What the heck is a brand proposition and why should you care?

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Catherine Warrilow, founder of The Plot, a brand marketing agency.

“Brand proposition comes down to what you sell, who to and for what gain. And the gain is the customer problem. So what problem do you solve for that customer?”

Catherine Warrilow has 16 years industry experience and runs The Plot.  She creates brand proposition roadmaps for attraction and experience businesses who want to take a slightly rebellious approach to their marketing strategy.

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • What the heck is a brand proposition?
  • Why is it important?
  • How you review yours?
  • Who in the tourism and attraction industry is absolutely nailing theirs?

Skip the Queue Catherine Warrilow

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Catherine Warrilow



Kelly Molson: Catherine, welcome to Skip the Queue.

Catherine Warrilow: Thank you very much, Kelly.

Kelly Molson: I’m really excited that you have come on to chat today. Catherine and I met in a toilet at a conference, which is where you meet all of the best people at conferences, I have to say. But I’m really chuffed that you’ve been able to come on and join us today. So thank you for your time. Right, we are going to start with our icebreakers, as usual. And I want to know, what would people remember you for that you went to school with?

Catherine Warrilow: Oh, my gosh. Probably the thing I remember the most, I don’t know if anyone else would, is when body shop was at its height of popularity and all of their perfumes and stuff and their perfume oils. And I bought the vanilla one, which I was obsessed with, but I covered myself in the kind of the neat essence. So I spent a whole day at school smelling of ice creams with every teacher walking past going, “Why can I smell ice cream?”. And everyone, “It’s her.”. So that is one of my standout memories. I think I was always quite creative and quirky, and I would braid my own hair like I’d been on holiday and put beads in it and come to school like that. Or smelling of ice creams.

Kelly Molson: I love that. I feel like we’re of the same era. And my lasting memory of the body shop is the Dewberry. The dewberry smell. You never smelt this any other time like that school time. And I had a friend who used to buy the oil and the shampoo and all, and she just smelt of that continuously. But that was my grandparents name as well, so it was really weird. Their name was Dewberry. Anyway, very od. Good memories. And I quite like that you smell like ice cream. I would love that about you.

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah, it’s worse things to smell of.

Kelly Molson: Okay, second one, if you had to pick a fictional character to best describe yourself, who would you choose?

Catherine Warrilow: Oh, my gosh. My instant one that I would like to say, but I’m not smart enough, would be Matilda. I would love to be Matilda, but I’m not. So who would it be? A fictional character? Gosh, that’s so difficult. Maybe like Thelma from Scooby Doo. Problem solver.

Kelly Molson: Yep. Quick on her. Yeah, I can see that about you. Good one. You’ve got Matilda vibes as well. Don’t dumb that down. You’ve definitely got Matilda vibes going on.

Catherine Warrilow: Well, I’ll keep trying to move things with my mind and I’ll let you know if I have any success.

Kelly Molson: Good. Come back on the podcast, let us know. Okay. What is your unpopular opinion? What have you prepared for us?

Catherine Warrilow: So I think this is one that’s going to resonate with a lot of people and it’s unpopular but common that travel tech is shit. So I don’t get it. I don’t get why we are so far behind other sectors, especially with ticketing tech. We sell billions of tickets to some of the most interesting and amazing attractions in the world. Not just in the country, in the world. Yet we still have major attractions who are having to reconcile paper tickets either because they’re stuck with their tech, because they’ve had it so long they can’t get away from it, or they’re just not sure how to, or it’s so difficult or slow or expensive. There must be someone or an organisation who can fix this, right?

And I know people are trying, like Okto are trying, which is great, but surely there must be an easier way to get the right people around the table and say, “Right. In every instance when you sell a ticket to a customer, it should kind of look like this.”. But at the moment, everyone’s got different systems. None of them talk to each other. Everyone’s slightly different when they break. It could take months to fix. And ultimately it’s the customer who loses out because we can’t deliver a really effective service. Whether in OTA or an attraction yourself, it’s the customer that’s left with a bad experience, by and large, because the ticket you booked has vanished from your basket, or it was available 1 minute and now it’s not. Or the price has changed, or something weird, you don’t even get your email. Or it’s confusing.

Which is why there’s so little brand loyalty in our sector, I think. Because people will hop about and just book with whoever’s quickest, easiest, cheapest at the time. And I think we’ve got a real challenge on our hands to up our game when it comes to tech. I don’t know what you think.

