12 month warranty period.
Mummy spoke to Dee, explaining what had happened, being quite open about the fact that it was due to sloppy treatment that the Kindle stopped working. But lo and behold, Dee waved her wand and said that a new Kindle could be delivered to the little girl free of charge, but we just had to be patient and wait a few weeks for it to appear.
The days went by and turned into weeks. After less time than had originally been discussed, the little girl and her Mummy had a knock at the door and took in a big brown box. Quickly cutting open the box and then, without any fuss at all, unfolding the clever special packaging inside, which didn’t have any of that nasty sharp cutting plastic, the little girl and her Mummy found a lovely new (reconfigured) Kindle shining inside.
They lifted out the Kindle and switched it on. After just two minutes, by logging into her Amazon account and bringing up the profile of the little girl, Mummy was able to breathe a sigh of relief and handover a completely functional Kindle with all the games and apps and lovely things now all there to a now very content little girl. And they all lived happily ever after.

Cake

July 1, 2016

Disrupt Yourself

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:48 pm
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Disrupt yourself

I have some confessions to make: in my first year of work, I often went to the library as an important way to get information and new ideas; and on one occasion I had to catch a late afternoon flight from Paris to take a VHS tape of an ad mock-up to the co-ordinating agency in London as the last Fedex delivery had been missed. There was no other way to get the creative work over. This was an analogue world and created tasks that now seem more than faintly ridiculous.

So it was with interest that I picked up my latest ‘worthy tome’ (part of my ongoing effort to broaden my reading matter beyond ‘story books’) had the catchy title of “Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work – Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson.

Sadly, the book disappointed. Though my opening anecdotes highlights I am only too deeply aware of the changing context in which we lead our working lives, none of this came through. It was a rather one-dimensional self-help book giving lots on the ‘how’ to bring changing into one’s professional life, but with little sense of the burning platform of ‘why’. To me, it would have been more compelling to also highlight the risk of redundancy of opting for stasis and certainty.

The introduction presents an interesting challenge – that of applying what is traditionally regarded as a business concept – the S curve – to individual experience. I have already read a book which used this ‘conceit’ of using business practices for personal problems to good effect (futures techniques to navigate personal life choices).  In ‘Disrupt Yourself’, there was less of a single-minded approach and more of a ‘pick and mix’ one to referencing examples/analogies from the business world as well as individual experiences. This links to another shortcoming – it suggests that personal disruption is more relevant for the more entrepreneurial, ie those who naturally conflate their professional development with the development of a business. What of those who those who aim to operate within the system? Or are they just redundant anyway?!

In a similar vein, I also would have liked examples of people who tried to change and it didn’t work; is disruption really for everyone? And what about negotiating forced disruption that is thrust upon you rather than proactively seeking it? Clearly, the latter sounds ‘better’ (more aspirational/what we know we should be doing), but there may be valuing in taking a softer approach to help others cope with unsought change.

Finally, I would like to highlight the connection between ‘Disrupt Yourself and another book I recently read about growth mind sets. Both present the importance and value to be gained from challenging oneself to continue to learn and make progress, but there are interesting differences of approach. Whilst the Dweck book is a eulogy to redefining failure as an important to step to improvement, Johnson gives more space to acknowledging how rubbish failure can actually feel in reality and that it can be worthwhile accepting this. In the chapter entitled ‘Give Failure Its Due’, she writes, “When I fail, I am mortified, but I am also heartbroken. I have envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, and perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t. I have learnt it is important to grieve….We often think of loss of a marriage or a loved one, but there is also the loss we feel when a professional dream – even a small one – is dashed.” Thoughtful and though-provoking.

As a floating freelancer who has never bothered to set up their own company, I constantly need to reinvent myself as I chase after the latest opportunity/hot prospect, whether it is a project about shopper trends, international development or cancer care. Disrupt myself – indeed I must.

May 25, 2016

The Big Shop

Time for me to be ‘untrendy’. When we hear about how grocery shopping habits are changing, it’s all about ‘a little and often’ and how we are falling out of love with the big weekly shop.

Well, I would like to tell you about a recent visit I made to a new supermarket that is not all about convenience trips, but somewhere very big (80, 000 sq foot). It’s the Sainsbury’s store at Westwood Cross in Thanet, which opened in November 2014. As I have explored in other posts, Thanet is more worthy of exploration and evaluation than you might at first think on encountering a part of the country which is flat till it reaches the muddy grey sea and populated by people who are older and/or less affluent than their other Kentish peers.

