Brownstone Blog

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Getting the Customer Experience Right

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of creating an experience for your customers whether you have a website, social media strategy or a bricks and mortar store. It’s not about what you have to sell, or even what price you are selling it at (always a mistake to try to compete on this one as someone, somewhere will always under-sell you). It’s about how your customer feels when they interact with you that determines how much they spend and also their loyalty over the long-term. Even in today’s challenging retail environment, nobody should ever lose sight of the fact that a customer’s business usually increases over time. Markets and economies never did business with anyone. People do business with other people. So, if you’re looking to increase your sales the first thing to ask yourself is what kind of person is your business and also, how is it getting along with everyone? Is it someone they want to hang out with? This all may sound trite and simple stuff but at the end of the day relationships shouldn’t be rocket science.

What you say to your customers and how they feel about you is more important today than it ever was. And you want to be creating the right impression so yes – they want to keep ‘hanging out’ with you. First, let’s look at one interaction that went horribly wrong for a brand who should have known better and we’ll then move on to a retailer who should become the poster child for how to do everything right.

Domino’s Pizza conducted an epic Fail recently when it embarked on an extensive social media campaign announcing a ‘Game changer’ revamp after two decades. Domino’s customers were teased and titillated over a week as to exactly what this would be. Pizza’s delivered by flying saucers instead of that spotty delivery boy who can’t find your address perhaps? ”Get ready for our biggest announcement in 20 years #gamechanger,” a banner on Domino’s Facebook page stated. ”You’ve demanded change and we’ve pushed ourselves to respond,” Domino’s Chief Executive Don Meij added.

As it happened, the hype far exceeded the actual truth of the matter when the much promised Earth-shattering, game changer was revealed to be nothing more than new toppings and a square pizza base. ‘YOU HAD US ON THE EDGE OF OUR SEATS FOR THIS?” one Facebook user wrote on the company’s page. ”This is not a game changer, What a waste of my time,” another wrote, while other Facebook users complained their critical comments were deleted. ”Really? That’s it? After 20 YEARS that’s the biggest announcement you have to make?! You guys seriously need to move a huge chunk of your marketing money back into your product development because that was shite,” one viewer wrote. Another alluded to the current food scandal writing, ”DAMN I was hoping for horse meat lol!” Domino’s therefore lost credibility, created a negative experience for their customers and undoubtedly ended up with a mailbox whose crust was well and truly stuffed with negative responses for some time to come. The take-out (pardon the pun but it was sitting there and we just had to go for it), that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to keep your customers happy. Just keep doing what you do.

But we were saving the best to last. A retailer who has got everything right by creating an experience that sends just the right message from the moment the customer enters their premises. Vincent Davies began life 100 years ago as a small shop in the Welsh town of Haverfordwest. Today it’s wonderful and expansive new home store, located just outside of the town centre, includes a cornucopia of high quality furniture, homewares, gift items, clothing, books, a pet store and garden centre set out in a way that just begs touching, exploring and immersing yourself in sensual pleasures. Once you have finished your tour of this beautifully laid-out emporium (and tried to keep your spending under control), a visit to the café is a must with its wonderful views and menu that puts many restaurants to shame. If you think you know what a store restaurant serves up – think again. Domino’s – take note. There’s a lot to be learned in those Welsh hills.



Shop till you get carpal tunnel syndrome. How on-line retailing impacts the High Street and beyond.


It’s been almost two decades since the music industry woke up to the fact that people weren’t buying CD’s. Windows 95 marked the start of mass-take up of personal computers and the internet, and music downloads were only a mouse-click away. People still wanted music. They wanted to go hear their favourite bands. They just didn’t want piles of CD’s any more or to pay lots of money for them. It took a while for the music industry to catch up – with Napster or the times for that matter.

The start of 2013 has seen many high street names join those who have already closed their doors for the last time. It’s easy to blame challenging economic times. Sure, the economic climate has had an impact but retailers everywhere have to understand that what we are seeing is an even bigger shift in buying patterns than the one that saw CD’s take a backseat to downloads. Why shop in the high street when the internet turns the entire world into your personal shopping mall? And a bargain hunter’s paradise for that matter. Why buy it at your local store when you can get it far cheaper from Amazon? The fact is we’re looking at a major change in the way we all shop – not just how much we pay for the items we want.

