This summer I went to France on holiday, Annecy in fact. If you don’t know it, let me paint a picture. Surrounded by mountains, on the edge of the Alps, it’s an old town with rivers flowing through it and low bridges. It sits at one end of a splendid emerald lake. It was the second week of our family holiday. The first week was a hiking holiday, but the second week the children were adamant: ‘’No more walking dad, we want to do adventure stuff..."

And we did! Family Harbour did a LOT of adventure stuff; and we ate, and hired things, and rented things and booked things. But, I realised something towards the end of that week - as I began the inevitable slow mind turn towards 'back to work', I thought about our week and wondered whether marketing played a role at all in the choices we had made? Had I been influenced by any outdoor, TV, flyers, radio, digital media, digital influencers? I thought back:

1.     Choice to go to Annecy in the first place? A wonderful print advert in a magazine? One of those giant poster pictures in an airport, whilst you are waiting for a delayed flight out of Luton on a grey spring day? Nope…. We went to Annecy because our friend Leila told us one weekend: “You guys will love it, trust me.”

2.     Choice of accommodation though? I must have googled it surely? Nope. My mate Ben told me, ‘’Stay where we stayed, it was fantastic!’’.

3.     Ok, but why did we go to that swimming deck on the east side of the lake? A flyer? A pamphlet? Once again the answer is no. Instead we went there because the lady in the bike shop told us we simply had to go there! ‘’It is not to be missed!” She was right, it wasn’t.

4.     What about the (cold) white water rafting? That was a guy at the swimming deck (see above) who I got chatting to. He excitedly told me, ‘’you guys should do this. We did it Monday and it was brilliant!’’

5.     Even the canyoning I signed up to do (against my better judgement) was because the lady booking the white water rafting mentioned that her kids wouldn’t stop talking about the canyoning. It was, she said, their favourite experience of the summer.. not to be missed…so I duly booked that too.

Annecy looking delightful on Pete's holiday.

So, a whole French holiday where I had booked the location, the accommodation and the activities almost exclusively because somebody else had tried them and recommended them to me… word of mouth, (and a verbal 5 star review), was the main guiding principle of every choice we made. Was this only true when applied to holidays…. or was this true of every day staples chosen back at home as well? I started to think about it…

The 0.0 % beer I bought recently? Recommended. The waterproof bag for cycling? Recommended. The anti-fly spray for the rose bush? Recommended. As for the new commuter bike I have been agonising over buying for the last 3 months, (not a family staple I agree but still many hours lost to indecision.) I have read 357 recommendations and reviews yet still cant make up my mind. In fact, when I was in the bike shop and talking to the owner I asked him how and why people come in and chose his bikes. “They all come in because they have been recommended by other people who had a great experience, or more likely they are returning customers, who think we did a great job last time. ”I put myself in that last bracket!"

Clearly there are countless instances of the ‘normal forms of marketing’’ influencing my behaviour. I am a sucker for YouTube video ads and I am paying gym membership because of a poster outside my local one enticing me in. So we need not fear, Marketing, in all its channels, is still alive and working well. BUT, there should be no doubt at all that one of the biggest and most important  parts of your ‘’marketing plan’’ should always be to deliver a brilliant product experience.

A brilliant product, a quality experience, amazing customer service. It seems obvious doesn’t it, but product and service will create that most precious of things, a priceless recommendation. Be in no doubt that time spent on the product, not just marketing that product, will pay back many times over through word of mouth. And now? I am off to enjoy that 0.0 % beer in the sun.

Pete will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the next year.