Sainsbury land

I have been meaning to check out this Sainsbury’s for some time now as its arrival was heralded with much fanfare (it would create jobs, require changing the local road system, be the epitome of the latest and best in sustainable design etc). I found this nice leaflet online which helps to give a sense of how the store was a big deal. Note in particular the community initiatives – which I assume were meant to help make the new supermarket be part of the local scene, rather than to create a scene. But I must confess I am little underwhelmed by the employment of just one local construction management trainee and the donation of soil to a local campsite to help construct a new golf course!

Going inside the store itself was sadly also rather underwhelming. Walking through the threshold with a sense of great anticipation, past the plug-ins for electric vehicles (setting false expectations for something quite different), it was still a Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury car park

This meant nice enough clothes and household goods, and nice food, but failing to give the impression of an emporium teeming with a rich abundance of exciting items. The aisles were very wide – not doubt good for avoiding trolley crashes – but it compounded the sense of emptiness you get from looking at shelves which could be fuller.

Sainsbury inside

However, it was not a fruitless journey as I did manage to find an item I had never come across before and wasn’t even looking for: giant couscous. Have you ever tried it? NB not worth the trip to Westcross!

April 22, 2016

Quantified me

Google searches 2015

The above image gives you an insight in the minds of a nation – what are the people of the UK uncertain about and interested in? (I have picked the graphs that intrigued me – there were obviously lots on sport and celebrities!)

I can also get an insight into myself, all without having to join the club of those armed with some kind of wearable device. There are lots of organisations with whom I interact doing all the data collection already. Let’s see what I can uncover…

Firstly, back to Google. It is possible to obtain information about your account, including how you use the panoply of different Google applications. As I have the function which tracks location switched off and don’t really use YouTube, the main aspect of my use I can analyse is standard web searching. As the below screen grab shows, I have notched up an impressive number of searches over the past 10 years (though actually, as I have no point of comparison, I can’t tell if this above or below the ‘average’).

Google search  history

I am not so impressed with the fact that Wikipedia comes up highest in the list of my top search clicks. Perhaps I can at least be proud of the fact that it isn’t facebook and that the other sites listed are more respectable!

Next – money. I recently received an annual statement from my credit card provider, which included some charts breaking down my expenditure each month and by category.

Credit card statement

Well, this is superficially interesting, but rather frustrating once I start looking into the data further. What was going on that meant I spent so much in June? A large amount of spending in November makes sense as there are birthdays and Christmas presents to buy. And the breakdown by category is also rather limited. As I shop online for groceries, that explains why a large slice is for supermarkets, but what about the big area of ‘other spend’? Hmm, not sure I shall bother to look at this in the future again.

Third and finally, Amazon. We all are only too aware of the fact that Amazon is keeping track of what we buy as recommendations pop up based on our purchasing history. But, I wondered, is there is more on my quantified self beyond this? Not really. All I could uncovered was the ability to look through my previous orders, admittedly going back more than 10 years.

Amazon orders 2005

This did reveal the extent to which I have increased my shopping through Amazon. In 2005, I placed a mere three orders! A decade later, I made 101 purchases and this year is set to be even more of a bumper harvest for Amazon. By March, I had already made 55 orders. Hope Jeff Bezos is rubbing his hands!

March 19, 2016

Print double bill – the long and short of it

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Marketing — by xrematon @ 3:13 pm
Tags: , ,

It doesn’t take long to get lost in the endless flurry of pieces that chronicle the dire state of the struggling print newspaper industry. Apparently, print ad revenues are now the lowest they’ve been since 1950, when the Newspaper Association of America began tracking industry data and when the U.S. population was less than half its current size. And over in the UK, national daily newspapers lost half a million in average daily sales over the past year. So it is clear things are not looking good in this sector, which is why my eye was caught recently by two new print media initiatives. Each is trying to find its ‘special place’ and fill a gap in the market, but with very different understanding of what that gap might be.

My first exhibit is a UK daily newspaper, ‘The New Day’, which launched at the start of March 2016. Its ambition is to cater to ‘normal’ women (primarily) and men who don’t get what they are looking for from the existing newspapers. Alison Phillips, the editor, describes what her paper is attempting to offer as “balanced opinion” and “positivity”. The former is a reaction to her awareness that “normal people cannot understand why papers feel they have a right to tell them how to think and vote. They find it patronising and insulting.” And the latter, positivity, is about not writing news that just all focused on doom and gloom.

