Category Archives: Oot & Aboot

How much does brand affinity matter?

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 

I saw a post the other day about a bad airline experience, and how it tied into a bad email experience. The point the author was making: don’t send promotional emails to someone you’ve just made very unhappy – hit pause on their marketing preferences for a little while. This is very possible with modern marketing technology, so why isn’t it being done?

Not long after that, I came across the new Virgin America safety video:


And was surprised by my own reaction. I my chest swelled and my eyes teared up a bit. I thought about flying Virgin, and what that means to me. 

We flew Virgin when relocating to the UK. Their brand is tied up with a whole slew of emotions, and we had an amazingly positive experience at a very stressful time, from the check-in person who didn’t charge us for extra baggage to the amazing in-flight staff who were awesome to us and Isaac.

Even hearing tales of woe from friends who’ve had bad experiences on Virgin hasn’t changed that.

Conversely, I have had horrible experiences with United, and mediocre experiences with everyone else.

But what, exactly, does that change? I still book air travel based on:

  1. Price
  2. Points (though I don’t fly enough these days for a loyalty program to sway me much)
  3. (the aforementioned things being equal – which they never are) Experience.

The author of the first article I linked to also doesn’t seem to be likely to change her behaviour based on their shoddy email. She might think less of the airline, but she’ll still give them her business.

I can’t blame her – I do the same.

So why, then, does she think they should change their email practice?

A funny thing happened on the way from the Farmer’s Market

Over the weekend, Neil and I headed to the Summertown Farmer’s Market. Partly to check out what was on offer, and partly to partake in a (delicious!) pulled pork sandwich from Shredded Meat Co. who are setting up shop there each weekend this summer.

summertown farmers market

The market was lovely, and most businesses along the strip where it’s set up looked like they were doing a roaring trade, encouraging visiting marketgoers to pop through their doors as well.

All except one: The Dew Drop Inn.

And, as we soon discovered, for good reason.

We thought, you know what goes really well with a BBQ sandwich? A cold beer. So over to the pub’s patio we went.

The way the street is set up, there is a big plaza-style pavement, and the pub’s front garden space extends through it, all the way to the street. There’s probably seating for about 50 people out there. You actually need to walk through the garden if you want to cross the pavement frontage. The market was set up down the pavement on both sides.

While there are over a dozen food vendors at the market, many selling takeaway meals, there aren’t any beverage vendors. Anyone who wants to have a market lunch and fancies a drink with it needs to go into one of the grocery stores along the block to pick something up.

Or (as we did) go into the pub and purchase a couple pints.

Except, instead of capitalising on this opportunity to gain some customers and sell some drinks, we got a surly publican chasing us off their entirely deserted patio, for having ‘outside food.’

Fair point, you say, the pub serves food. If you want to use their tables, you should purchase their food. And if that’s the attitude one wants to take take, in a world of black and white, and curmudgeonry, sure. Point made.

But, in a world where pubs are generally struggling, and where most business people (I would think?) would welcome an increase in traffic, and a chance to make a good impression to generate repeat business on non-market days, perhaps some out-of-the-box thinking could help?

Were it my (nearly completely empty, inside and out) pub, I’d see the market as a huge potential. I’ve got the only reasonable seating area for market-goers, and I’m the only one, aside from the grocery stores, selling drinks.

I’d grab some colourful bunting, and section off a few of the tables that market-goers need to walk directly through, to be used for those who purchase food at the market and drinks from my pub. You can’t just park there with a random picnic, but market food +my drinks = ok. The only way market-goers are going to get a table to eat at, is going to be by buying drinks from me. The market vendors and I both win!

But what of the pub food, you ask? Two separate groups of customers. There was not one ounce of crossover between the food available at the market, and the pub’s menu. And I’m pretty confident that someone who’s heading for a farmer’s market lunch isn’t going to be suddenly swayed into having a Sunday roast.

In fact, a really enterprising publican might work with the market organisers to specifically advertise some complimentary snacks to go along with the market food. Maybe a jacket potato to go with the huge Paella that the fishmonger is cooking up? Or a side of chips for with your pulled pork sandwich?

But hey, I suppose that if your idea of a good time in pub ownership is to take a protectionist stance and enjoy chasing ‘rule-breakers’ off your property, that’s your prerogative.

But it’s also mine to decide not to return to the Dew Drop (where I have previously enjoyed both drinks and Sunday lunch), and take my dollars to a pub that’s more interested in generating some goodwill, both in the community, and with its current and potential patrons.

India Part 2: Golden Triangle

Neil and I really couldn’t fathom going all the way to India without packing in a bit of tourism, so once the wedding festivities were over, we flew up to Delhi to experience India’s Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.