The demise of HMV showed not just that the retailer had failed to anticipate a shift but that we’re all buying less physical media – CD’s, DVD’s, Blu-ray discs. It’s a trend that’s bound to continue as we increase the number of devices we can access our media on. Phones, tablets, computers – the lines are blurring. Why buy a disc that can be scratched or lost when you can store it on your personal cloud and watch it anywhere? Just as Kindle and other e readers are set to make actual printed books unnecessary, we can look forward to collections of discs soon becoming a thing of the past.

So, if you’re a savvy, forward thinking retailer, what on-line shopping trends should you be aware of?

In-store pick up: If you’ve got actual stores and branches ensure your on-line activities offer this option. It’s a good way to increase traffic and remind your customers that yes, you still do have a physical presence on the high street.

Mobile apps: Especially those which can generate coupons or give price comparisons.

Use your users. It’s the old KISS rule. Forget flashy apps, virtual changing rooms or 3D walkthroughs.  The stats already show consumers don’t respond. What they do take notice of is a review however so invite your users to submit one.

YouMeTube: Video didn’t kill the retail star. More and more retailers are letting customers submit their own user videos of them using or modelling their products. Invite people to submit theirs. Run a competition for the best one a month. This is a trend that is showing definite signs of growing.

Daily Deals or Flash Sales: You’d be surprised at how quickly items can sell out. Use your database to send out email notifications.

The Net Knows No Boundaries: Think internationally. More and more small, niche retailers are discovering that up to 20% of their business is now international. Get that SEO working and make sure you have the ability to ship internationally in place.

The Social Network: The possibilities offered by social networks have nowhere near peaked yet. Customers like to reach out and get information directly from companies. And the next big thing will be retail-based social networks.

By understanding how on-line retailing can be made to work for them, retailers can continue to have a presence both in the high street – and on the digital superhighway. We used to say ‘the sky’s the limit’. Now we know – it’s the cloud.

Three New Year’s Resolutions All Marketers Need to Embrace

Let’s face is – media doesn’t need the excuse of a New Year to innovate but here are three major lessons we’ve learned in 2012 that all advertisers and marketers need to embrace for 2013.

1. Integration

We need to understand that integration is the way of the future and that media streams are evolving so fast that our marketing, advertising and social media strategies cannot continue to operate in silos. Companies must embrace integrated marketing or risk being left in the digital Jurassic era. Your customers expect your brand to be everywhere and this requires consistent messaging across all your media and an increased emphasis on real-time marketing. So, your strategy for 2013 needs to include advertising, social media, PR and where appropriate event and experiential components. All these activities need to be tied into your long-term brand goals and not just elements such as social media growth. Because getting 200 more likes on your Facebook page doesn’t count if you don’t have the strategy behind them to turn them into something of real value for your business.

2. Get Comfortable With A Faster Than the Speed of a Mouse Click and Have a Plan B

Traditionally companies have invested millions of dollars and time into brainstorming and fine-tuning the perfect pitch or slogan. What we’ve seen this year is that things move faster than the speed of a mouse click online –  memes are instantly created, and the best laid marketing plans can become stale before the first tweet is sent, or worse, can be hijacked to the detriment of the brand. Don’t believe me? Look at Starbucks latest hangtag campaign in the UK which turned into global brand-bashing.

The best plans of 2013 have to be seen as the first draft, with the expectation that things will change quickly. Having a rapid response plan, and the ability to make quick changes is a must in 2013.

3. Design Is the Next Killer App

In the physical world, packaging and design matters. Consumers like pretty and interesting things; this has enabled companies with the best packaging to outsell competition for generations. The famous and viral Old Spice campaign is, in many ways, an extension of the product’s physical brand packaging for the Internet.

If the majority of potential new customers will likely first experience your brand online, why not think as much about online design as the packaging that catches their eye on store shelves? Invest in design now as social networks are placing greater emphasis on visuals – you have only to look at Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram to see where this is all heading. However, good design gives your brand all the more ability to stand out.