Reading ‘The New Day’ revealed that these editorial ambitions have been realised, quite literally. Offering a balanced opinion is done by having ‘opinioneers’ presenting each side of an argument, as well as explaining developments through ‘why-isms’ and ‘what-isms’. The positivity is also quite visible – not only in the inspiring quotes that seem to pop up all over the place as well as through the opportunity for personal goal setting  introduced on the inside cover (see image below). Positivity comes through most prominently in the newspaper’s motto printed at the bottom of each page.

New Day

A somewhat paradoxical aspect to the paper is that whilst it bases some of its appeal on the fact it is print (as evidenced by this statement from the editor: “Children spend too much time on screens. And parents spend too much time on Facebook. The truth though is that you don’t feel good about it. You know you’re wasting your life on screen time. It’s a bad thing. Print is totally different. It still has all those connotations of being a good thing. It’s good to sit down and read, whether it’s a newspaper or a book); in its design and layout, it borrows much from the online environment. This is not just in terms of the informality of its prose and the curated aspect of its news coverage (no in-depth or ground-breaking journalist here), but also in the very short articles dotted about the page and the use of lists.

Commentators have been less than 100% complimentary about this new paper. And whilst I got the paper (admittedly free due to an issue with the cover price not coming through correctly at the till), I am not sure I would be willing to invest further time or money on it. It is indeed struggling to reach its sales targets.

My other new print experience is 1843, the new re-launch of Intelligent Life, the sister publication to the Economist. This magazine aims to offer a very different reading experience. As described by Emma Duncan, the editor, it is about offering “something longer, slower and more thoughtful.” It does indeed feel more weighty and kept me away from my screens for several hours more than the flimsy ‘New Day’ managed to. Whilst I enjoyed some articles, for instance, the travel piece on Antartica and the exploration of what Chinese students go through in order to get a place at American universities, some of the other articles felt more insubstantial than the ones in the New Day. A criticism of the latter is that it treats big topics in a superficial way; in 1843, there are small ideas which are explored with an excess of words. Examples include a four page spread written by some who got diddled trying to buy super fine wine, or long piece by a creep at the Economist on how they actually love working really long hours at all times of night and day.

I got 1843 free too (I am devoted and loyal Economist subscriber) and I can’t say I will be ‘unwinding’ with their new offering. After all that, I’m happy to stick with my beloved (free) supermarket magazines!

Print double bill

February 21, 2016

Eating across the generations

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:10 pm
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I stirred my spoon disconsolately, looking at the concoction in the bowl in front of me: prawns in miso broth with udon noodles and some slices of red pepper for add of extra colour. This meal had been a special request from my children and as I sat forlornly, thinking how I would have prefer something nice and creamy or at least properly spice-y and sleek with oil, it made me realise how taste preferences and eating habits vary across generations, even within a family unit.

In a way, the fact my children asked for Japanese broth is because I have been a victim of my own success. Some time ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to try a new recipe each week and this commitment has seen me diversify well beyond meat and two veg. It has led to children who may ask for globe artichokes – I got very excited one season about trying as many different vegetables as possible – as well as for things I really don’t like – such as the prawns still swimming around sadly in the miso broth. They’re too much like chopped up fingers or earthworms in my opinion.

My children’s generation will have grown with parents who like to invest time and effort in food; parents who themselves grew up during a period when food went from being not much more than fuel into a massive industry which itself fuels many different forms of media and entertainment. We remember the Angel Delight and Findus Krispy Pancakes we ate in our youth and now aspire for something different for our own children.

Cut beyond the middle-class snobbishness about processed food and there are more interesting implications to consider for the food industry of these aspirations to eat well. Take lunchboxes for example: no longer will they simply contain sliced white bread with cheese spread, a packet of crisps, a bit of fruit and a Penguin. Sandwiches are more of a rare sighting these days – in their place come wraps, oatcakes, bread sticks and many other delights. Whereas I grew up thinking the most important thing in a packed lunch was bread spread with something, this expectation is no longer there and the habit to spread is fading. Tellingly, sales of traditional sliced bread are on the decline in the UK, as they are too for dairy spreads.

There is an interesting dynamic going on with the generation in between my own and that of my children – those that are young adults now – Millennials I suppose. This group is also ‘into’ food – but with more style than substance. And it can lead to some rather paradoxical outcomes. A survey in the US found that 50% of Millennials refer to themselves as “foodies,” but 60% of those self-identified foodies still visit fast-food restaurants at least once a week (compared with 48 percent for older adults).

