Review: The Apprentice Series 12 Episodes 4 & 5

Candidates from BBC TV's The Apprentice
JD chills while Sofiane pitches and Trishna sticks to her price

The Apprentice: Episode 4

After last week’s boring task and unfair result, this week’s The Apprentice got back on track with an episode about crowdfunding.

I really must stop taking Lord Sugar’s search so seriously. I keep thinking it’s a business programme when really it’s simply popular entertainment. Even so, there are business lessons to be learned.

Last week we were reminded that superior resources usually win in business as in war. Once Aleksandra dropped out, instead of evening up the teams, there was on team of 8 and one of 6. It was no surprise that the larger team won a sales task. If the producers had wanted to be fair, they could have judged the result by using average sales per person. Unless of course she didn’t really walk out at the beginning of the task and there was some clever editing going on.

We also learned that you have to listen to your customers to succeed in business. So, if you’re going to be a personal shopper, ask about your customer’s budget, their size, their taste and what in particular they’re shopping for.

The Apprentice: Episode 5

This week, we were introduced to the world of crowdfunding. The lesson was, they don’t need Lord Sugar’s money. If their idea is good enough, they can get backing from the public. Of course, you would be mad to offer rewards that cost more than the investment but, if you’re working on a task for The Apprentice, it doesn’t matter what you offer because you’re never going to raise the money you need in a day.

The pitches to retailers were interesting. As someone who once had a small retail business, I was sympathetic to the idea of giving the small independents the same discount as the big retailers. Karren Brady was right to say that you should give a better discount to someone buying 10 times as many units but Trishna may have unwittingly struck upon a fact of life for suppliers- if you want to deal with the big name retailers, they will screw you not only on price but on payment terms. You will probably stay in business longer if you only sell to independents.

So it’s Goodbye JD, a Project Manager so laid back he was horizontal, a leader more chilled than frappuccino, characteristics that allowed his team to run wild while he had an early night.

He could learn from Sun Tzu, author of The Art Of War: “Regard your soldiers as your children and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look upon them as your own beloved sons and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent but unable to make your authority felt, kindhearted but unable to enforce your commands, and incapable of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children. They are useless for any practical purpose.”

This article is written by Paul Lewis. A version has appeared on the Hampshire Workspace website. Paul owns the Winchester-based marketing consultancy firm Seven Experience. His clients include Hampshire Workspace and Theatre Royal Winchester.

Buying Online- Who’s Doing The Favour?

John Singer Sargent
Self Portrait by John Singer Sargent

When your customer buys online, who benefits most, you or them? The question occurred to me after two contrasting experiences I had recently. One was with an arts organisation, the other was a commercial business.

First, the National Portrait Gallery. I read the reviews of the John Singer Sargent exhibition and thought I must see this. So, striking while the iron was hot, I bought tickets online. You might think that they NPG would be grateful to me for buying in advance. They have my money as opposed to leaving it open to the possibility that the excitement I was feeling might have dimmed by the time the day arrived. Do they thank me for this? No, they charge me an extra £1.65 booking fee.

I go into No1 Currency to buy some euros and am surprised to find the rate is lower than I’d seen online. The woman behind the counter explains that, to get the better rate, I need to use their online Click & Collect service. I can see why they do this. For the sacrifice of a few pennies profit, No1 Currency get all my personal details.

The short term thinking of the National Portrait Gallery- and sadly so many other arts institutions- means that they not only fail to secure ticket sales, they lose out on valuable customer data. Worse than that, by making their customers pay for the privilege of buying online, they actually damage their relationship with them. It seems as if they are still thinking that online purchasing is an optional extra that they are offering as a favour to their customers. Whereas customers believe online is a standard way to buy and that an electronic sale should if anything cost less than one over the counter.

Accountants may want to squeeze extra income from every transaction but Marketing and Sales people can’t afford to think this way. Short term gain must always be weighed against long term loss.

By the way, the John Singer Sargent exhibition lived up to the rave reviews. He had a rare ability to understand his sitters and his flawless technique enabled him to show the personality beneath their skin.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn

White Stuff Lives Up To Its Name

To provide a catalogue with nothing but white faces, as White Stuff have done, is offensive to those customers who oppose discrimination and to those who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

White Stuff catalogue

Every face in White Stuff ‘s 108 page winter catalogue belongs to a white person- and, at a glance, every face on their website. Are they really saying people from ethnic minorities do not form part of their market? Do they really think their clothes look best against white skin? I doubt that.

Much more likely is that they’ve just not thought it through. I don’t think for a moment that the owners of White Stuff or their art director or their photographer made a deliberate decision not to use any black models but the fact is, no-one along the way to the printing of this catalogue spotted this gross omission or, if they did, they didn’t think it was worth doing anything about.

It’s most likely a simple lack of thought about the implications of only featuring white people. (White Stuff’s catalogue also didn’t feature older or physically disabled people, so we can be fairly sure there is no conscious effort in the company to bring about positive change in society.)

This whiteness that dominates the fashion industry is insidious. It creates a norm in our minds. Even if fashion leaders are not being deliberately racist, catalogues and cat walks say our society is white and that white is to be aspired to.  So it reinforces unconscious bias. That’s bad for our society.

And it’s bad marketing. To provide a catalogue with nothing but white faces is potentially offensive to all those customers who oppose discrimination and to the 13% of the population who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Display at Debenhams
A display at Debenhams

White Stuff are far from alone. Look at any number of high street catalogues and websites and you’ll find a sea of white faces. I’ve read that top black models Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls have all complained about occasions when photographers preferred white models or only picked a quota of non-white models. 

The Edit magazine described how ‘There were times when Dunn would be on her way to castings and told to turn back because the client “didn’t want any more black girls”. There was even one instance when a makeup artist announced on a shoot that she didn’t want to make-up Dunn’s face because she herself was white and Dunn was black.’ 