4. One final (frontier) word:


We can all learn from what others are doing well. The most influential person on Facebook is actor and director George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek). He has beamed into Facebook and made it his own personal planet if you like. How? By reposting continuous positive and upbeat messages. And there’s the final lesson for the final digital frontier – make your messaging positive in 2013!

Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Please All The People All The Time

There’s a big mistake marketers and advertisers make and that is trying to please everyone. The fact of the matter is – not only is this impossible but you risk turning your brand into the advertising equivalent of blancmange in the process.

The better you and your agency are at creating a clear brand position, the more likely it is that you are going to find a group of people who really don’t like you. This is no bad thing. As Bill Cosby once said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Bold brand position comes from a place of accepting the fact that there will be some people who hate you – but you understand the people who love you. Look at the brands with strong position – Apple, Mercedes, Virgin, Red Bull and Kim Kardashian – all create a love/hate dynamic but whichever side of the dynamic you’re on – you remember them!

In this market, playing it safe with your branding translates into a weak brand. If you want customers to want what you have you have to accept that some will hate you. You can turn this to your advantage as did US sporting apparel company And1. When it came to the meaning behind the company’s name they responded “If you don’t know what it means, we don’t want you wearing our shoes.” Controversial? Yes. Offensive? Sure. Brand building? Absolutely!

Playing it safe often means clients looking at what a competitor is doing and trying to emulate that. Here’s the problem with the strategy that goes ‘We want to emulate what . . . (insert here the name of the brand leader in your sector) . . . is doing.’ The fact is the market already has someone in your sector doing what you want to do with your brand on doing it very very well indeed. The market doesn’t need another one. If you base your own strategy on what they are doing then you emerge as a pale imitation and lose the opportunity to create your own unique identity which could in the long term propel your brand into the number 1 position.

The key to successful branding is to be true to who and what you are as it is in life. We don’t necessary go through life expecting everybody to like us. If they don’t we usually dismiss it as their problem – not ours. If someone doesn’t like your brand provided you are constantly improving and evolving what you do – then let this work for you. If someone doesn’t like the way you market yourself – that’s fine. They are not your target audience.

Know your brand and then know why your audience would love it. Brands that target very specific audiences stand for something – that’s called brand value. Those who don’t stand for anything or target too generally, have little or no value.

Travelling safe path, although it may be tempting, is always a bad bet. Like people, brands are defined by the company they keep. But they’re also defined by the company they don’t keep. The bottom line is – there are some customers that will make your brand look bad.

Why Brand Experience Matters

Here’s shocking news for retailers out there. There’s a trend emerging in people’s buying patterns that may have little to do with a recession. People are not buying stuff. Now, if you’re a manufacturer or retailer large or small, you’re probably reading this and saying: ‘Tell me something I don’t know’. We’ll get to that part in a bit.

For now, this trend has turned out to be more complex than previously thought. At first, marketers figured it was generational. The Atlantic ran an article ‘Why Don’t Young Americans Buy Cars?’ noting that Generation Y was showing a distinct aversion to owning a vehicle compared with previous generations. Economic climate and the price of petrol notwithstanding. However, a follow-up feature in USA Today revealed that all ages are reflecting this change – people no longer appear to be enjoying purchasing things the way they used to.

So, what’s behind all this and more importantly, what can advertisers do to meet the challenge? The finger of blame has first been pointed in the direction of cloud – yes, that heavenly home where all our beloved old movies, songs, images etc is stored until we retrieve them from the ‘other side’. Certain research suggests that people are actually beginning to prefer this reality to the actual ownership of a physical product. Another article in Wired revealed Generation Rent – again, a trend not defined by an age demographic, but by the increased need to adapt to changing economic times and circumstances. You rent a DVD – or car. Where before you might have gone and bought a power drill to put up those bookshelves and it would never have been touched again – now the trend is just to rent one for a weekend. It’s the same with homes. Not only is getting on the housing ladder beyond most people but renters can up-size or down-size easily according to their economic circumstances and the landlord remains responsible for major repairs and maintenance.