There are also more serious implications about this gap between passion and cooking ability: it doesn’t come cheap. Research, this time from the UK, found that 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK spend more on food than any other age group because they know so little about cooking and had a greater outlay due to eating out more. There is something to be said for bog standard home cooking.

Perhaps later once everyone else has happily finished off their prawns, I could sneakily do myself some fried eggs.

Japanese broth

January 17, 2016

Mindsets and coaching

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Marketing — by xrematon @ 5:47 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Growth

Have you seen the light? Are you confident you can reach your goals by simply rethinking how approach setbacks?

If you have come across the growth mindset concept, first investigated and written about in the works of Carol Dweck, then the above statements will make sense.

Dweck is an American psychology professor who developed theories about intelligence and motivation encapsulated in the idea of fixed and growth mindsets. Individuals with the former tend to have a fixed view of their ability and are often less able to cope with failure, whilst those with growth mindsets do not think performance is fixed and believe that learning can come from keeping trying despite not doing well all the time. Dweck went on to show in study after study and through analysis of case studies across different aspects of life, such as sport, relationships and business, that those with growth mindsets will make better progress and achieve more.

As with any concept that is seductively simple and makes sense intuitively, it has become popular and adopted far and wide. Personally, I have found it very interesting, partly as I have a sneaking suspicion that I tend to have a rather fixed mindset about which I now feel guilty; and also because the concept seems worthy of consideration to add my coaching toolkit.

At some levels, the idea of cultivating a growth mindset does seem highly laudable and desirable and it is possible to find it sprinkled in the text of many coaches. For me, its greatest power lies in giving individuals a way to reframe problems or challenges. A setback becomes a step up once you understand it gives one the chance to learn. And it also helps to reinforce the importance of the idea of making progress, which is often at the heart of many coaching relationships – you are working with a client to help them achieve their goals.

However, it’s worth taking a step back ourselves. I do think there is the potential for a collision between mindset thinking and coaching when it comes to honouring values. Let me move away from fancy sounding fluff to more concrete explanations. From my experience of having worked with highly talented, very able, but also deeply committed perservers, I know that it can be possible to stall at work not through the wrong mindset but a fundamental lack of passion for what the work is about. I often work with people in marketing who initially find the idea of being in the world of brands, advertising, social media etc appealing, but then get frustrated with a sense of its superficiality in the face of other life concerns, whether on a personal or global level.

I have no doubt these individuals could progress but it would bring them little satisfaction. This brings in another concept which does not really appear much in mindset writing – namely the idea of happiness – which is pretty big in positive psychology and as a field in its own right. To me, there is value in thinking first about how you want to define progress and make sure it is according to your own terms/will actually make you happy and that you have the ability to understand that satisfaction comes in diverse forms. That ability to reflect back on what you are experiencing pulls in another ‘hot area’ – mindfulness – which again is not part of mindset thinking.

As Dweck herself observes in a revisit of her work, a big challenge for the mindset concepts is the risk that they are used simplistically and too broadly. These ideas must be accompanied by thoughts on ‘how’ and ‘why’ to ensure the gains made are valid and sustainable. Engaging with mindset ideas itself must be done with non-fixed mindset!

 

December 18, 2015

Insight through fiction

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Marketing — by xrematon @ 10:06 pm
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My preference for ‘story books’ over ‘fact books’, regardless of whether the latter are history, science or business, has always been strong. The value of making this choice has been vindicated by studies which have shown that those who read fiction are better at empathising.

Building on this idea, I was struck by the notion that reading a novel could act as a form of secondary research to help understand a consumer context. I happen to have just finished “Five Star Billionaire” by Tash Aw and feel my hypothesis can be illustrated with this particular novel, whilst also highlighting some interesting limitations.

This book is a recent publication (from 2013) and tells the tale of five migrant workers who come to make their fortunes in Shanghai. Reading the book provides a more engaging version of the insights I have been developing over the past 12 months of working on various Chinese consumer projects. For these projects, my research has been more traditional: analysis of consumer surveys, reading market reports, checking out online media etc.

“Five Star Billionaire” helps me to better understand concepts I had already grasped. Through the characters narrating their different stories, the novel shows how Shanghai is melting pot of individuals who have come from near and far to make it big in the big city.

