Both on BrandWatch and in my MBA and Executive MBA courses, I keep repeating that a brand in this 21st century cannot build itself unless it places the consumer at the centre of its strategy. By this I mean that a brand must, above all, think like the customer ("put yourself in your customers' shoes!").
The brand concept would also apply to a territory: the brand FRANCE is a brand just as is the brand GREAT BRITAIN, brand PARIS or the brand LONDON. So, if they wish to construct a brand, each of these territories has to walk a mile in their clients' shoes. But do they really? For brand FRANCE and brand PARIS the answer is an emphatic "NO!" when one compares them to brands LONDON and GREAT BRITAIN.
On a recent trip to London, in August, I experienced first hand how far ahead GREAT BRITAIN / LONDON are of France / Paris where service is concerned. Here are three significant examples - showing that to be customer-oriented one has to first think like the customer and attune the steps of the process to those of the customer.
Case 1: The customer wishes to enter the country without having to stand in a long queue
LONDON / GB: When I reached Stansted I saw signboards as I stepped out of the plane informing all travellers from the European Union, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein who possess biometric passports that they could use the 'ePassport Gates' for passport verification and exit. The procedure is quick and simple and allows you to enter the country within minutes: the passport is scanned and the gate opens automatically. There are 15 gates in Stansted.
FRANCE / PARIS: There is also a similar system at French airports called PARAFE, but it is reserved exclusively for French biometric passport holders. Besides, there is generally only one, or at the most two, Parafe entrance gates. Enough said.
Case 2: The customer wishes to pay for his taxi with his credit card
LONDON: I take a typical black English taxi in which I find (similar to those in the yellow New York cabs) a card-payment device in front of me, behind the driver, with a sign saying all credit cards are accepted (including American Express).
PARIS: Other than the G7 taxis that generally accept credit cards, most other Parisian taxis refuse payment with a credit card (and, out of decency, I shall not repeat here the drivers' comments regarding the American Express card!).
Case 3: the customer wishes to find a parking space (and also pay for it)
LONDON: Several signboards put up on public roads tell the driver that he can download the free app, ParkRight, that shows him all the parking places that are available in the area: private and public car parks, residential parking lots AND even in the street! In fact 3,000 sensors have been installed across the city to show in real time where parking space is available in the area. It goes without saying that the customer can also pay for his parking using the app.