Image courtesy forfolkssake.com
Imagine walking through John Lewis and sensing something different. In place of the usual self-assured commitment to service, you sense a brand that’s trying too hard.
There are posters proclaiming the store’s commitment to customer service.
Radio ads are coming over the tannoy, telling you how many people they’ve helped this month.
In the lift there are video case studies of very satisfied customers. By the tills there are even staff profiles telling you how great it is to work there.
Everywhere, it seems, you’re assailed with self-proclamations of perfection.
It would be awful, wouldn’t it?.
Somehow we feel with John Lewis that we not only don’t need to be told about their service brilliance, we don’t want to be either.
It would be overly self-referential, self-congratulatory even. And that would make us worry.
Was the the organisation somehow less confident in its reputation these days, or in its service? Why suddenly so overtly self-conscious? Protesting too much?
Somehow, I fear, it would break the spell.
Now, John Lewis is obviously fine. After Christmas and the January sales most shoppers remained convinced of what makes the brand great without recourse to such obvious tactics.
But elsewhere, another brand I respect (and maybe even love) is starting to behave with just this strain of self-consciousness.
6Music, over the last few weeks, has started to issue the very kind of self-proclamations John Lewis never would.
It occurred to me when Mary-Ann Hobbs started, at the beginning of January, on weekend mornings. I was looking forward to some much-needed ‘edge’ in that slot. Part of the station’s charm is the rough-hewn second careers it helps carve out for pop stars music journos like Hobbs, and Nemone sounds like she trained at radio school.
Instead Hobbs seems to fill every link with gushing statements about what an amazing station 6Music is, and how extraordinary it is to be working there.
I’m sure she’s right, but at that time in the week introducing me to some amazing music would be fine.
I’d put it down to her manner -she clearly loves her stuff – but she early on in January she had a kind of ‘pick of the week’ feature, sharing snippets of ‘stuff you might have missed’ from across the station output.
Very quickly she ran out of superlatives, so her delivery also quickly resorted to platitudes.
This too would be OK, but institutional self-regard seems to be seeping into other areas too. Mainly the station’s on-air advertising.
It features artists and the DJs attesting to what 6 does and how good it is at doing it.
As a listener I understand this already. After all, it’s why I’m there.
It all sounds a bit self-serving. You have to wonder what the creative brief was. Who exactly is the audience?
More recently the on-air cross-promotion is seeping out. On Radio 4 I’m hearing Lauren Laverne soberly explain what her show’s all about. It’s like the the new TV film minus all the exciting bits.
I’m not quite sure what’s jarring so much about all this for me. Perhaps it’s the fact that 6 is all about discovery, marshaled by knowledgeable souls and available in intimate corners of the station’s output.
So continually being pushed an institutional view feels like too much.
It means that what felt like a discovery, an exciting, ascendant community to join, now sounds triumphant, smug even.
It adds self-congratulation to that coming from everyone else.
I’m sure, having said all this, that there’s a role for the brand to assert itself more concretely. If potential advocates understand the bigger picture of the station then perhaps they listen more frequently, or pass the right message on.
I can also understand why the brand is feeling more full of itself than ever before. Its rescue was listener-led, after all – and is there any greater vote of confidence in the way you’re doing things? Maybe it is time to give the station and its listening community a more defined sense of identity.
But to these ears it doesn’t sound right. Not altogether wrong, just a smidgen too self-conscious.
And too focused on telling people what’s great about 6, when its strength lay is showing people.
It doesn’t feel assertive. In fact, it feels the opposite.
I still think 6Music being saved was the best thing that ever happened to it.
I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be the worst too.