It is 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published; it’s (ahem…) 16 years since Colin Firth, aka Dashing Darcy, emerged dripping wet from a lake in the BBC production; and neither P&P nor “the lake scene” are showing any signs of diminishing in popularity.
#WWEBD is trending hard. This, of course, stands for “What would Elizabeth Bennet do?” Urban dictionary’s picked up the phrase and defines it as “a general guiding philosophy for life.”
Jane Austen has long been a heroine of mine, from GCSE days with P&P, progressing onto the more mischievous Emma for ‘A’-Level English Lit. Despite its age, P&P’s message, humour and social commentary still clearly ring true for the 21st Century audience. I don’t think that this is because Austen had incredible foresight to see into the future, I rather sense it is because she had an uncanny ability to read people and the nuances of social behaviour. Although we love to think we have evolved and progressed dramatically, the fact is that people – their instincts, needs and interactions – have changed very little.
Our channels and speed of communication may have broadened and increased in pace, however, many fundamentals remain. We still have dreams and aspirations, we want to better ourselves and our situations, we want to fall in love, to be respected and listened to, to have our needs met, to hear “thank you” when we do a good turn, and to hear “sorry” when we are wronged. It is these commonalities that run throughout history. And so, it is this common-thread that also holds true in what has made exceptional customer service and experience over the centuries.
In the same decade when Austen put quill to parchment to author her great work, a number of famous businesses were founded: Pringle; Scottish Widows; DHL; and Colgate-Palmolive, all still going strong today. They have stood the test of time, not by remaining completely unchanged, but by adapting to circumstances, whilst continuing to address the fundamental needs and desires of their customers. When Lydia Bennet heads to the shops for an “embellished” bonnet, to woo the disreputable Mr. Wycombe, she would presume a few things in the service she received that we would still expect today. She would want to be remembered and greeted by the sales assistant (in the same way I don’t want to have to re-log into Nike.com); she would want to receive personalised advice on what would suit her young complexion (just as I love it when Amazon suggests ebooks I might like); and she would expect her tailored goods to be delivered with a smile exactly when she wants them (just as I appreciate an SMS update, telling me that my shopping is on it’s way). People and the service they expect may have developed somewhat in the last 200 years, but have not changed fundamentally.
If social media and gender “equality” had arrived 200 years earlier, I think the nation’s best-loved literary heroine would have had a few choice pieces of advice for some of the over-exposed brands of today:
#WWEBD 1: Cease the indiscriminate NewsFeed spamming on FB at once: Exclusivity over availability!
“We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.”
For the last few weeks, Facebook has been asking me to “Like” LoveStruck, “Install” Skyscanner and “Share” my love for Dove. My reaction: “Dislike!” If I didn’t “like” your brand the last five times you interrupted my Newsfeed, by the 6th occasion, I’m reaching for the “hate and would no longer purchase on principle of their promiscuous Social media behaviour” button. I’m not alone. The only sharing I’ve seen of posts like these have been my friends’ derogatory comments; and a quick Google search returns headlines, such as: “For the love of God, stop asking me to ‘like’ you”; and “Why I don’t like your brand on Facebook.” Brands shouldn’t indiscriminately asked to be’ liked’. They need to earn my affection, or not keep asking – it looks desperate and is inappropriate
#WWEBD 2: Loyalty should be earned and not presumed! However, sow a seed or curiosity and it will grow.
” A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
Intrepid Travel sent me their 2013 brochure the other week – yes, printed out and delivered by post – not terribly digital, but incredibly powerful. The only thing on the front cover was a lone woman staring up at a mountain and the words “The Big Challenge.” This was brilliant because it was so broad, I was instantly captured. Before I’d even ripped off the cellophane to find out what this actually was, I was picturing myself taking on Everest, Kili or Raj Dashen – in short, I was sold. Sold on a small seed! Intrepid gave me just enough information for my imagination to grip onto and none of the patronising description that so easily puts me off, and shatters illusions.
Sometimes it’s not the repeat or clever messaging that works, it’s as simple as planting enough intrigue for your customers to come to you
#WWEBD 3: Inconsistency breeds contempt!
“There are a few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with in and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
About a year ago I signed up for a free three month trail period of Taste Card: no complaints but the £60 / year price to continue with the scheme seemed too high. So I was pleased when a “Limited special offer” email landed in my inbox with the opportunity to join the scheme for £29.95, if I joined today. However, it was a busy day, and I failed to sign-up. Strangely, I’ve had one of these “special, limited” offer emails every week now for several months. I no longer feel a sense of urgency or indeed, even the inclination to sign-up – this offer is clearly neither “limited” nor “special.” Moreover, it discredits TasteCard as an honest brand I want to sign-up to. If this is the legitimacy of their offers, then I doubt there are many great savings to be had in the scheme as a whole – “unsubscribe!”
I hold the same philosophy with any other “huge savings” or “massive sale.” If it’s offered constantly then this actually just becomes the expectation, as opposed to any special discount.
#WWEBD 4: Just because you jumped on the social media band wagon, I don’t think you’re cool!
To end my blog where Jane Austen began:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This is Elizabeth Bennet at her most ironic, recognising that the reverse was true: in a time and social order when female options were limited, it was the single woman who was in almost desperate want of a husband.
The universal truths or knowledge that Brands so often cite are rarely ratified by general following.
Just because social media exists does not mean all brands should jump on it. For example: Canesten. Canesten is the brand that makes products to treat fungal infections. Their homepage gives you the opportunity to “like” them on Facebook. Let’s think about this for a second. You’re encouraging me to share personal medical ailments with the world via Facebook. To me, this seems rather mis-guided. Not everything is made for the public arena!
Other obvious brand #fails include Kenneth Cole unashamedly trying to ride on the back of the Arab Spring;
Chrysler insulting all of Detroit
and Qantas tweeting about luxury travel whilst passengers were grounded on the runway for seven hours.
In the same way that every singleton on the planet is not pining for a partner (Austen herself remained happily unmarried all her life), brands should not assume the social media bandwagon is a must. In fact, the biggest brand in the world, Apple, has no official Twitter or Facebook account. Obviously, this hasn’t hurt their brand in the least.
So, this week, before you Tweet, Like, or even cross the road, ask yourself #WWEBD?