Taj Mahal at Sunset from Moon Garden

And as a Western tourist, this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to experiencing the “Real India.”

Until now, my Indian experience could be summed up thusly: Slumdog Millionaire, Bollywood Romances, Russel Peters.

The country is, in fact, everything and nothing like those.

Waiting for the light

We’d opted to book a five-day private tour, so we had a hope of seeing the key sites in the week we had planned. That left us a day on each end to explore Delhi on our own a bit, which was exactly enough time (for me at least) to experience, throw a tantrum about, and get over, the unnerving experience of being a caucasian tourist in a developing nation.

In India, acknowledgement is an invitation to barter. Saying no means you are just playing hard to get. Stepping outside becomes an exercise in self-preservation. Every encounter is evaluated on the merits of how much energy I have, and whether I have the mental fortitude to talk my way out of the situation if it turns out to be an especially persistent tout.

Street Scene, Agra

But, and here is where India starts to shine, it is almost always worth it.

Sometimes (especially closest to the major tourist attractions) you’ll just get into a shouting match with a jaded rickshaw driver. But most often you’ll end up engaged in a colourful negotiation with a driver or vendor, which is really just a treat to behold, even if you end up fleeced (remember, a fleecing in India is paying £5 for something that should cost £2) or laughed at.

Amber Fort

And very occasionally, you just get to chat with a local who wants to know what you think about his city, country, and tell you about his friend who moved to Toronto, and works in IT. Or shake hands with a group of young guys, on vacation themselves from a more rural part of the country, and pose for pictures with them, so they can go home and tell their friends about the real! live! white person! they met!

Wine & Bear Shop

I still can’t quite put into words what a different kind of place India is from anywhere I’ve been before. It’s absolutely a land of contrasts, with the marvel of the monuments and architecture, the strange mashup of technology, bureaucracy, and local customs, the devastating level of poverty right next door to immense wealth, and the inescapable, unrelenting mass of humanity.

I hated it as much as I loved it, and in retrospect, I think that’s the hallmark of some of the best adventures you can have.

India Gate

Six years later

It’s grey here today. Exceedingly grey. And cold.

And there is nothing like reminders from Timehop about the fact that this time one year ago, I was in Cuba, and two years before that, in Thailand, to make me feel extra grumbly about the grey and cold.

So I scrolled further back in the past, and whaddya know, it was six years ago today that we were in Oxford. My first trip here.

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs

Six years ago, Neil and I were engaged, and planning to move into our condo in Kits (which wouldn’t actually be completed for an additional 6 months). There was still no plan or idea of Isaac. The dog didn’t have a hint of grey in her now salt-&-pepper muzzle.

Neil didn’t yet have a UK passport, and wouldn’t for another 4-ish years. Moving abroad wasn’t anywhere on the radar. Heck, I had barely traveled anywhere at all before that year.

And yet, there was something about our visit. Something that sparked the idea of moving abroad at some point. Something that made us think, as we wandered around the city, that maybe one day we could live here.

It wasn’t so much about Oxford, as just going somewhere Other Than where we were. Making our world a little bigger than it had been. It became a gauge by which we’d categorize all trips we’d take: interesting, but could I live here?

View from the Tower

It was six years ago that we ventured the furthest from the hotel we’d gone, into another neighbourhood via a narrow street lit by bare overhead bulbs. Where we turned right, onto a street anchored by the iconic Oxford University Press and full of interesting looking boutiques and eateries. Where we looked up one of the side streets and saw the bright streak of pastel row houses, and I said “if we ended up in an area like this, I could totally live here.”

It was six years ago that I stepped into the road to take the photo currently used in the blog header.

Neighbourhood and street names long-since forgotten, we found ourselves actually moving to Oxford. And against all odds ended up moving to that neighbourhood. I only recognized it because of the pastel row-houses, and had to dig out the picture to be really sure. They are the same houses. Observatory Street.

And we found them, via Walton Street in Jericho, by heading down Little Clarendon street, illuminated at night by bare bulbs strung across the street. Now our regular stomping ground, but feeling eerily familiar, in a dream-like way, from having seen them so many years ago.

Six years ago it happened to be sunny this week. Uncharacteristically so. Except for that one day in Henley-upon-Thames when it was so rainy and windy that my umbrella blew inside-out and practically tied itself in a knot. And the river was flooded that year, just as it is now.

But that little blast-from-the-past now has me thinking a lot less about today’s cold and grey, and about the immense amount of adventure the past 6 years have held. And how absolutely clueless about it all I was back then.

And I’m wondering what, or where, on earth I’ll see in another six years.