Norfolk Broads Brand Guru Dilutes Marketing Credibility?

One of the intellectual games that marketeers love to play is the ‘Brand Management’ game. Like most conceptual ideas, games like this manifest themselves in two broad (sic) forms. One form is based on a deep grasp of purpose and intention and the second is based on flimsy ‘word smithery’

The BBC report today that “Brand Strategy Guru” Simon Middleton has…now wait for it…a new logo and a new “toolkit” of images and slogans to transform the perception of the Norfolk Broads. This will be done by describing the Norfolk Broads as – “‘Britain’s Magical Waterland”. No wonder the role of Marketing gets such a bad press such as Nigel Richardson’s Telegraph article. Perhaps there are some branded golf balls and pens available too?

Pick up any decent book or article about the notion of branding and it defines it as a complex notion that communicates a promise a value. Something that taps into the values and aspirations of customers, clients and consumers. Something that represents meaningful benefit.

How on earth does the notion of ‘magical waterland’ do any of these things? Why the abstraction? Why not convey precisely what the Norfolk Broads do for people? I totally agree with the feelings of local residents that the whole idea is ridiculous and arrogant.

So what do the Broads ‘do’ for people – help them relax? get away from it all? explore culture, history and heritage? what are the signs and symbols – the waterways, the wildlife, how do the Broads make them look and feel? healthy, happy, great parents? Whatever the answers I don’t know for sure, but somewhere in there will something better and more meaningful than ‘Magical Waterland’

off the top of my head…

The Norfolk Broads:

Places Peace and Pleasure.
Timeless beauty. Time for you.
At your pace.
Space to breathe. Time to think.

…and not a magician in sight

What would you suggest?

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3 Responses to “Norfolk Broads Brand Guru Dilutes Marketing Credibility?”

  1. Simon Middleton Says:

    Paul. I’ll keep this as brief and as polite as possible. I do so wish that a business educationalist such as you are would take the trouble, before launching into sarcastic sniping, to examine the thinking behind the strategy (or at least communicate with the individual you want to lay into). Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but your comments are so childish in tone and so unconstructive in content that there seems to a total mismatch between them and your biog as a business academic. Your opening gambit about deep purpose v. word smithery assumes (without any justification, and as it happens completely erroneously) that my work falls into the latter category. In fact, and I could have explained this if you had taken the trouble to ask or investigate, the new positioning for The Broads is based on a very considered exploration of the region’s brand promise and its authentic offering. The fact that you don’t like the line itself is, if I may be so bold, neither here nor there.
    By all means offer some kind of grounded and well founded critique of the strategy (something suiting an educator), but please don’t fall into the trap of this vitriolic and superior blog-attack which doesn’t illuminate anything or help anyone, least of all the numerous people from The Broads who have been highly supportive of the strategic process and indeed of the outcome.
    Simon Middleton


  2. ian russell Says:

    Dear All (who have felt moved to comment on the Broads Branding Project)

    As Chairman of the Broads Tourism Forum, I am responsible for the new brand and it’s principle strapline “Britain’s Magical Waterland”. customers.

    By way of background, I am the owner of Wroxham Barns; I bought it as a derelict site in 1982 and have run it ever since. Before that, I trained in Boatyard Management at Southampton and then worked for R Moore & Sons in Wroxham (the best hire fleet on the whole of the Broads in their day) and then Jack Powles. So you can see that I have worked in and around the Broads all my working life. So, I think we can agree that I am a local! In addition, I was the founder Chairman of the Norfolk Tourist Attractions Association, founder Chairman of Norfolk Tourism, founder Chairman of VisitNorwich, board director of the regional tourist board. I hope that I have learnt just a little about tourism and tourism marketing in 28 years.

    I need to make it clear that the Brand Project was commissioned by the Broads Tourism Forum (BTF), driven by the BTF and will be delivered through many thousands of pounds of marketing spend from many Broads businesses.

    The Broads Tourism Forum was established in 2006. After a fairly shaky few years, it now has 54 member businesses and organisations including Blakes, Hoseasons, most of the principle hire yards (all of the larger ones), hotels, pubs, shops, attractions and restaurants. I find words like “arrogant” and “wasteful” quite curious when fired from the hip by individuals who did not feel moved to understand the background before condemning the work. A shame to perhaps knock the hardwork and enthusiasm so quickly? I hope I can clarify the situation with some facts. The first fact is that we asked Simon Middleton to help us, and we are very pleased with the results of our collective endeavours. The fact that “consultants” are a popular kicking post is a relative side issue.

    We have an executive committee which comprises myself, Barbara Greasley (Broads Tours), Daniel Thwaites (Barnes Brinkcraft), Tony Howes (Broads Hireboat Federation), James Clabburn (, Katie Hanger (Lola Charters & Broad House Hotel), Jennie Hawkes (Diocese of Norwich), Briant Smith (Broads Spirituality), Paul Thomas (Editor of Anglia Afloat), Peter Howe (Broadland Cycle Hire), Bruce Hanson (Broads Authority) and Clare Miller (Head of Marketing at VisitNorwich. So you can see that we are group with a wide range of commercial interests and experience, and the group has Broads Authority representation but is 100% business focussed.