Kelly Molson: Well, I’m nodding along for people that aren’t watching and are listening to this, I’m nodding along probably from a different perspective because we deal directly with the ticketing that the attraction would use. So their ticketing platform for something. I think you’re probably a bit more focused on the OTAs and that kind of ticketing kind of stuff. I am in total agreement with you. I am completely nodding along going that there’s nothing amazing and there should be something amazing.

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah, I think it’s unifying it. I think there’s some good tech out there, and I’m not going to names, but there’s some good tech. There’s some average tech and there’s some awful tech. But for the OTA and for the connectivity partner at that level, and ultimately for the customer. How do you bring together what’s good and make it accessible across the board? I think that’s the challenge, isn’t it? How do we unify things so it’s straightforward and you know what that process for B2B process should look like. And I think we’re making progress, but I think it’s slow.

And I think there has been so much change in the sector from a kind of customer perspective, from a trend perspective, from the impacts of COVID from the impacts of the cost of living crisis, that it always seems to get pushed back in the queue a little bit. Whereas it needs to be at the top of the list all of the time. But that takes a lot of time and resource and dev and investment. But I’ve heard whisperings of a few people who are doing quite interesting things. So I’ll be interested to see what happens over the next kind of 6,9,12 months.

Kelly Molson: I think that’s a challenge, isn’t it? There’s quite a lot of choice and it seems like every day there’s a new ticketing platform or another OTA that’s kind of that started and for good reasons, because obviously there’s things out there that aren’t working for people. But a bit more collaboration might stop giving people so much choice and actually start working together to refine the ones that are already out there and just make them better.

Catherine Warrilow: Potentially, yeah. Or give them one aggregated channel that they can all slot into in the same way. Because even when you aggregate systems, the way you integrate them is still different. I’m still trying to figure out where that ownership needs to start. Is it the attractions and experiences saying, “Okay, we have to be able to deliver this for the customer,” because ultimately, starting with the customer need is the right place to start? But how do you layer that back through the process to figure out where to start fixing the right problems?

Kelly Molson: And you’re right in what you said about that brand perception, then it’s on the attraction, it’s not on the OTA really, it’s on the brand. And they need to kind of own that relationship with their client, which is what we’re going to talk about today. So tell us a little bit about your background and where you’ve got today.

Catherine Warrilow: Yes. Which makes me feel old. Some days I feel like a spring chicken and other days I’m like, “How have I been doing this for like 15 years?”.

Kelly Molson: I feel that.

Catherine Warrilow: So I got married in 2007 and shortly after we had our first son, which is all very exciting and challenging at the same time. And alongside that, I decided that it would be a great idea to start my own business with a newborn baby and that if I could do that, then everything from there on in would be a breeze, which was kind of ridiculous looking back. But I set up as a kind of freelance PR and marketing support and fell into travel totally by accident. I knew someone who was running the team at owners direct at the time, the holiday rentals company, and they wanted someone to come in and basically secure them pr coverage as being a great choice for booking holiday rental, mainly UK and Europe, but some further afield. And it just kind of spiralled from there.

I realised that there was a massive opportunity to up people’s game when it came to pr and content, and that was before everything was about content creation and social. It was on the cusp of, “Okay, we can use Facebook to reach people organically and people just weren’t really doing that.”. It was pre having to pay to play. And I started making a bit of a name for myself within travel and started working for home away, which is now Vrbo. People like hard rock hotels, great little breaks. And it just grew from there. And I grew the business to a very small agency in rural Oxfordshire of about six people. And that’s how I kind of accidentally fell into travel.

Kelly Molson: I love that. I had no idea that it was an accidental as well. For some reason I thought that was it. That was always going to be your focus. It’s amazing how these kind of things happen that guide our career, isn’t it?

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah, it just happened. And then we pitched actually for the pr for Days Out With The Kids many years ago. And were up against some really big agencies and I was like, “This is it. This is our kind of big moment.”. And we really held our own against kind of top Manchester, Birmingham, London agencies. And in the end, the CEO at the time asked if I would go in house to set up their marketing strategy, their brand strategy, hire a team. They’d not long bought the business and it was covered in display ads and it was a mess, but it was driving millions of organic visits every year.

And it was a cliche sliding doors moment where I was like, look, I’ve spent nine years building up this incredible business and it’s my baby and I love it and I feel proud to have built it up, but this is an incredible opportunity to do something amazing. So I ended up kind of selling the business and going into Days Out With The Kids, which was just such a great decision because it gave me probably what I was craving in terms of building effective teams and working for household name brands. And that was the start of me going into employed roles for about, gosh, another eight or so years.

Kelly Molson: Great. And now you’ve set off on another new adventure.

