Friday, October 29, 2010

Today I finally became part of our Local Communes ‘micro-économie fraternelle’

Expats Blog

Yesterday afternoon Marie France, Madame La Maire of our little Commune of Gourville, called round to see me with some official looking pieces of paper. “Monsieur l’architecte” she started - I find it quite quaint in a way how The French greet people by their ‘métier’ , a practice that long since died out in the UK. So in our liitle commune we have ‘Madame La Maire’, René l’engineer’ and Manu ‘le plombier’ – who as far as I can see these days has nothing to do with plumbing, but who once I believe ‘fixed’ the toilets at our local salle de fêtes !



Marie France then started to show me her dossier of cadastral maps of the commune and wanted confirmation of the parcels of land that I owned just up the lane from our Barn. As we walked up there, she went on to explain that the men from the Commune where repairing the old ‘chemin blanc’ that runs behind our land and there was a large old chestnut tree that was showing signs of disease and needed to come down. At the tree she introduced me to Jean-Pierre , the commune ‘fixer’.

After the obligatory hand shakes, pleasantries and kicking and tapping of the grand old tree Jean-Pierre looked across to Madame La Maire and winked. “Monsieur West” ... she paused for quite a long time, then continued “Jean-Pierre would like to know if you would like the tree” Now technically the tree wasn’t actually on my land, but she had already told me that the owner of that parcel lives miles away in another Commune and has given our Commune their permission to remove the tree. A long silence followed while I tried to way up the advantages and disadvantages of saying “yes” to a forty foot high, by a meter across , mature chestnut tree.


My mind was racing … that’s an awful lot of logs for our wood-burners … was my first thought …. How do I physically cut it and transport it … was the second thought .. and finally, .. what’s it going to cost me ? ?

I decided to jump in feet first and started with “okay, but I’m not sure how I can transport it back to my yard “ - “ We have a lorry” came back the immediate reply. I then followed with “Ma tronçonneuse ne marche pas bien” (my chainsaw is not in very good working order .. well .. shamefully to say, it isn’t !! ) “Monsier West” smiled Jean-Pierre “Nous avons deux gros tronçonneuses … vous êtes libre demain ? ”

It then hit me …. They were offering me the wood … for free …. In exchange for me helping cut it up into manageable lengths for removal, and they had a lorry to deliver it to my yard ! One days labour for a couple of years of fire wood .. not bad eh ! !

It’s also quite nice to know that, after only just over two years of residence in our local commune, I have now been officially enrolled into the ‘perks for the boys’ brigade - Vive La France ! !
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Monday, October 4, 2010

... but we know the Local Mayor ! !



The other day I was taking a nice mid-morning coffee down by the river in Jarnac with Graham Downie. For those of you who havn't come across Graham - I would highly recommend that you read his Award Winning Blog about the joys, and sometimes the "Gallic" frustrations, of life down here in the beautiful Charente Valley


"A Little drop of Cognac"


Graham is a big 'footie' fan ... following his beloved Girondins de Bordeaux ... at every opportunity, and telling us the latest score on twitter every time they are playing ! ! ( well I guess it beats some of the 'tweets' that pop up on my account ... "just making some toast" .... and "The cat has a nasty cough" .. to name but two in the last week ... how did we ever manage without it . )

I myself prefer my football in its 'classic' state .. ie Rugby Football .. played with an oval ball !! Graham and I have long ago agreed to differ on this matter, although I can't help putting forward the major 'differentiation' that exists between our two codes. As any 'neutral' will readily observe the rules of Rugby are almost infathomable to an outsider. In football - in theory - you are not allow to clatter someone to the ground, trample all over him, pick him up and hurl him five feet backwards and generally batter heads continually together in mass scrumages. ( in theory !) In Rugby, all these things are not only legal .. but encouraged ! Now, I'm not being partisan ( as if .. ) but I cant help but think that if you told Wayne Rooney he was allowed to do all those things, he would revell in it... and the result would be dozens of badly injured and battered bodies being carried off to the changing rooms at stadiums all over the UK. Worst still ( at least for Wayne ) would be the fact that during the 'replay game', it would undoubtedly be Wayne Rooney himself that was then stretchered off, as the opposition took its revenge.

