Interview #5 I believe in the whispering WOW

5th interview in and I'm starting to see patterns emerging. The question that concerns me is that, do you have to be rich in order to truly experience a WOW brand?- That's the impression I'm getting from my friends when they think about WOW. The only thing that goes against the grain in all of this is that we can all pretty much sample or own a little piece of PIXAR (my beloved example of a WOW brand)... So I enter my next interview with an impending feeling of deja vu, sitting down for a coffee with one of those 'thinking and articulate' types, the one and only Andrew Burton...

WOW words...

Andrew fills our conversation with any array of superlatives that we could all use to describe a WOW brand:


Then, Andrew blurts out two statements that bring a lot of what I thought about brands into perspective,  'a product or service that simply makes you happy' speaks volumes, but then he follows this with 'something you want to be part of...'

I ponder both statements a lot as we continue talking and then another two words come to mind as we speak - PERSONAL and TRUST.

Why Starbuck's isn't WOW...

As I prompt Andrew with examples, we get on to Starbucks. Can an everyday coffee in an everyday coffee shop every be truly WOW? Don't get me wrong, Starbucks is great, but it sits in amongst a tier of coffee shops in the UK- 'Costa, Nero, Starbucks- there all much of a muchness' he says. I see Andrew's point, but then neither of us are mad enough about coffee to really know and understand the difference between them.

Hence, it stands to reasons for us to even feel the WOW it has to be extremely PERSONAL to us, in the sense that you know what you want and the brand gives it to you- in spades. There are definitely people out there who are mad about coffee and the WOW Starbucks gives them, but I'm not speaking to them. They're out there, whole communities of them, passionate enough to suggest ideas that they believe could make Starbucks even more WOW (click here)!

You can't shout about TRUST, only whisper it...

We keep talking as the concept of trust in a WOW brand becomes more and more intriguing as we talk about the cornerstone of English shopping, the retailer John Lewis...

John Lewis is one of the UK's most successful retailers, with the understated brand tag line 'Never Knowingly Undersold'. What surrounds the retailer is a sense of knowledge, honestly, and integrity which is  extremely rare in the cut throat business of 21st Century retail.

I kid you not- my first experience of the store was the pretty typical- 'I'll go in here to find out everything I can about the product I want and then I'll go home and buy it on Amazon'. Except I didn't, as I could find it cheaper, so as the guarantee they offered was much better than I could find elsewhere I went back to them.

Little did I realise that this was to be the first, in a series of whispered WOW's I have got from them over the last 12 years. Every time my wife and I have come to a point where we need to make an 'important purchase' it naturally seems to be our first port of call. The last time we were in there, the sales assistant recommended that we go to another retailer to get the curtains for our daughters bedroom, just to be sure we got the right product at the right price. I almost jumped out of my skin when they said 'we might not be the best here, try these guys'. It doesn't take a genius to guess where we still ended up getting the curtains from...

Even at the height of these austere times, John Lewis succeeded in having a good 2011 (just ask the man at Reuters). One of the key reasons for this success was attributed to outstanding Christmas trade, which in turn was fuelled by a fantastically relevant advertising campaign.

WOW is a lot more than just LOVE...

The TRUST conversation opens up a whole array of dimensions that we use to gauge the strength of our relationships, with brands and indeed with each other. HONESTY and INTEGRITY are also key to cementing our BELIEF in the relationship, and wanting to part of something is a direct result of your belief in something and what it represents.

But here's where we get to the crux of it- you just can't shout about things like TRUST and HONESTY, you  can only whisper them for these dimensions to be credible in a brand context. They have to be earned, and real WOW brands have to work hard for them. Sure these traits are nowhere near as attention grabbing as being COOL, DESIRABLE and SEXY (like Apple), but I'd argue that the foundations of the relationship with the brand are nowhere near as solid and that's where customer loyalty and satisfaction really lies.

Anyways, it there's one constant in the world is that there will always be something cooler sexier and more desirable coming along, so its a perilous position for a brand to occupy, and really difficult to maintain.

So I applaud those WOW brands with the courage get it right for their consumers in a way they'll stick with, and the patience to whisper it... I feel an 'important purchase' coming on Johnny!


  1. I agree John Lewis is a great brand. My Mum wants a new PC, and she asked where to get one, my first thought was John Lewis. I know she’ll get a quality product for a fair price, and I think that opinion has come from a long term relation with John Lewis. I can remember going there as a little kid and bouncing around on the carpets!
    While John Lewis continues to whisper an honest and reliable brand it can associate itself to the cool, desirable and sexy by selling those brands.

  2. Combining the WOW words with coffee, I immediately thought of NESPRESSO... Not only because of the quality of the product, but also because of all the services around it, including machinery.
    Would love to have your view on Nespresso as a WOW brand, Chaz.

    1. Years of working with machine manufacturers showed me that Nespresso is still the best domestic coffee system out there, simply because of the way in which it makes coffee.

      But the real WOW is that it knows its market better that most. Real aficionados make their own coffee from scratch, but there seems to be a great deal of us that just want good coffee without the hassle of making it and this is where it really captures our hearts- the feeling of quality which others cant match...