However, the book does not touch on some significant issues relating to migrant status. Though the idea individuals may not wish to reveal where they really come from is an important part of the book, the difference in status between true Shanghai residents, who have more access to welfare and other social support, compared to those who are either illegal migrants from abroad or rural migrants, was not touched upon. Reform of the hukou system to address these issues is under way but many feel this needs to be sped up.

Another aspect to modern China that was present in the novel, but not explored for all its implications, is the rise of the economic power of women. Two out of the five characters are female and both reflect how women can progress rapidly in this dynamic society. Phoebe goes from being an illegal factory worker to the manager of a high end spa thanks to her determination and commitment to making the most of the opportunities around her. Yinghui is a successful business woman with a whole chain of enterprises to her credit. The phenomenon of ground-breaking women is true in reality. Half the world’s self-made female billionaires are Chinese.

However, interestingly, the book does not go on to explore the impact of modern urban lifestyles and great careers on social dynamics and societal structures. Women take longer to find a spouse, settle down and start a family; or else struggle to bring up their children in the city with them. Describing the lives of those ‘left-behind’ children who are kept in the rural areas to be brought up by close and not so close (often illiterate) relatives could be the stuff of a deeply engrossing but probably also deeply tragic story.

However, where reading “Five Star Billionaire” really came into its own was for developing a more nuanced understanding of personal progression. People have to start at the bottom of the pile.

“Here are some of the jobs her friends took in the year they left home. Trainee waiter. Assistant fake-watch stall-holder. Karaoke hostess. Assembly-line worker in a semi-conductor factory. Bar girl. Shampoo girl. Water-cooler delivery man. Seafood restaurant cleaner. “

The ambition and drive needed to succeed and fulfil one’s aspirations is well articulated

“That day Phoebe felt her life was awash with good feelings. She was dressed according to the rules of fashion that she had picked up from observing Shanghai women: wear the biggest possible sunglasses you can find, carry the largest handbag possible. The new attitude she had been cultivating was filling her with magnificent confidence.”

Whilst consumer surveys show that people are optimistic about their future and statistics reveal that wages and income are increasing, what doesn’t come across from these source of insight is that getting there is not always a straight path upwards. People slip and fall: one character was a successful pop star who suffered a breakdown and had to start over again; another was conned and lost all their savings; another decided they felt more comfortable going back to their old life in their village.

Reading fiction makes it clear that real life is more complicated than market intelligence would suggest. It doesn’t have all the answers – as discussed above – important aspects can be omitted – but it does help with the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.

Touffou_1

November 14, 2015

Sapiens

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 8:55 pm
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I’ve recently had the opportunity to read Sapiens. It’s one of those books that academics, whose specialist subjects may be referenced, get rather sniffy about as Sapiens doesn’t bother getting the details right in the pursuit of a good story. Like Jared Diamond’s efforts, it’s a book that proposes a theory of everything, which is terribly seductive and hard to resist.

Now, as I am not an expert in any of the areas covered in the book, I was all too happy to be swept along. Even though the little details might not always be right, for me that doesn’t matter. What I appreciate is the ideas that challenge existing preconceptions or reframe familiar events into something more interesting. I’ll talk through a couple.

The author, Harari, puts forward the idea that living as a hunter gatherer might actually have been not so bad. This is down to having a wholesome (lots of fresh stuff) and varied diet (you eat whatever was in season that you could find around you), the relatively short working week (there was no office to go to, not even any crops or livestock to look after, let alone a house to keep clean), and few infectious diseases (people did not live close to animals, which are often a source of disease, and there were no big group settlements, which would facilitate the spread of germs).

Whilst I do not wish to propose that my lifestyle is genuinely comparable to that of a hunter gatherer, there are parallels: as a freelancer, my working week can be short (sometimes at least), I have time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and I am at relatively low risk of catching infectious diseases as I work at home alone with no commute on crowded public transport. Not sure about the foraging bit – see image below for what I managed to find in the garden this morning – and I don’t think hunting through the fridge to see if there are good leftovers to convert into a tasty lunch really counts!

Hunter gatherer in Nov

Another idea which captured my imagination is the idea that “money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”. Whilst we are still smarting from the near collapse of the global financial system, it is worth going back to the most fundamental ideas which make it hold together. Harari writes: “Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill? Because my neighbours believe in them. And my neighbours believe in them because I believe in them.” Simple but quite scary in a way.

The final observation I would like to touch on is how Harari reframes the importance of the Age of Enlightenment to be not so much about great discoveries, but about recognising, accepting and acting on ignorance.