Catherine Warrilow: Yes, because we reinvent ourselves, don’t we? And go where the opportunities feel most exciting. Yeah. So I lost my job with Days Out last September, which was gutting, because again, that passion for building the most incredible teams was real. I hired some of the best people that I have ever hired and we’re still great friends now, but when I left there, I was like, “Okay, I will apply for roles and I will ask my network if they would like to work with me.”. It was as simple as that. I will figure this out as I go along. You know me, I’m quite an honest, heart on sleeve type person. I’m a bit of an oversharer.

So I went onto LinkedIn and said I was gutted to say that I wasn’t with days out anymore, but that the world was my oyster.And then people just started popping up from connections I’ve had for years. Connections through things like Arival, through other podcasts that I’ve done in the past, through content I’ve created, through past clients, all sorts, right back to my very early career. And I was like, “Actually, I think there is a big opportunity here for me to go back out on my own.”. And I knew from the start I didn’t want to build an agency. I didn’t want to hire people. I just wanted to use all of that experience I’ve built up over travel over the last 15, 16 years and help people solve brand proposition problems that they can’t see themselves with a slight rebellious streak in the middle of working with people who don’t want to just follow the crowd. They want to do things a bit differently.

They want to stand up and be heard and it’s just gone from there. So I took on my first paying client at the beginning of November and it’s incredible and I bloody love it. And I’m so glad that I fell back into this way of working and I just feel very lucky that I’ve been able to stay in the sector that I absolutely love.

Kelly Molson: I’m so touched for you. I’ve got a big smile on my face as you’re saying. I’ve watched your journey and I’ve watched how it’s kind of played out. It’s really interesting. Someone said to me a little while ago, you never know who’s watching you never know who’s taking interest. And I kind of like that. And I think you are someone that I’ve always, we have genuinely only met once in real life, in a toilet at a conference. But I’ve followed you for a long time on LinkedIn, and I’ve seen how helpful and supportive you are to the sector, and I’ve seen a lot of your posts that go out and talking about other issues and things like that as well, very openly and publicly.

I’ve always really admired that about you and I think you are someone who’s super helpful and stuff like that comes back tenfold. So when you put that post out, I know how tough that was. Like, I felt the emotion in that post for you, but was just like, I’d read that post, I was like, “She’s got nothing to worry about here at all.”. And I could see people comment in and I’m going to connect you to the, “Oh, we should talk, we should do this.”. And I was like, “There you go. Good people. Good things come back to in tenfold.”. So it’s lovely to see you in this position.

Catherine Warrilow: And it was amazing. And that gave me, I think, the foundation I needed to get back out there and carry on attending events and carry on creating content and sharing my thoughts and ideas and all of that kind of thing. And it was funny because a while before that, I’d asked a handful of people from my network kind of, what am I known for? And would you recommend me? And what would you recommend me for? And someone came back and said, “You care more about the result than you do about people’s opinions.”. And I think that sums me up quite well because I want the best outcome, whether that’s for me and my business or for a partner that I’m working for. And I’m happy to say things people might not want to hear because I know it will get them a better outcome.

And I think that’s so important. And I think hopefully that comes across when I either talk to people or I post online that I am authentically who I say I am and you will genuinely get the best of me regardless of how big the challenge is. And that’s really important to me. I’d say that’s kind of a big part of my values is to share authentic truth rather than either kind of saying what everyone else is saying or saying what someone wants to hear, which will put people off as well. And that’s kind of a good screening process in a way.

Kelly Molson: Yes. It’s a good way to cherry pick who’s the right client, definitely wants to work for me and they’re going to get me as well. I love this. Right, okay, we’re going to talk about brand today. We’re going to talk about brand proposition. What the heck is a brand proposition for our lovely listeners?

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah, and it’s a big question. It’s basically everything a brand stands for. Absolutely everything a brand stands for. And that sounds quite overwhelming, but really it’s not. It’s a combination of kind of vision, mission, values. So where are you trying to get to and what are you doing to get there and how are you being when you do that? So what are the kind of the morals and values that underpin the business and that foundation takes you through everything to the point which you sell a product or service to a customer. And that will be everything from your tone of voice and your brand personality, how your brand looks and feels aesthetically, the channels you use to communicate with people and sell through.

So it really is everything that kind of makes up what matters about a brand and what makes it different and why ultimately a customer would buy from you versus someone else. Which is why I touched on the kind of the challenges with ticketing in our sector because that is a huge obstacle for lots of OTAs in managing their brand proposition effectively because it will have a real knock on effect on the perception their customer has of that brand.