My point here is simple, its all about knowing your own strength, respecting the limits of ones agression, and making sure the game is played in the spirit of true skill, without animosity and vengence. I think it was best summed up by this phrase ... beloved of 'jouers des quinze' ... "Rugby is a game with rules for Hooligans, but played by Gentlemen - while Football is a game for Gentlemen, but actually played by Hooligans " .. I rest my case !

But I digress, As Graham and I were watching the world go by and generally 'chewing over the fat" of our mutual interests in buildings and architecture, ( stearing well clear of any comparison between the 'round' and 'oval' versions of the beautiful game of football) It wasn't long however before we got into a fascinating discussion on the current and future directions of marketing in the property market - especially in relationship to social media, internet property portals and the interest of the 'Big Boys' in acquiring a pan-european web prescence to promote themselves. Graham wrote an excellent piece on the rise of the Property Portal - and their incredible 'market valuations' - in his blog back in September

french-property-portal-hits-jackpot


It is well known in the industry that 'the UK Big Boys' - RightMove and Primelocation - are already casting their beady little eyes over the possibility of acquiring a Pan-European Portal in a move designed to dominate the housing sales market in the future. Of course this will be portrayed as 'of real benefit' to the consummer, leading to a better service and lower costs - and I am sure to some extent that will be true. The downside however is that 'the bullying power' that these portals will hold, especially in their ability to spend huge advertising budgets to obtain massive 'Adword coverage' in the big search engines like Google and Yahoo - and thus buy position for themselves up onto the front pages of ANY search for property - might actually act against the best interests of the ordinary consummer. Undoubtedly also, another part of their business development strategy will be to 'buy out' .. and thus effectively silence ... any competition from medium size competitors - such as the independant estate agents and competing property web sites. Which certainly wont help consummer interests.

So the real challange for the 'professional independents' - of which I suppose Graham and I would count ourselves part - is how you differentiate yourself to ensure that you are not 'frozen out' by the 'Preditor Big Fish'

As we mulled this over .. looking for 'the hook' that could be used back against 'the Sharks' .. it suddenly came to me. Its actually all about "service differentiation" and knowing your strengths .. and acting on them .. playing the game fairly ... and skillfully .. without needing to be a hooligan !!

Its quite simple really .... while the Big Fish will throw their weight about ... and trumpet their Pan-European Presence, their 24hr international call-centres ( probably in India !!) and the fact that they can speak to you in umpteen languages ... all at the hit of a website button ....


We know the local Mayor !!



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John West - UK Trained Architect - Charente Gems ... Oct2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marketing .. is it Market Research Led .. or just an attempt at Market Manipulation ?



I was reminded the other day of the difference between ‘Good Marketing’ – ie the positive and beneficial placing of a product to its target audience after sound market research has shown a real need - and good old fashioned ‘Market Manipulation’ – where the findings of that same market research are simply ign
ored and a completely different ‘agenda’ is pursued by the Companys Marketing Campaign.


That "Sudden Joy" moment ! !





Two things brought this home. The first was one of those ‘sudden joy” moments … I recently found a box of Shredded Wheat on sale in my local SuperU … and bought it home lovingly and indulged in a long forgotten treat ( being out of the UK for nearly ten years leaves its toll !)


The second trigger was seeing a TV advert last week from good old Ian “Beefy” Botham showing him inside a huge Shredded Wheat ( best place for him some might say).


Ian was banging on about the goodness of the product for the heart and the fact that it contained no additives. Both very admirable and factual observations. No ‘trickery’, no ‘slight of hand’, no ‘hidden agenda’. First class factual marketing telling the audience the benefits of the product. And I for one will not begrudge him his rather large fee cheque that will be arriving in the post shortly no doubt.



Contrast this with the campaign that thrust Ian’s face all over our TV screen some time back. You remember the one .. a rather smug Mr Botham cradling an overloaded bowl of Shredded Wheat and proudly exclaiming ‘Bet you can’t eat three’ ! !



Well … I don’t know about you but I certainly couldn’t and, more to the point, never have wanted to. Just like the dry cream cracker challenge, no matter how hard you try and comfortably eat three Shredded Wheats, the third one just sticks in the throat. If you don’t believe me .. try it.



Now apart from earning our Mr Botham vast sums in appearance fees ( I must have seen that advert at least twenty times) the campaign was a complete marketing failure. Why ? because it ignored the basic rule of good marketing .. that you can’t get people to buy something that they don’t want/need. .. at least not more than once!