But cloud and Generation Rent aren’t the whole story – they are merely extensions of the way we’re starting to think differently about what it means to ‘own’ something. It’s impacting on everything from car buying to music listening and it’s occurring everywhere across all age groups and demographics. So, now we know what it is – what can we as advertisers do for our clients?

Let’s go back to the internet for the moment. Thanks to it, nothing is really scarce anymore. All you have to do is jump onto the worldwide on-line flea market to find it. Because of this the balance between supply and demand has been altered, and the value has moved elsewhere – to connection. Because when we can acquire pretty well anything we want the question is: ‘What do I do with it?’ and here is where the opportunity lies. In other words, it’s no longer about purchasing something, it’s about how that something connects the buyer to something else – a feeling or to someone else be it a group or individual. Apple are masters of this and clients and their agencies have to think about the products they are selling now as instruments of connectivity – to a brand, feeling, social network or experience.

Discovering that connectivity could mean the difference between life or death for your business. If you’re ready to discover what connects your brand with this new market – talk to Brownstone. We’re ready to connect you.




Mass Attack! Science Fact and Science Fiction – Higgs bosons and Comic Con!

Well, you’d have to have spent the past month in a galaxy far, far away to have missed the two major pieces of news that are dominating the media. The first is of course the discovery of the Higgs boson – the so-called ‘God particle’ by scientists at CERN. It didn’t take long for this one to appear:

A Higgs boson walks into a church and the priest says ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t allow Higgs bosons to worship here.’ And the Higgs boson replies: ‘Fine. But without me you’ll have no mass.’

The mass effect brings us to the even bigger news – Comic Con 2012. If there’s one thing guaranteed to get us excited more than Mad Men and Don’s suits it has to be the yearly event at San Diego where Hollywood showcases its upcoming blockbusters. Returning triumphant was Joss Whedon, fresh from the success of the mighty Avengers. We’ve got to wait for the Avengers ensemble to return but fortunately, we’ve only got to wait until 2013 for the next Iron Man adventure. Robert Downey Jr arrived in character – complete with designer suit and sunglasses and Iron Man hand. ‘I’ve got three questions,’ Downey Jr. began. ‘Question one, how much do I love you? Question two, how much do you love me? Question three, why aren’t we watching any footage yet?’

Fans were treated to a clip showing Tony Stark in his lab and pieces of his suit flying to Tony one by one. However, a Skype chat reveals Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is no longer Tony’s head of security. We wonder what will happen when Tony has to face-down The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley)?

Ben is not the only Brit making a splash as all eyes were on the new Superman, British actor Henry Cavill. Director Zack Snyder showed off the new Man of Steel footage. The story re-boots the franchise but General Zod is set to reappear.

Time travelling Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were also there answering questions about their seventh season of Dr. Who which goes to air on BBC America.

Outside the centre, another Brit Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam arrived in character and riding his Harley.

Charlie stars in the upcoming  “Pacific Rim” directed by Guillermo Del Toro who calls the film a “big fat obscene Christmas gift”. The film, which comes out next July, basically pits giant human-created robots to fight giant monsters, also features Sons of Anarchy co-star Ron Perlman, who was also in attendance at the event. The footage featured massively scaled set pieces of soldiers and robots gearing up to smash and mash equally large monsters, and ended on a rousing speech by the actor Idris Elba intoning: “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse.” Del Toro told the audience that principal photography only wrapped 12 weeks ago and he would go into total radio silence about the film until the end of the year.

While time travelling Matt Smith and Karen Gillan answered questions about Dr. Who which goes to air on BBC America.

The biggest surprise both literally and figuratively was the announcement by Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures that Godzilla will be back to destroying cities near you shortly. That is – if there is anything left after the monsters and robots have finished.

British director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) said he was trying not to cry as he came on stage to talk about the footage he brought – which was shown twice – and ended with a brief image of the giant, city-destroying lizard. Before leaving, Edwards joked he hadn’t worked this hard for something so short since he lost his virginity.