Kelly Molson: And that element of it is slightly out of their control as well, isn’t it? Which is unfortunate. What I like about this is that we are, I think as a whole, we’re kind of coming away from that thing where people used to go, “Oh, I’ve got my brand sorted, because I’ve got my logo.”. No, that’s a brand element. This is not what we’re talking about here. Why is brand proposition so important to get right.

Catherine Warrilow: I think brand proposition comes down to what you sell, who to and for what gain. And the gain is the customer problem. So what problem do you solve for that customer? So Days Out, as an example, were going after the younger end of the audience who just want to find something with bragging rights and book it quick with the trust and ease of use of real person customer service on Whatsapp and pay with Klana. So book it Whatsapp to make sure you’ve got your tickets right backs and forwards with a real human being in real time and then pay for it later. So we knew exactly who were, who for and for what gain for that customer. That’s why you have to get it right.

And I speak to a lot of people who, a lot of clients who say they fall at the first hurdle with the first question, which is, “Who are you targeting?” And they’re like, “Well, everyone who wants to travel.”. And you’re like, “No, you’re not.” 100% not. You might want to be on the radar of lots and lots of people, and lots of people might buy from you, but most people won’t because there is so much choice. You’ve got to know exactly who you are talking to and why you fit the needs and the values of that person. And those values need to be reciprocal because you will never create brand ambassadors otherwise. You will create transient customers who will buy from you once and then move on. And that’s an expensive customer to have.

Whereas if your brand proposition is spot on and everything in the way you do business and the way you communicate, the way your customer service team communicate is consistent, people will buy into that feeling as well as what they’re paying money for. And the booking process is part of what they’re paying for. And that is part of the reason they will pay more, because they know it’s quick and easy and if anything goes wrong, you’ll sort it and they will pay 5% more for the privilege of that. Which means your pricing strategy is healthier as well. So all of these different things make up the brand proposition, not just the way your website looks or your logo. If it’s lairy and orange and pink and green, that is not going to stand you apart from everyone else. It might get you noticed once.

But all of that substance of your brand proposition below, that is what will engage, retain a customer, create an ambassador out of them, i.e.  They will leave a positive review, they will engage with your content, they will share your content, all of those things.

Kelly Molson: That word substance is really important in this conversation, isn’t it? Because a lot of people still, I think, view brand as very much the kind of aesthetic layer that sits on top of that. But it is about substance. This brand proposition has to run through the core of everything that you do. And it’s not just about the visuals, it’s about how you speak to people, your tone of voice, all of that kind of stuff as well. How do you start to shape that proposition? Where does an organisation start with that?

Catherine Warrilow: Like I said before, it starts with that vision mission values piece. Because if you are not clear on where you are trying to get to, then how do you even start building things like content pillars, for example? And quite often there’s a vision stuck up on the wall, in the office, in the meeting room, which no one could recite back to you and it actually doesn’t mean anything. So having substance within the vision is the first point of call. The mission is how you get there and what you’re doing to get there. And if you don’t know that, you can’t create goals, if you haven’t got measurable goals, how do you define what success looks like?

And that takes you into things like understanding your products and your revenue streams, because you might have really popular products and you’re like, “Oh yeah, we’re selling loads of these tools. They’re so popular, everyone loves them. But why is that?”. Is it because you’re the cheapest on the market? And actually, if you look at your numbers, are you making any profit on that product? Because there’s a massive difference between popular and profitable. So it matters because at the heart of the business is a need to be profitable. You want a product and service that people love and is profitable and that people rave about. And it drives you loads of repeat business and loads of new business through word of mouth.

But to get to the point where you can set those goals that are measurable, you have to know where you’re trying to get to. And what often happens, and what I find with a lot of partners is their vision is either ten years old and they’re still kind of running around in circles trying to figure out how they get there. And it’s not that anymore, because the market’s changed, the customers changed, pricing has changed, they’ve got goals, but they’re not measurable, or they’ve got customers and they never talk to them, they never ask them what they can do better or where else they buy from. So they’ve got no data, they’ve got a website that performs pretty well, but they never look at the analytics, so they don’t know how they’re acquiring customers or how much is costing them to acquire a customer.

And that all of a sudden feels very messy and complicated, doesn’t it? It feels overwhelming to start picking things off to make sure those things are happening in a sensible, logical order that takes you from A to B to make a profit. So I kind of break all those different things down into sections, create a roadmap specifically for the business, and bring to the table all of my expertise to start aligning those things. And what will happen is we’ll find some massive gaps. The vision is totally wrong, or they’re going after the whole market and they don’t really know who their customer is, or so they’re trying to talk to everybody, so their tone of voice is just beige, or their goals aren’t the right goals, or they’re not measurable, or they’re measuring the wrong things.