“The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world is already known [via the gods and their writings/stories].”

Working in the marketing industry which tends to get rather obsessed with the idea of creativity, it’s quite refreshing to think about the power of ignorance. Ignorance – perhaps the less glam side to curiosity – is actually very useful for making progress on ideas that change the world. But you don’t often hear ‘I don’t know’. In a world of Big Data, it’s more often the case ‘I know too much’. But do we?

 

October 18, 2015

A bus man’s holiday – if you work in marketing

My last summer holidays were enjoyable as well as being fascinating. In this post, I would like to take to share three observations inspired by this time away.

1. We talk lots about happiness, but what about fun? This realisation struck me as I spend two weeks in environments carefully designed to deliver optimum levels of fun. Yes, I am talking about our visit to the Orlando theme parks. What was particularly interesting was the fact that it soon became apparent that not all fun is equal, or more precisely, equivalent. Visiting one park after another allowed me to see that the delivery of fun can be differentiated.

  • Disney, as one might expect, excelled at a magical fun which warms the hearts of the whole family. It offers rides, shows and experiences which don’t exclude and cater to our desire for nostalgia (if we are older), or dreams and fantasies (if we are younger).
  • Universal is more thrilling and will instead get hearts beating faster. The rides and experiences are more intense, attacking all our senses with great energy. And they are not for everyone: it has been calculated that a total of 21 attractions at Universal Orlando have height requirements, for an average of 10.5 per park, whilst at Walt Disney World, the average is 4.75 per park.

2. Visiting Orlando also brought home the power of brands. Whilst the parks themselves are effectively brands in their own right, they also encapsulate a maelstrom of other brands. In fact, I think it would be more appropriate to use the analogy of a galaxy (that’s the park) which contains many different stars, some of which are fading, and some of which are burning bright and very strong. It’s doesn’t take long to think of some examples.

  • At Universal, there is an ET ride, which is certainly charming, but will be lost on anyone born after 1990. Over the past couple of years there have been rumours brewing that the ride will be placed.
  • A star of a very different nature, also at Universal, is Harry Potter. Now this has proved to be a winning addition, glowing bright and strong, drawing people in. According to a piece in the New York Times, “When Universal Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter four years ago, that resort went from an also-ran to a must-visit almost overnight. Year-on-year attendance shot up 30 percent as families swarmed the snow-capped shops of Hogsmeade and rode three Potter-themed rides.”

3. My final observation relates to the role of technology in the whole experience. Technology is clearly a very broad term and gives me licence to touch upon a variety of different angles.

  • There is the technology that is involved in the delivery of experiences themselves. I wasn’t so interested in what makes the rides so whizzy and fast, though the use of electro-magnetic propulsion on Cheetah Hunt (at Busch Gardens) was a particular highlight.
  • What was more noteworthy was the use of media to enhance rides, something which Universal has been accused of relying on to excess. Rather than be physically transported to different scenes, you are thrown about in your ‘carriage’ with 3D film visuals and sound bouncing around you. It worked to wonderful effect in the Simpsons ride (which was refreshingly humorous – most rides tend to be either scary, sweet or awe-inspiring).
  • There is also more ancillary technology which acts as a facilitator to make visiting parks easier and more convenient. Here I am thinking of the park apps, of which my husband became very fond, so much so that he still continues to check them now periodically some two months after our trip! Planning a trip to minimise queueing and wasted time becomes a form of entertainment in its own right. Having chatted with other families who have done this kind of holiday, print-outs with highlighted sections and spread sheets become de rigeur.
  • Though we personally did not use this, I should also mention the Disney MagicBands. These are equipped with radio frequency identification chips that interact with scanners throughout the park. These MagicBands allow guests to gain access to everything from their hotel rooms to rides and attractions. Though it was not straightforward to get these off the ground , they represent the ultimate in terms of CRM. Interestingly, Disney itself now prefers to talk about Customer Managed Relationships, claiming that it is putting into place initiatives that put the guests in control, despite the fact that the bands are collecting endless amounts of data for Disney about each little thing the customer does, when and where.

I’ll end with a bonus photo of the cleaning staff at Disney. They are in immaculate white uniforms and in constant contact with the Powers That Be to ensure they focus their efforts on where it is most needed. Disney is proud of the fact that it overmanages. When it comes to clean toilets with lots of loo roll, that’s fine by me!

Disney cleaner uniform

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