So why did they even bother with that ludicrous series of adverts? I’ll tell you why. Because they did some in-depth market research on peoples attitudes to Shredded Wheat. And do you know what came out as the main finding? Most of their customers complained that as the biscuits were wrapped in threes, and almost everybody only ever ate two, they were left with lots of ‘odd ones’ that as they were unwrapped went stale quicker.


Brilliant … and it should have told Shredded Wheat Management that they needed to respond to that observation … ie repackage the product to suit their customers needs . But did they ? .. No …. They decided that they would try and ‘change peoples eating habits’ .. rather than invest in new machinery to change their packaging. A classic example of a “Bad Marketing”.



And do you know what ? .. when I eventually got my newly acquired packet of Shredded Wheat back home from SuperU … and looked inside .. Guess What .. the biscuits are now wrapped in Twos ! ! People Power ONE .. Shredded Wheat management NIL .. ( and Ian Botham ? … about 350,000 I should think !)


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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Radio is playing Bonnie Tyler’s “Lost in France” … and my Sat-Nav is sulking ! !



I am one of those people who have a decidedly ‘love-hate’ relationship with their Sat-Nav. For the past six months or so I have tolerated her (and it definitely IS a real ‘her’ .. and not just an over-confident, slightly strident, female voiced machine) because every now and again I have to admit she helps me out when my ‘typical maleness’ refuses to allow me to stop and ask directions when I am lost ! !


Sat-Nav Sally as I have affectionately called her, has relentlessly taken me on tortuous ‘scenic detours’ – especially when I was already running late for a client appointment – and has sent me along classic French ‘white roads’ ( often no more than graveled tracks) when just 200 meters across the sunflower fields I could see Cars on a main road running parallel to mine speeding along at twice my speed. And once she even told me to ‘turn right’ .. repeating it twice .. when I was actually half way across a new viaduct and 400 feet above the valley floor below.


Somewhere across those sunflowers lies the Main Road; I'm sure of it ! !



But in general I have put up with her and her very annoying ‘recalculating’ … ‘recalculating’ .. said in a decidedly ‘miffed’ way every time I missed the turning I was supposed to take ( well SHE’s got the map .. not me !) And how was I to know that the tiny hidden small lane on the blind bend was her ‘chosen’ route and not the much more obviously ‘Manly’ large main road just 40 meters further on ! !


But last week, I decided that enough was enough. Fortunately I had plenty of time on my hands and it was a gorgeous bright crisp day and I had our local radio station ‘France Bleu La Rochelle’ blasting out full belt as I drove through the country lanes on my programmed route from Rouillac to St-Meme-les-Carrières in the Lovely Charente Valley.



Coming to a small hamlet that seemed to have back lanes to explore ( which might well contain a hidden ‘Gem’ ripe for a “search and renovation” project ) I decided to take things into my own hands and turn left , when I obviously should have continued straight on … “recalculating” .. said Sally … “turn right” ..just as I turned off on another left … “recalculating” … “turn left” ( ahha .. she think she is going to get me back on the route !) So.. I deliberately turned right ! .. a slightly longer pause from Sally … a definitely more hesitant “recalculating” … so, before she could decide my next move , I did a quick three-point turn and headed quickly back to the main road and continued on the programmed route .. silence …. Another couple of kilometers .. still silence ! .. WOW I do believe she’s actually sulking and isn’t going to say ANYTHING to me now .. result !!


Of course it wasn’t all silence .. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I realized the Radio was at that very moment playing “Lost in France” by Bonnie Tyler ! Could it be that Sally wasn’t just upset at me, but also couldn’t handle Swansea’s answer to Rod Stewart berating her navigation skills too? We shall never know.


Whilst we are on the subject of Bonnie Tyler, it does seem that the French have quite a ‘soft spot’ for the gravelly voiced Gower-born starlet. ( see her french Wikipedia entry here )



and a duet she made with Greco-French Pop Singer Kareen Antonn “Si Demain - Turn around” in France in 2004, stayed at number one in the French Charts for three months and sold more than 700;000 copies in France alone ! ! with sales of more than 2 million world-wide ; Not bad for an ordinary lass from the Mumbles eh. You can watch them perform it together on french TV on a youtube clip here.


So "God Bless you Bonnie" ... you helped me get the upper hand on "SAT-NAV SALLY !!