And you start to see where those opportunities are and you start to see the holes that need to be plugged. And suddenly brand proposition feels like a much simpler, tangible route forward, rather than this kind of crazy maze of stuff that you just don’t know where to navigate first.

Kelly Molson: Something you said at the start of that was really interesting, actually, as an aside question is somebody’s mission or their vision, and the mission might be completely misaligned now it’s been in place for ten years or so, and they’re visiting it and the market has changed. How frequently should you look at those things? Like, I get my organisation together tomorrow, we set our new vision and mission. You would hope that we would be kind of checking in on that. Are we all aligned? Are we scenario? How often do you think that changes for people? And how frequently should you kind of refer back to it and go, “Is this still relevant?”.

Catherine Warrilow: That’s such a good question and I think it should be in mind daily. And if a business is asked what their vision is and they can’t recite it off like that, then it’s not right or it’s too complicated. And I did a big exercise with a client a couple of weeks ago, which was actually around their why and their purpose, because it was really important to them that they were running an ethical, sustainable business, that they gave something back to the community. But their why was about an, a four page long. And I challenged them on it and they said, “Oh yeah, well, actually the community part is really important to us and it wasn’t in there anyway anywhere.”. So what I did is an exercise where we distilled it down bit by bit.

So we took out all of the filler words and had a look what was left and that came out as kind of care, community, making a difference and a handful of other things. So we stripped it right back and ended up with one sentence, which was about ten or twelve words long. I was like, that actually means something. And that is something you can look at every day and say, “Does launching this new product or service may give something back to the community?”. Well, actually, no, it doesn’t, because it’s going to take us 20 years to fulfil that element. So do we scale it back? Do we make it simpler? Do we make it shorter? What do we do? Do we make it more accessible?

I think if you can’t look at least your vision on a daily basis and say the things on my to do list absolutely fit with that, then you need to challenge yourself on the tactics that you’re implementing to reach that vision and the goals you’ve set for the business. So I think most people would hope, I would say quarterly in the team meeting.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, that’s exactly what people hope. Once a year we revisit that.

Catherine Warrilow: I don’t think you want to change it more than annually. You might tweak it if you have to keep throwing it out every year and redoing it. There’s something wrong with your business model. But if you can look at it, mine’s up on my wall. Mine’s really simple. It’s rebel plans for travel brands, which basically means a bit kind of rogue compared to your typical marketing strategy. And my why is because you don’t want to be the same as everyone else and I don’t want to do boring work. That’s it. Simple as that. So if I look at my to do list today and say, “Is that boring or is that going to make a difference, and it’s not, then I need to challenge myself on what I am delivering for that client or for my own business.”.

Am I saying I haven’t written a blog for ages, I should write one? If it’s crap to fill a space, then I shouldn’t be doing it. I need to challenge myself to put the effort in, to think about what I want to say on that topic, how my opinion is different, how I back that opinion up, what other people are saying, bring in other voices and your vision and mission should make you do things properly, they should make you do them to a much higher standard and they should raise the game of your business, your team and the industry, because that’s ultimately where you need to be to succeed, isn’t it? You need to be pushing for better.

Kelly Molson: I think we’re all getting a very clear picture of what it would be like to work with you, Catherine, from this interview. Love it.

Catherine Warrilow: It’s a great screening process, isn’t it? Some people will go, oh, my God, that sounds horrendous. That sounds like an awful lot of work. No, thank you. Other people will say, “I think she could see where we’re going wrong, where we can’t see it because we’re so entrenched in what we’re doing.”.

Kelly Molson:  Yeah. I’m sitting here going, “She needs to come in and work on our brand. This is what we need.”. Okay. How does the brand proposition translate into what the consumer or the visitor engages with? I guess. How do you get your brand proposition across to them in the right way?

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah, I think it gets really overcomplicated in a lot of businesses, and that’s usually because bits have been tacked on at different times to try different things and see how they work. It should translate to everything. It should translate to the hero strap line across the homepage of your website. It should translate to the bios on your social channels. If you still have business cards, it should translate there. It should translate to how you conduct yourself in front of people, at events, in meetings, in pitches with customers. And one of the things that often gets forgotten and is why it gets all confused from a consumer facing perspective, is it should translate internally as well. Behind the scenes, how your team meetings run, how your one to ones run, the culture and the atmosphere in the office. It should translate through everything.

