Media: A Moment with Marquis

As marketing slogans go, Tesco's "every little helps" seems a bit, well ... bland. On the other hand, it would be hard to find one that so comprehensively sums up a company's attitude to its customers and its determined yet modestly put focus on continuous improvement.

With a speaking engagement looming at a symposium of the Institute of Business Advisers in Truro (I kid you not), I needed examples of both good and bad slogans with which to strew my treatise on "effective communication for regional and local business". Tesco would do for the good, but what for the bad?

On one of my frequent train trips to and from the West Country, I struck gold. First Great Western, the franchise-holder on rail routes from Paddington to the West, emblazons all its corporate literature, timetables, menu cards (in fact, pretty much everything that moves, including its staff) with the phrase: "Transforming travel."

To the casual observer, it would be hard to spot exactly how the huddles of disgruntled-looking FGW employees at Paddington, Bristol or Exeter were contributing to this grandiose mission or, indeed, to what extent a broken carriage heater on one of the coldest mornings since 1963 or a buffet car bereft of any hot water were transforming travel other than for the worse.

As I subsequently pointed out to the massed ranks of Cornish business advisers, a slogan such as "transforming travel" might read self-satisfyingly well at FGW's snug, well-watered HQ but, out there in passenger land, it is a standing joke and a company raspberry blown day in, day out at their customers.

FGW, for all its faults (and I would need a special Campaign supplement to cover the half of them)is not a bad train operator and its on-board staff are more courteous and good-humoured than you might have any reason to expect. But it is not coming close to transforming travel, a phrase that implies some kind of quantum leap in efficiency, comfort and service. It may be trying to transform travel, but that is a very different thing. What it is actually doing - as opposed to saying it's doing - is making things better here and there, bit by bit. "Every little helps", in fact.

One of the little things that might help straightaway would be to can that fatuous over-claim in favour of something more unassuming, more realistic and less guaranteed to remind customers just how far short of living up to the mission statement it is (I'm glad to report the business advisers wholeheartedly agreed).