THE PLUMBER AND NIGEL BOGLE

I was having lunch with Alan Thompson who runs the Haystack Group.
They’re a new-business intermediary that places hundreds of millions of pounds of business a year.
But Alan told me something more interesting at lunch.
Alan’s dad is over eighty years old.
When the weather got really cold, his dad turned on the central heating.
The boiler fired up, but the radiators stayed ice cold.
The house was freezing.
He had to put on an overcoat, gloves, and scarf.
He could see his own breath, indoors.
For an elderly person, this is serious.
So his dad went through the Yellow Pages and found a plumber.
The plumber came and did the usual thing.
He sucked air through his teeth and tut-tutted.
He said “Blimey, this is an old boiler.”
Alan’s dad said “Yes, I’ve had it ages.”
Then the plumber walked around and felt all the pipes.
Eventually he took out a hammer.
He hit one of the pipes two or three times and waited.
The pipes began to warm up.
Then the whole house gradually got warm.
The plumber said “There you are, it was an air-lock in your pipes, that’s shifted it.”
Alan’s dad was really grateful.
He said “Thank you very much, what do I owe you?”
The plumber said “Nothing.”
Alan’s dad said “But I must pay you for fixing the heating.”
The plumber said “No, I can’t charge you just for hitting a pipe with a hammer.”
Alan’s dad said “That doesn’t seem fair.”
The plumber said “Look, this is a really old boiler. With luck it’ll get you through this winter, but you’ll probably want to replace it soon. All I ask is that you let me quote on it when you do.”
Afterwards, Alan asked his dad what he was going to do.
His dad said “Well I don’t think I’ll bother getting any competitive quotes. I mean, even if they are cheaper I don’t know if I can trust them.
I know I can trust this plumber, he didn’t rip me off when he had the chance. I’ll just get him to do it.”
What a brilliant piece of marketing thinking.
This plumber’s not just looking to make a quick few quid.
He’s building a brand.
He’s worked out what his point-of-difference is amongst his competitive set.
Which is: he’s an honest plumber, you can trust him.
Given that most people are insecure because they don’t know the first thing about plumbing.
Given all the TV programmes showing people getting ripped off by plumbers.
Given how vulnerable people are to cold in the depths of winter.
Given all that, this is a fantastic positioning.
Of course, trust is the positioning most marketers say they want.
But this guy doesn’t just talk it, he walks it.
He invalidated all the competition for a much bigger job, without even a pitch.
And he’s got a client who’d doing his WOM advertising for him.
How brilliant is that?
You might say, well that’s okay for plumbers but what’s it got to do with us?
Years ago, Nigel Bogle was running TBWA.
Clients occasionally came to see him when they were in trouble.
When the work their current agency presented was unusable.
And they needed to be on air with a new campaign in a matter of weeks.
Nigel would listen to their problem.
Then he’d say “I understand your problem and I wish we could help. But I think you’ve got more fundamental issues than just hitting an airdate in the short term.
I think it needs a lot more strategic thought.
If we did a quick fix for you I don’t think it would benefit either of us.
We wouldn’t be doing our best work, and you’d be disappointed.
But, I can understand that you do have commercial imperatives and you need to hit that deadline.
So, if you’d like, I can help you pick an agency that will do a reasonable job in the short term.
Then, when you do have a bit more time, we’d love to talk to you again and show you what we can really do for you.”
You might think, he’s crazy, he’s just given away business.
But has he?
Isn’t he actually doing the same as the plumber?
What are the chances of the other agency doing a brilliant job in those circumstances?
Not great.
The very best they’re going to do is perhaps adequate.
And which client can resist the thought that they’ll never know how great it could have been if they’d got TBWA, and Nigel, involved earlier.
The client has to keep the lines open.
So that later on, he can ask him to have an in-depth look at his business.
And now, the whole balance of the relationship is different.
Now Nigel, and TBWA, is a trusted adviser not just a supplier.
You trust Nigel like you trust that plumber.
Which is why he eventually opened his own agency.

And why Bartle Bogle Hegarty now has offices on five continents, billing one and a half billion pounds a year.