Because if it doesn’t, how do you expect your marketing team, your sales team, your customer service team to get that across to the customer if your staff don’t feel it themselves? And that’s probably the only thing that I miss about working in house, is creating that momentum and energy within a team. And it is absolutely astronomical. What a difference it makes to productivity, to engagement, to buy in, to smoothing out bumps when you go through difficult periods of change or reorganisation or someone leaves the business, or whatever it is. You can weather those kind of things so much more easily if you start with the people within your business and making that vision and mission exciting to them.

And that might be down to the fact that the quarterly team meeting is just so incredibly painful and dull that people just switch off so they don’t absorb any of the information about where the business is going next, because it’s delivered in such a static, boring way that you need totally transform that and it needs to be led by the teams or it needs to be designed as a quiz or something like just make it different, make it more fun. And I guarantee then it becomes very easy to translate that through to everything from the customer’s perspective because it will come through in tone of voice and how you handle a difficult customer service query. It will come through in creating content on TikTok or whatever channels you use. It will just be ingrained in everything.

Kelly Molson: Because your team are owning that and they’ve got such an input into the kind of division and the mission and the brand proposition, they then can sell that on to the consumers. So they’re your internal ambassadors. We talked about ambassadors earlier.

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: And obviously that’s going to help with recruitment as well. If you’ve got a really strong kind of brand proposition, more people want to come and be involved in that too.

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah. And it brings confidence to everything. I mean, our job descriptions at Days Out attracted people who weren’t even looking for a job because they saw the ad. They were like, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even think I wanted to move and now I do.”. And I had to apply because they were written by real people, designed for real people who just want to be in jobs which they love and they feel invested in and appreciated and rewarded and recognised.

So it was less about, you must have five years of this, you must be able to do that and more about, do you want to come to work and actually feel like you want to be there and that you want to work really hard because you care about making a difference to that business because they are as invested as you are in the brand. And, yeah, recruitment is a difficult business and retention is a difficult business. So if you can bring together all of those things in such an incredible way across everything you do, then recruiting all of a sudden becomes a joy. And seeing people who want to work for you is incredible.

So, yeah, it affects everything and you can see I get really excited about that because I think we so often forget that it’s our people that will drive the success and we just go over that shiny thing over there. But actually, if you don’t tell anyone else in the business what that shiny thing is and why it matters, then how on earth are you going to move mountains to get to that point?

Kelly Molson: Totally agree with every single word that you’re saying, Catherine. Totally agree with it. Right. We’ve talked about what it is, who’s doing it well, tourism and attraction industry and why.

Catherine Warrilow: Gosh. So I mentioned my time at doubt with the kids, and it was a very different beast when I was there, because were really trying to make fundamental changes in how we monetise the site, whereas now they’ve come so far, and I think I have to call out their content strategy and their content team, because in an incredibly crowded market, where you are competing for the attention of parents, the most time poor people on the planet, they have totally understood what type of content resonates with people, and they’ve understood how to keep people engaged in a community. And that might be anything from behind the scenes, an attraction, quite literal content. But that whole kind of.

Oh, my gosh, you won’t believe what’s round this corner at this tiny farm park and bringing to life the lesser known attractions that have huge amounts to offer customers through to stuff that’s trending, whether that’s pop culture or music, tv, film, just tapping into the mood of the nation. My definition of that is situational relevance. So how do you bring together a situation or trend that’s important to people now with the relevance of your brand? And it goes back to what we’re saying about tone of voice before. What’s your perspective on that topic? Why would a customer engage with your brand about that topic if it’s not literally trying to sell them a ticket to an attraction?

And I think what they’ve done with channels like TikTok, for example, is they’ve absolutely understood, A, what problem they solve for the customer, but B, what’s important to them now and what they’re talking about right this minute, because that will be different today to it is tomorrow. And they are quick and they are agile and they are reactive to trends and topics, and they’ve understood how to have that conversation with someone within their audience demographic. And that’s not easy. That is a huge undertaking of time and effort and research, and it doesn’t take two minutes to create a decent TikTok that’s going to engage people. People think it’s like an instantaneous throwaway channel, but it’s not. And you’ve got to hook people in about a second and a. So I think they’re doing great things.

Catherine Warrilow: When it comes to attractions, Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley in Yorkshire, I think are epic. I think, again, they captured situational relevance by streaming things like lambing season on Facebook. Years and years ago, they started doing that and they were like, “Oh, we’re on something.”. People want to watch the lambs being born and how we care for them and how we bring new life into the world and how good that feels. And that led to them doing a whole series with Channel five. And I just think they had their vision and mission and products spot on. They had the foundations. They knew what they were delivering, who to for what gain. They were bringing people up close and personal with farming life in a way that just captured families. And I think they’ve sustained that, and I think that’s quite difficult to do.