BYOD – How Devices Can Drive Your Digital Strategy

Your company’s digital strategy may now have to include a BYOD policy for employees who work across your on-line presence or else risk having a sub-standard response to the latest trends. Agencies and their clients alike who wish to stay at the cutting-edge of the digital frontier should be accommodating their tech-savvy employees who want to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work.
It’s a trend that’s becoming more prevalent overseas but is catching on fast in the UK. According to a recent report from technology research company Gartner, the trend is being fuelled by tech-savvy Gen Y workers keen to embrace the mobility of new devices, collaboration and cloud.
‘If companies have invested a lot in their digital strategy they need to have in place the devices to implement it,’ Dave Jabbie explains. ‘It used to be when someone new joined the company the IT department would just configure a PC and that would be it. But now with digital strategies encompassing multiple devices, there’s an argument for letting the employee – and their job, determine whose device it is that does that job. Often employees – especially those whose job it is to design and run that strategy, will be in possession of better technology than their employers. Allowing employees to bring their own devices into work and connect to the network environment especially remotely, just makes sense.’
For those companies terrified that allowing employees to bring their own devices is carte blanche for them to spend all day on Facebook and Twitter, many adopt a hybrid policy where they will either contribute to the cost or buy the device but set the limits for authentication levels and access.
‘Obviously this should be determined by the individual and their position,’ Jabbie says. ‘Your social media content manager obviously needs access to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like. But most companies and their marketing creatives now use cloud-easy products such as Dropbox and Google docs and other consumer-friendly products all of which are fuelling the BYOD evolution.’
But why should companies think about a BYOD policy? Surely it can be said that if their employees are that tech-savvy they can adapt to use whatever technology infrastructure the company supports?
‘BYOD is based on the device – not the IT infrastructure and the creativity of the human who has a preference for it. On a non-creative level it provides a company with mobility. Mobility is the new bonus scheme – the tax-free incentive that attracts the best people,’ Jabbie explains. ‘It says you’re innovating and also that you want to remain productive. Mobility and happy employees translates into happy customers as your digital strategy content can be updated constantly no matter where your employees are.’
“Companies that embrace BYOD will get more productivity, more interaction, have happy customers, and happier employees. They also get better creative – that goes for agencies as well as their clients. This is a trend both sides need to embrace.’

App Attack! The Retail Revolution Continues

Last year just before Christmas, Amazon the world’s biggest on-line retailer, sent a winter’s chill down the spines of retailers across the world when it called on its millions of customers to take to the shops with their smartphones and use the Amazon barcode scanner app to scan the prices on any three toys, electronics, sports equipment or music.

The Christmas present offered by Amazon was five per cent of each Amazon product in return for the bar scan. Their mission – to produce a competitor annihilating database of prices in the battle for the billions spent on retail goods every year.

Apps such as Amazon’s Price Check have been dubbed ”killer” mobile apps because they deliver real-time pricing information from other competitors whether they are a few doors away or on-line. For retailers, these phone and tablet apps mean they have to respond and offer similar prices to Amazon and other on-line retailers.

This can turn into a killer when you are supporting an actual bricks and mortar store and paying VAT or other taxes which many of these on-line retailers are exempt from,’ says Dave Jabbie. ‘With smartphone apps continuing in popularity, retailers have to respond.’

Price is of course the biggest fight-factor. ‘It will become intense as mobile apps continue their take-up,’ Jabbie predicts. Stores are launching mobile apps where customers can scan an item in a competitor’s store and get the comparable price at their own. ‘What we are looking at is something that can and will forever change the face of retailing.’

The problem is, as Jabbie explains, this creates an unstable environment in a market already under pressure from the global economic downturn. So, what can retailers, especially small to medium-sized businesses, do to respond?

‘First you have to take the fear out of these apps,’ Jabbie says. ‘Look at them as just one more way you can communicate with your customers. People’s phones are always with them. This presents us with a significant opportunity.’

‘If we look at how some retailers are responding, their mobile apps strategy isn’t about competing on price. If you are going to slash prices there is always someone prepared to go lower. There are emerging trends from the US where retail mobile apps already have a higher market penetration where retailers have declined to compete on price and instead use these apps to better their relationships with their customers. These are specialist retailers who understand their market and above all, what they have to offer. The result is they can make better use of their inventory because it can be varied across their channels – both on-store and on-line. These are where the opportunities lie.’