    2. From the consumer perspective I think it's the whole service experience with Nespresso that make it WOW brand. The secondary packaging is gorgeous, the pods are nice recognisable things to have in your kitchen, and you can pick your colour. The coffee is fair to middling, but it's consistent, and good enough for most consumers.

      But look at their club - - it's like Virgin upper class! - and it's this service feeling that makes them a WOW brand.

      And yes, they are as bad as Apple. As a product developer I hear "We'd like this product to be the nespresso of our category" as often as "I want my product to be like the iPod" these days. Is nespresso the iPod of coffee or is iPad the Nespresso of Tablets?

    3. Great point Duncan, I think WOW brands do think beyond the product, and into the total consumer experience. In reading the blog and recalling my conversation with Chaz, there’s one word I keep coming back to in describing a WOW brand… and that is EXPERIENTIAL.

      From watching animated out-takes in the Incredibles (which makes this as real and believable as any other film) to visiting the John Lewis Home store (and yes I did mean visiting…. going there feels more akin to a day trip - with souvenirs, than simply just shopping), I feel like my individual, personal experience, has been put at the heart of brand.

      So, for me, the single defining quality of a WOW brand is that it offers and fulfils the promise of a highly engaging experience. Having talked to so many people Chaz, what’s your perspective on a single defining quality of a WOW brand? BTW- Great Blog.

  3. I know a number of senior level FMCG marketing chaps spoke of very little else beyond Nespresso and iPads for a good 12-18 months following their respective launches. It certainly wowed them.

  4. An ethical business and honesty are definitely WOW factors. As you note, it's all in the relationship. I shop at John Lewis and Waitrose in preference to any other chain.

    I love coffee but not Nespresso! Sure, the design is good but the 3 or 4 Nespresso coffee bean types I've tried were nothing to write home about. I hate how these products restrict the customer to only using their brand of pods. There should be an international standard... Since that's not going to happen, a more honest approach would be the printer/ink business model - make the machines almost free.

  5. Starbucks... For a few heady days back in the early days of the New Millenium they were on the cusp of wow-hood.... But they blew it. They couldn't make the final leap from "pretty cool" to "wow" and sank back into the sea of competition that had risen up around them.
    They're doing some interesting stuff with the whole My Starbucks local vs global thing, but will it be enough to propel them into wow? I doubt it.
    Nesspresso just got lucky with the right idea at the right time executed in the right way - both marketing and business structure. A genius idea well done IS enough to get you wow, it's staying put that is their challenge.

  6. Whispering WOW Brands that successfully ‘Transition’ alongside their Customers!

    Last weekend was an important date in the “rights of passage” of my 13-year-old son, Ethan. Like his brother before him he was to climb a mountain with his dad! OK, we are not talking Everest here or The Eiger but that symbol of realistically achievable hills….… Snowdon, in Snowdonia, North Wales!
    It was on quiet reflection, and after reading Chaz’s blog that I recalled one of my favourite brands that has history, has transitioned across a hundred years or so and whispers outstanding brand value to its followers. Coming down off a wintery Snowdon, after 7 hours of hard walking, or sliding, in the ice and snow we were cold, tired but privately elated. What did we know would be at the bottom of the hill? A warm, dry, welcoming YHA hostel!

    To me the YHA brand that to me means rest, comfort, value for money, like minded people in an otherwise hostile environment. It provides care, quality and companionship for thousands around the world. It doesn’t shout these values, it’s a charity and therefore doesn’t have enormous marketing budgets, but it does deliver consistent services that create enormous loyalty from its customers. It’s a welcoming sight coming down off a mountain or at the end of a bike ride or today, for families out exploring. So it has the brand values but what about the history and the transition?

    Started nearly a hundred years ago in Germany it became very much a “Secret Seven’s” visualisation of youthful, outdoor accommodation. I’m giving away my age here with the Enid Blyton’s “Secret Seven” reference. But the transition cue came in the 80’s when travel styles, distances and expectations of accommodation changed rapidly. After youth hosteling, yes it was a verb, as a kid in the 70s I didn’t re-establish contact with this brand until the early 90’s when looking to start the outdoor education of my kids. What a change! Gone were all those “worthy” but “dull” rules and dormitories and now there were private rooms, dining rooms, even bars!!! You didn’t have to do any chores or arrive under your own steam anymore as was previously the case. I recall many “walkers” used to get off the bus 100 yards down the road before “proudly” entering “under their own steam.” Now you were equally welcome if you parked outside and your large and noisy family ran in shouting “where’s the mountain Daddy?”

    Essentially the YHA brand hadn’t reinvented itself but it had transitioned and developed as its clientele had itself morphed into a more demanding, experienced, sophisticated bunch. It means education, inspiration, access and experience BUT it hadn’t forgotten its reason to be…. good accommodation allowing access to the outdoor environment, and its core deliverables…. comfort and value! It accomplished this transition quietly but consistently and totally.

    How many other organisations have accomplished similar changes successfully?

    1. Just shows that brands don't need to be well known, as long as they are loved and respected by their customers.

    2. I think its fantastic that without having a large budget for marketing, the YHA brand has nonetheless evidently kept - and even grown - its loyal (loving?) customer base. And as one previously always put off by the aforementioned rules and chores, I'm now inspired to go and test them for myself! What more could they ask for?