I think they’ve evolved with the times, and they’ve carried on improving their products, and they’ve carried on communicating that to people who want that type of experience. So I think that they’re brilliant. And then the other one would be Marsh Farm in Essex. Their understanding of events and how to capture people through events is out of this world. And what they do is they look, I don’t think they intentionally do it, but what they’ve managed to do is create a triangle between celebrity. So someone like Daisy Solomon and how she celebrates Halloween, for example, and an experience that they can deliver that captures that to people in a way they can afford.

So their pumpkin patches and photo moments around Halloween are mind blowing, because what they’ve done, they’ve looked at what people want to achieve at the celebrity level, but potentially can’t cover their front doorstep in a million pumpkins and have ghosts coming out of every part of the.

Kelly Molson: Catherine, honestly.

Catherine Warrilow: But they can go and have that experience at Marsh Farm with their kids, take photos of their kids in a wheelbarrow surrounded by pumpkins, and feel like they’ve had a slice of that lifestyle. And they up their game with every single event they do. And it’s remarkable. And the effort that goes into delivering that wrapped up with incredible customer service is second to none. And I think a lot of attractions can learn from how they deliver that experience.

Kelly Molson: I totally agree. Marsh Farm is James Sinclair, isn’t it? That’s him, yes.

Catherine Warrilow: And Aaron Oathman. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: James actually came on the podcast. He was a really early guest on the first season of the podcast when me and my old co founder used to do it together. Actually, I think my co founder interviewed James on his own, actually. I don’t think I was on that one. But we had seen James, he’d been on our radar for a long time. And he is a smart cookie. He really is a smart. I think he’s probably a bit marmite for people, in all honesty. But that’s a good thing, right? That’s filthy. But I absolutely love his content. I love it. I can sit and watch it all day long and he’s got so much to talk about and there’s so much value that he delivers as well. So from a personal brand perspective, I think he’s kind of nailing that as well.

Catherine Warrilow: Oh, 100%. And that’s something we haven’t even touched on, is personal brand. That’s a conversation for another day. But it fits in neatly with getting your people invested in the business vision, because they are your brand ambassadors. They are the people going out to events and selling the dream. And some people don’t see the value of that, but the way they conduct themselves, especially if you’re in B2B and you’re in trade events and you’re negotiating relationships with suppliers or trying to get people to come to your stand and talk to you about a product or service, they’re not going to do that unless your personal brand has that magnetism. And you’re absolutely right, James has that magnetism.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Which, again, is going to help with his recruitment and then building those brands and then vision. So it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. Exactly. I love it. Great examples as well. Thank you for sharing those. What are your top tips that you’d like to share with our listeners today?

Catherine Warrilow: So, the first one I won’t labour over, because it’s getting your people aligned with your vision, and we’ve talked about that a lot. It all starts there. If you can’t get people to adore the plans of the business, then it’s going to be hard work to get to that point. I think the second one is something we touched on early on. It’s about authenticity. Whether you’re customer facing and you’re an attraction or an experience, whether you’re an OTA, whether you’re a res tech company. Authenticity, I think, is everything. If you can’t do something, don’t say you can. If you can’t fix something, don’t say you can. Be honest. Just be honest about everything, with your customers, with your teams, with your partners, and do your absolute best to find the right solution.

So if you let a customer down, don’t gloss over and say, “Oh, well, we couldn’t have controlled that.”. Say, “We’re gutted that this has happened, we can’t fix it, but this is what we’re going to do to avoid it happening again. This is the problem we’ve uncovered.”. Just bring it all to the surface. I don’t understand why brands don’t let people see in. Because we know as customers that the brands we resonate with and have an affinity with are the ones we trust. It’s as simple as that. So why not let people into that world a bit more? And the way we use social these days allows us to do that, allows us to have a window into our world. So use that to your advantage. Show you’re listening.

Show that you take on board feedback, whether that’s internally, externally or otherwise, and just be the best, genuine version of yourself and your business that you can be. And then the third thing I would say is, try new stuff now. So if you’re not on TikTok and you’re like, “We need to be on TikTok, but we don’t understand it, we don’t get it, we don’t have the resource.”. Don’t put it off. You will never have enough resource for everything you want to do. You will never be a master at all things. But try them now. Don’t have them on that forever to do list. Whether that’s approaching a new partner or researching a new sector within tours, experiences and attractions, do it now.