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    Not so much a comment as a central heating tip: if yours stops working, before you call out a plumber and hope he is as honest as the one in this story do one thing: Track your external pipe (if you have one) and pour a few kettles of boiling water over it. If it is as cold as it has been chances are that stretch of pipe has frozen. Good chance you will be able to get your heating back on yourself this way. May not be forward planning but it’s effective. More tips like this at http://www.dontaskamarketeerdoityourself.co.uk.

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    Short-term gain can lead to long-term pain. I guess we’ve always got to think of the end game, Dave?

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    Oh Davey boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
    From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
    The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
    ‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
    But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
    Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
    The hammer’s heroic place in this tis missed without a shadow
    Oh Davey boy, oh Davey boy, I love you so

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    Hi Dave,

    Trust, like Fametakes… years to build… seconds to destroy.
    The story demonstrates how total honesty builds instant trust.

    Happy Christmas.

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    Happy Christmas Kevin,
    It really is the story of killing the goose for the golden eggs isn’t it.
    You kill it now to try to get all the eggs inside straight away, and there aren’t any.
    You look after the goose and the golden eggs keep popping out.
    Short-term thinking v long-term thinking.

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    You wouldn’t happen to have that plumbers number would you?

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    Trust is the direct result of something else.
    It is the effect, not the cause. In this case (and what a fantastic parable), the cause is simple.
    Integrity. As demonstrated here by both Mr Bogle and the plumber. And of course, as it is now sadly a diminishing resource, it’s effect gains in power and impact with each passing day.

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    Hi Dave, can you tell me why stories of ‘rip off’ trades always feature plumbers? Why not electricians, for example?
    My other half is a plumber & I frequently hear him offering people free advice on the phone. Unfortunately, his problem is knowing which CUSTOMERS to trust- you would not believe how many want to negotiate the bill (downwards)complain about his perfectly reasonable hourly rate, refuse to pay the full amount etc, this last example from a barrister’s wife. For some reason, she wasn’t too pleased when I asked if her husband ever accepted a payment of 50% only of his fees & then pointed out that he expects 100% payment for failure as well as success. Some people seem to think it’s one rule for ‘tradesmen’ but quite another for ‘professions’…

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    Hi Carol,
    I totally agree and, personally, I’ve got more experience of ripoff electricians than ripoff plumbers.
    And everyone would agree that, despite the good ones, we’ve all got more experience of ripoff solicitors than all the rest put together.
    And just so you don’t think I’m down on plumbers, click on this link:
    http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/dtb/archive/2009/08/30/what-i-learned-from-my-mother-in-law.aspx

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    i’ve got a lovely plumber, he’s just like Nigel’s.

    you’ll find him at Precision Gas 0800 644 6187

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    Sounds like Nigel Bogle was intent on reprising the Kris Kringle role in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. “Macy’s don’t stock those toys but if you want them get yourself to Gimble’s.”

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    Yep! I launched a massive Shopping Centre once. We had a dangerous situation where 23 mile tailbacks were occurring on the motorway as shoppers rushed to get their Christmas Presents. The centre became worried. If they did nothing people would get fed up and never come back. If they advertised, the situation could get even worse. Even the local police became involved. Up to that point, it had never been proven that mass market consumer habits could be changed by advertising on Radio. We had to be very careful. In the end we decided in a journalistic style radio announcement. It seemed a very dull strategy, but it worked amazingly well. We got a reporter to stand outside the shopping centre asking questions to the centre manager about Christmas Shopping. Then came the sting. The difficult question all journalists ask: “and what baout the parking? I understand nobody can get in at peak time.” People’s ears must have been pricking-up all over the region. The Centre Manager delivered it perfectly, telling everyone spaces were empty early morning and late afternoon, and it really helps with the traffic. She gained public sympathy, the centre gained great long term footfall over Christmas and after, customers changed their shopping habits, and we won two new shopping centres without pitch. Originally the car park was for 8,000 cars. At the last count it was extended to 12,000.
    I hope this is a useful case history in using long-term thinking to solve several short-term problems: Traffic flow, Customer Satisfaction, Revenue, and the one we all love…new business without a pitch.