    The Broads continues to be a very successful tourist destination but there are some key challenges. I offer a few principle ones here….
    • On the broads we have a network of tourism enterprises (boatyards, riverside and shops) that were set up to meet the needs of a fleet of 2,500 hireboats, located across the northern and southern rivers. Now we have around 800, most concentrated on the Northern Rivers. The decrease in the fleet was no bad thing as the quality of the fleet in the early 80’s was variable at best, mostly poor…and this has impacted on the reputation (more of that later). The problem on the Southern Broads is now critical as most of the decline in hire cruisers was from fleets there, there are now only 5 yards on the Southern Rivers. There is only one shop on the Yare (in Reedham) and the pubs are mostly struggling.
    • For most of the last 100 years, the task of promoting the Broads as a holiday destination has been left to the booking agencies, Blakes and Hoseasons. They have not done a bad job, accepting that the brand that they have invested in was their own and the product that they were selling was “holidays afloat” (as opposed to holidays on the Norfolk Broads). Changes of ownership and an increasing choice of “holiday afloat” destinations (Ireland, Scotland, France, Holland, Germany, and Italy) has meant that less time and money has spent maintaining our presence in the market place.
    • the Broads is, and needs to be, much more than just a “holidays afloat” destination. None of this is new, but the scenario, until recently, is something like everybody recognising there is a big “hole”, everybody looking into it but nobody doing anything to fix it.
    • Whilst there are many who have an enduring loyalty to and love for the Broads, there are many whose memory was of overcrowding, rowdy boatloads, poor quality pubs and boats. Some of this still remains a problem today.

    So it was the businesses themselves who felt that we needed to refresh the way the Broads was described. It is important to understand who this Brand is principally aimed at, namely visitors who have not visited recently and those who have never visited, or even considered the Broads before. We need to capture their attention, we need to appeal to a different sort of visitor, a visitor who appreciates what the Broads has to offer (as a wildlife paradise, a member of the National Parks family, and a unique network of rivers and broads).

    The Brand work is much more than a strapline, but the strapline “Britain’s Magical Waterland” does encourage reactions, both positive and negative. Interestingly, all the negative comments have come from people who either live here or are long-standing visitors, often asking “why do we need this” etc.In principle, we chose Britain (as opposed to England/East Anglia) to emphasise the unique qualities of the Broads (which many who live here take for granted or do not recognise). Waterland as opposed to the commonly used wetland, which seems to conjure images of Bill Oddie with wellingtons wading through a bog! Waterland underlines that the Broads fundamentally is about water, what lives on it/in it, what we do on it etc. So that only leaves magical! We absolutely knew this would raise eyebrows. There would be the predictable Disney/Harry Potter reaction. For us, we wanted to use the notion of a magical experience, the idea of sitting on Hickling Broad as the sun goes down and the last flight of geese are crossing the sky….and one thinks “this is just a magical place”. There is a dictionary definition of magical which talks of an experience which has a spiritual dimension. And it is true that people will often use the “magic” as a positive description of a good experience, as in “this is magic”.

    That said, it is one of those straplines that can have a “you either love it or hate it” reactions. As I mentioned earlier, the Brand is much more than just a strapline. It is also important that we recognise that we would never have enough money to promote the destination in it’s own right, no one organisation owns the Broads. The challenge here was to create materials that others could use; by others, I mean the hireboat yards (that produce leaflets/websites), the booking agencies (Blakes, Hoseasons, Waterways Holidays), the hotels/B&B’s/attractions and the local authorities (of which there are nine with an interest in the Broads…Norfolk County Council, North Norfolk District Council, Broadland District Council, Waveney District Council, South Norfolk District Council, Great Yarmouth District Council, Norwich City Council, Suffolk County Council and the Broads Authority). All of these organisations talk about the Broads and promote the Broads, but often in a very inconsistent manner, with no clear view about what we need the Broads to become (more of this later). The Brand work that we have developed, the strapline, logo and storylines are all designed to be included in their materials.

    There have been numerous comments about waste of money. The money was not Norfolk ratepayers money but a grant from the EU under a programme called STEP. You can read more in the attachment “Brand Story”. The total cost was £20,000; but if one considers how far this work will go, built into the many thousands of leaflets, advertisements, websites etc then I would suggest that it is a very sound investment. The suggestion that the money could be used for roads etc is a little naïve; grant money can only be spent for very specific projects.

    But back to the question…what would we like the Broads to be. Absolutely key is the aim that we should be sustainable as a visitor destination. By that I mean that neither the visitors nor the businesses must be seen to damage the Broads. This means that we need to ensure that visitors have a real appreciation for the Broads as a “special place”, a National Park in effect….not just a place to rush around on a boat! And a place that also can be enjoyed on foot or bike. Secondly, we need the Broads to be seen as a “quality” destination. We all accept that we have a mountain to climb here to improve our standards. Which is why we have introduced three new initiatives to raise the standards of our own businesses.
    1. The Broads Quality Charter for eating establishments, as part of VisitEngland’s TASTE accreditation scheme. We believe that this will over time improve the quality of our pubs and restaurants.
    2. Welcome Host Gold for the Broads, a new training course for customer facing staff
    3. A pilot scheme for “green” grading hireboats and daylaunches, encouraging visitors to make a “green” choice and enabling yards to assess consumer demand, thus encouraging them to invest in more environmentally friendly boats.

    To those who have been expressing views on this work, I would ask to just remember that there are many small businesses who are working very hard to raise their game and improve the fortunes of a visitor destination who’s future is not assured, and neither are the jobs and investment that is needed. Now, more than ever, the “English” habit of cynical self destruction is not what is needed.


  3. Simon Middleton Says:

    Paul, you may like to see this piece from the Daily Mail’s website. It was gratifying that the Mail took the trouble to speak to people and to get its facts in order before publishing.


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