And if you’re listening to this or watching this and you’ve had one of those things on your list, please do something about it this week and come back and tell us both what you’ve done, because I think you just need that push in the right direction. People wait for the perfect moment to try something new or do something new or launch something new. There is never a perfect moment. You will miss the boat. And then you have that constant frustration of, “Oh, those guys are doing it brilliantly. Why didn’t we just dot.”. Because if you had have done, you probably would be creating great content on that channel now. You probably would be in a partnership with that new wine tour. Just don’t wait. Trends come and go. Just get on with it. Stop waiting.

Kelly Molson: I feel like you’ve also just made us about 400 people’s accountability partners there as well. So thanks for that.

Catherine Warrilow: Okay, I’m going to rescind that last bit. Tell me what you’ve done this week.

Kelly Molson: Take it, send and email us. All Catherine’s details will be in the show notes. It’s fine. You can email us both. Let us know what you’ve taken off your list and what you’ve gone ahead with. We want to know. I’m joking. All 400 of you and more. It’s great tips. Thank you for sharing today. I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed this. Where can we get more from you? You’re actually going to be talking soon. At quite a large event, aren’t you?

Catherine Warrilow: Yeah. So you can see me in person at Arival first weekend of March. So I’ll be talking about everything we’ve talked about today, actually taking your mission and vision and values right through to monetisation and figuring out where those gaps are in the middle. So that’d be a really practical, hands on workshop. I’m a real kind of sharpie marker and paper type person, so you will actually get a physical roadmap to take away and fill in yourself, which I think is going to be really fun.

I’m a massive oversharer, like I said, so you can find me on LinkedIn a lot, on TikTok a lot. I can’t profess to be a TikTok expert by any stretch, but I am persevering because I think it’s a brilliant channel to share quick pieces of advice and tips and hacks. So little things that you can do right now that will improve the brand strategy within your business. So, yeah, you can find me quite easily, I’m afraid.

Kelly Molson: We will put all of Catherine’s details in the show notes as well, so you just can refer back to there and you’ll be able to find her. One thing I would say about Catherine’s website, you have to go and cheque it out, because there’s a little line on Catherine’s website that I absolutely love. It says, “You need help, we’re ready to fix your shit.”. And I was like, “Yeah, she absolutely is. This woman is going to fix your shit.”. Okay. I always end the episodes with a book that our guests love. So, what have you brought to recommend to our listeners today?

Catherine Warrilow: So, it’s ironic, actually, because my two book recommendations, the first one’s called The Power of Doing Less, by an author called Fergus O’Connell. And this is about getting rid of all the distractions and noise. And it’s a really simple, short book that you’ll want to keep on your desk with post it notes in pages, because it’s just a good reminder of things like, “Am I the best person to do this? Is there someone else in the business that is better at this and should be doing this? Do I need to do it now? Is it important right now? Or am I just doing it because it’s the top of the list? Should I be doing it in the way I think I should be doing it? Should I be doing part of it and not all of it?”.

And it’s just a great sanity cheque deck for not being a busy fool. And I love that. And it just keeps you sharp in terms of prioritising because nothing’s ever urgent. It’s either important or it’s not. And then the second one, again, a bit ironic, based on my kind of love of bringing lots and lots of different things together, is called The One Thing by Gary Keller. Actually, it’s not ironic really, because really, that’s about the vision. Like, what is the one thing we are trying to do here and does everything else we’re doing align to that one purpose? That is just such a brilliant book and it really helps you get focused and clarity on what you’re doing and why. So, yeah, those are my two recommendations.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant books, and they haven’t come up previously as well. I love this. I always like it when a guest brings a book. I’m like, “Oh, that’s gone on to my list as well.”. Listeners, if you want to win a copy of Catherine’s books, so as ever, go over to our twitter account and retweet this episode announcement with the words, I want Catherine’s books and you’ll be in with the chance of winning them. We also have a I’ll put it in the show notes, but we have a brilliant blog on our website, on the Rubber Cheese website that lists all of these books that our guests come on and share. So it’s become kind of a virtual library for people to go and refer to back to over the years. So thank you for adding to our library today.

Thank you for coming on and sharing. It’s been a great chat. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I love talking about brand. It is a little bit of my background as well, so I completely understand and embrace everything that you’ve talked about today. Good luck at Arival. I hope that goes brilliantly and I look forward to all of those emails that we’re about to receive about people taking things off their list, doing them.

Catherine Warrilow: And I’ll see you in a toilet somewhere soon, hopefully.

Kelly Molson: Probably. Like I said, all the best people meet in toilets.

Catherine Warrilow: Thanks, Kelly.



Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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