We all know that consumers are demanding individuals and have to be
At conference after conference, and in endless articles, marketing
directors and managing directors tell us that the marketing-literate
consumer is demanding ever more personalised and tailored products and
But despite the obvious fact that staff are consumers too, many
businesses continue to ignore their staff completely or treat them as
robots in a production line, there simply to churn our whatever it is
that the bosses have decided the consumer wants.
We’ve all experienced it. The stilted telesales script. The modern
’jobs-worth’ unable to make any decision without reference to the
manual. The rigid adherence to the standard sales patter.
Don’t senior management see their staff sniggering behind their hands
when they tell them they want their brand to be seen as ’a friend of the
consumer’? Staff know it’s nonsense.
A friend is someone who laughs at your jokes, lends you money and
doesn’t charge you interest, and visits you in hospital when you’ve got
unpleasant diseases. A friend is not a packet of cereal, or a financial
services company ... unless you’re very sad.
It’s all part of the same nonsense that has managers trying to convince
their staff that their brand is, for example, ’customer-centric, and
committed to partnership integration’.
First, it’s almost always not true. It might be what you’re aiming for,
but seldom where you are. And second, nobody talks like that anyway.
Have you ever heard anyone in the pub talk about ’partnership
Surely, the basic rule about your brand values should be that if you
can’t express them in the language that your staff would use in the
canteen, then don’t use it in the training room or in internal
In fact, don’t use it at all.
Of course, in the short term, it’s much harder to treat your staff as
thinking individuals. But it’s also much more rewarding and profitable
in the long term. The political parallel is that liberal democracy is
hard to get going, but once it’s up and running it outlasts all forms of
So it will be with the brands of the future. Well-motivated staff who
are allowed some flexibility in how they service intelligent and
marketing-literate consumers will win the day.
In the future, the companies and brands that will triumph are those that
understand there is an enormous difference between ’service’, which
allows staff some initiative to treat customers as individuals, and
’process’ which means giving each customer what you’ve decided they
As we shift more and more toward a service culture, the quality and
attitude of staff is, in many cases, going to become the most important
aspect of the brand.
And yet how many companies spend even a quarter of the money they spend
researching consumers in researching their staff?
How many companies communicate jargon? How many companies think that
their staff are as intelligent and sophisticated as their customers?
If you are committed to quality and service, then let’s treat customers
and staff as thinking individuals. If you don’t want to treat them like
that, then let’s accept that we’re talking about process rather than
Sainsbury’s recently had to alter an ad because it insulted its
There should be a straight line running from your external to your
internal communications. Too often there appears to be a wall between
In his second week at Channel 4, while engrossed with plans for the
launch of FilmFour, its first pay-TV project, Dan Brooke, the newly
appointed head of marketing and development, received a phone call which
momentarily stopped him in his tracks.
The Paramount Comedy Channel, his former employer, had no further use
for the six-foot bronze statue of Peter Mandelson which had formed a
small but integral part of Brooke’s PR campaign for the station. They
were getting it forwarded to him at Channel 4. Could he please call
reception and tell them to expect it. (It never arrived. The whole
episode was an affectionate wind-up.)
Nicknamed TV’s ’King of the Gimmick’ during his two years at Paramount,
Brooke, 30, is undoubtedly more used to dishing it out than being on the
receiving end of such pranks. While at Paramount he managed to get front
page coverage for his brand in two national newspapers.
The first, in the Guardian, saw Brooke dressed as a skeleton confronting
Mandelson with a placard proclaiming ’Welcome O Prince of Darkness’. The
second, in the Independent, featured Brooke in a red jump-suit erecting
the aforementioned statue of the Paramount Comedy Channel ’hero’ close
to the Millennium Dome. ’There was a certain appeal in doctoring the
spin doctor,’ he says.
Yet the stunts paid off. His two years at Paramount - where his
marketing budget was just pounds 2m a year - saw ratings go from 30,000
to 100,000. ’We went from being one of the least popular pay-TV channels
to the third most popular non-Sky channel,’ he says.
At Channel 4, Brooke’s marketing challenge is to sell a
platform-independent film channel to a public already awash with the
launch of digital television.
He has an initial budget of pounds 5m and a target of 150,000
subscribers by the end of next year. He admits it is quite a daunting
task but is adamant he will succeed: ’We’ve genuinely identified a gap
in the market and it is an area where Channel 4 is very strong,’ he
In the immediate future, however, he has first to overcome a common
misconception that Channel 4 is launching a digital-only channel. This
is especially galling because Sky’s analogue service is likely to be the
most important platform for FilmFour in the short term.
Furthermore, despite prelaunch publicity which has focused on films such
as Kissed, about a female mortuary assistant’s necrophilia, and
low-budget Hong Kong movie City of Fire (the inspiration for Quentin
Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs), Brooke is keen to play down the image of
FilmFour as strictly for film buffs. ’It is much more mainstream than
that,’ he says.
’I am not a film buff, but I know a lot of the films we’re showing in
the first months. Those I don’t know I’m looking forward to
Brooke has built his career working on brands he can relate to and
Channel 4 is no exception. A scooter-riding, art-collecting
man-about-town, who achieved a certain notoriety during his time at
Paramount for his ability to mix Oswald Boateng couture with a pair of
trainers, Brooke seems right at home at the ’brainy but trendy’ Channel
However, his image belies his establishment background. His father is
Peter Brooke, former Tory secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and a
key figure in laying the foundations for the peace process.
This is not something that Brooke publicises and he certainly does not
fit the stereotype of a Tory cabinet minister’s son. After leaving
public school (Marlborough), Brooke broke the family mould by eschewing
high academia in favour of a design course at Newcastle Poly, although
he reverted to type with a subsequent MBA.
He has experimented briefly with a career as both an artist and an art
dealer and, despite having made a name for himself at St Luke’s working
for clients including Ecover and First Direct, he left to spend a year
in South America, meeting, for the first time, many of his Brazilian
The day after our initial meeting, Brooke phones in breezy form. Five
hundred people have now signed up to FilmFour after a trial launch in
Scotland. Noel and Meg Gallagher have accepted an invite to the launch
party. In fact the only glitch in his plans seems to be that I have
discovered he has a famous dad.
’It’s not that I hide it,’ he says. ’It’s just that I don’t want to be
known just as his son.’ Given Brooke’s career trajectory to date and the
glowing references from all who have met him, such a scenario seems
1989-1990: MBA, Stirling University
1990-1995: Account director, St Luke’s
1996-1998: Director of marketing Paramount Comedy Channel
Present: Head of marketing and development for C4’s FilmFour.