‘Retailers need to see these apps as a way of merging commerce with your social media. Contrary to popular opinion and many people’s fears, they open up the door to an old-fashioned personal relationship with your customers. The retailers who realise this will be the ones who emerge ahead of their competitors ten years down the app track.’

So – don’t fear the app. Embrace it. For more about the Brownstone Approach – call us.

What Social Media Means for Retailers – On Line and Off

Let’s face it, or should we say Facebook it – nowadays no matter what your business is, social media is an integral part of your business strategy – or should be. The result of all this liking and Twittering is of course that brands and their retailers not only have to compete for popularity in their stores – but also on the web.

There are five key social networks available to businesses – namely Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and the newcomer on the social media landscape, Pinterest. So, who are the major social media success stories when it comes to retailers, which networks are they using and most importantly, why are they successful?

The number one retailer on Facebook is Victoria’s Secret which boasts 18.5 million fans. They are closely followed by US retail giant Walmart with about 15 million. Of the top 250 internet retailers, 97% of these are on Facebook.

‘If we look at a brand like Victoria’s Secret there is bound to be a high level of appeal across both sexes and all demographics,’ Brownstone’s Dave Jabbie explains. ‘Facebook continues to dominate social media and Victoria’s Secret lends itself to likes and shares. Even in tough economic times lingerie is a feel-good item and Victoria’s Secret understand their audience. You’ve only got to check their Facebook page to see that.’

When we look at Twitter, it’s another US retail brand – Major League Baseball which dominates with 1.9 million followers. It’s also the brand leader on Google+, boasting more than 600,000 followers. Retail channels on YouTube do not show numbers as large as the other social platforms, but Nike boasts the most subscribers with more than 200,000. Pinterest is still relatively new to the social media game, and it may be a format which is better suited to niche and specialist retailers. So far Nordstrom dominates the Pinterest landscape with more than 14,000 followers.

‘The interesting thing about retailers on social media is that certain industries dominate on each platform,’ Dave Jabbie reveals. ‘From the stats we know that apparel and accessories brands average 100,000 followers on Twitter yet computer and electronic retailers average only about 60,000. Yet – computers and electronics retailers dominate on YouTube.’

‘If you’re a retailer thinking about how best to utilise social media then what you have to bear in mind is that not all the platforms may be suitable. This is where an agency adept in social media strategy can help by directing you towards the ones that are – thus saving time and resources in the long term.’

Of course, successful social media for any business requires more than just choosing the right platform(s) to use. ‘For retailers it boils down to two things,’ Jabbie believes. ‘First, understand your audience or customer base. Second, think of your social media as an extension to your retail space – be that space virtual or the shop floor. When a customer enters that space you want them to have a good experience. Even if they don’t buy on this visit – if they enjoy the experience they will return to buy on another.

‘The same rules apply to social media. If you give them an experience they enjoy they will like you and keep re-visiting. Keep your posts engaging and above all – upbeat. The simple fact is that more posts get shared by users that put a smile on their faces than those that don’t. Showcase your good news –  product launch, special offers, sale and above all, invite people to become engaged with your brand – special offers for subscribers and people that share or like you may sound obvious but often it’s the obvious that gets overlooked. The fact is these things work.’

The Zombie Apocalypse – Are You Prepared?

When the dead come back to order brain frappaccinos from Zombiebucks, will you survive? Do you have a gun, food or more importantly – a map?

We didn’t think so. Thankfully a  solution exists thanks to digital agency Doejo whose Map of the Dead shows survivors where to find viral services –  gun stores, supermarkets and radio towers (to call for help) should the dead start re-appearing on our streets. The site at uses Google map data and a range of colour coded icons for sites such as hospitals, police stations and also colour-codes regions as safe or dangerous. It’s a brilliant, funny and inventive use of Google’s data.

At Brownstone we believe that the scatter gun approach should only be utilised when it comes to mowing down armies of the dead. Our digital and advertising strategies are designed specifically to target your customers better than zombies can the living. And if the streets are filled with the walking dead and you’re looking for a fresh way to advertise to them, we can come up with a campaign or website that will sell your product or services like brain candy.

So feel free to call us and pick our brains.