But it can be done. Step forward Debenhams. All it takes is a little thought.

Here’s a tip for White Face, sorry White Stuff. Whether you’re writing copy or creating visual images, get your work double checked by fresh eyes from outside the company. It helps avoid unintended messages.


What’s The Difference Between Perception and Misperception?

What’s the difference between perception and misperception? Perceptions aren’t about facts. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. You will need to change your marketing to stop others perceiving your product in the same way.

In a sneaky job interview technique, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, asks a candidate, ‘What would you say is the biggest misperception people have of you?’, then follows up with the killer question, ‘What’s the difference between perception and misperception?’ Which is what we quoted.

Quite right. ‘Misperception’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘misconception’. Your perception may be based on a misconception but, right or wrong, it is what it is. Let’s take a practical example. It’s a misconception to think of me as tall, because I am exactly the average height for a British male. However, if you’re smaller than me, your perception of me may well be that I am tall.

This is important in business. Perceptions aren’t about facts. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. If your customer has an unfavourable view that is not based on facts, it doesn’t matter that you can prove them wrong, they will probably continue to believe what they believe or resent you making a fool of them. What matters is to understand how they came to that view. Only by understanding your customer and sympathising with them can you hope to persuade them to take a more favourable view of you and your product. In any case, that’s one customer. Ultimately you will need to change your marketing to stop others perceiving your product in the same way.

A good example is price. If customers have a perception of your products as ‘expensive’, you have your work cut out, not only because their definition of ‘expensive’ may be different to yours but they may well have an image of your company as upmarket that is not really to do with price at all. Waitrose’s prices are about the same as Tesco’s but they have had to go to great lengths in publicising price matching and bringing in ‘Essentials’ to try to persuade potential customers that this is the case. I don’t think they have succeeded. In fact, I think that lately they seem to be embracing the perception of Waitrose as the store for upmarket shoppers and concentrating on carving out the lion’s share of that part of the market.

We often need to create or change perceptions of our brand or products. We don’t mind if the perception is not in line with reality, provided it works to our advantage.

Sometimes a personality helps. Bernard Matthews may have run a turkey factory but he fronted advertising campaigns as a jolly Norfolk farmer with an amusing way of saying ‘beautiful’. Sometimes packaging helps. Kettle Chips’ old fashioned fonts and detailed descriptions of how they are made belie the fact that they are still mass produced crisps. Sometimes it’s trickery. Encouraging supermarkets to place Sunny Delight in the refrigerated section gave the impression it was a fresh fruit drink even though it contained only 5% fruit juice. Sometimes it’s price. An £50 bottle of wine may taste the same as a £15 one in a blind test, but most people will perceive that the more expensive one tastes better.

So the answer to the interview question should have been along these lines, ‘Some people perceive me as being whatever which isn’t true but all perceptions are valid and I realise I have to work hard to show that I’m not.’

This is a link to the full article on the techniques Tony Hsieh uses to get behind job interviewees’ standard answers.

This blog was written by Paul Seven Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version appeared on the Hampshire Workspace website.

Just Because It’s Free Doesn’t Mean It’s Worthless

I was going to write about the rights and wrongs of Waitrose giving away cups of coffee but then I read about one of their free coffees poisoning a customer. It wasn’t the fact that cleaning fluid made its way into the cup, it was how Waitrose dealt with it.

As a company, how you deal with a bad customer experience makes all the difference. Many businesses make the mistake of thinking ‘so what? it’s just one lost customer’ without realising that the ramifications go in all directions. The customer tells people she meets, statistically far more than when she has a good experience, and she never shops with you again so you lose a potential lifetime of purchases. For example, I had a bad experience with Kuoni back in the 90s, I felt their response was inadequate and neither I nor any of my family have ever bought a holiday from them since- and we’ve been on a lot of holidays.

The good response is to apologise profusely, show that you’ve looked into the problem and made sure it won’t happen again, and compensate more generously than they are expecting. So, what did this particular Waitrose do when their customer was hospitalised? They sent her an insulting £25 voucher. They soon learnt how much that free coffee was worth when the customer’s husband took to the social media.

Surely an exception to the great John Lewis tradition of serving customers exceptionally well, you might think. Except. It reminded me of an experience we had at Waitrose in Salisbury a few weeks ago. We had found the staff in their cafe particularly inattentive to the point of not listening. Because we thought this was unusual and that the store would want to make sure this didn’t happen again, my wife wrote a ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ letter to the Manager by name.

We received back a hand written note from Customer Service Department Manager. This could be a good personal touch except for there being no apology, simply a terse ‘If you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me’ and a phone number. My wife was pretty annoyed. She’s taken the trouble to write, now she was expected to take even more trouble to phone. Nevertheless she did, only to find the manager in question was away.

John Lewis and Waitrose have made a name for being better at customer service. That’s one of the points of their free coffee. It says, ‘We’re not just another supermarket, we’re a place where shopping is both relaxing and fulfilling. Of course, it will take more than a little bad service to stop us shopping with them because it has to be balanced against all the many occasions the service has been exceptional. Nevertheless, the halo slipped a bit.

I think their halo has slipped a bit over the matter of free coffee, as well. It may enhance their customers’ view of Waitrose as being that bit more civilised  but it will damage local coffee shops, just as their free newspapers will damage the local newsagent. I expect Costa, Starbucks and WH Smith will survive but I can see it being a problem for smaller independents. Maybe I’m worrying unnecessarily since a satisfactory cup of coffee in a supermarket doesn’t have the same value as a good coffee in pleasant surroundings, which is I guess why so many of us pay £2.50 for something that costs a few pennies to make.

This article was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Waitrose customer service response Waitrose customer service[/caption]