I've just come back from three weeks overseas (hence the new Tumi bag referenced in my last post). On my travels I came across a number of things I want to capture in the blog over the next couple of weeks. Perhaps most striking was something I found at Heathrow's new Terminal 5. A biro.
Terminal 5 opened earlier this year. Designed by Richard Rogers, it represented Europe's largest construction project, with a budget of over four billion pounds and a capacity of over 25 million passengers per year. It has a single resident airline, British Airways, and is in every way therefore a flagship for Britain.
Its opening weeks were chaotic, with thousands of passengers delayed and bags lost. But slowly Terminal Five got its act together. Or at least I thought it had, until I came across the biro...
In front of passport control stood a line of desks, allowing passengers to fill out their immigration cards. And on the desks were biros. A mismatched bunch of disposable pens of different colours and designs, all tethered to the desks by ratty pieces of string.
Here I was in a four billion pound new terminal, the proud gateway to Britain. And this is modern Britain remember, no longer the dated laughing stock of Europe, but now the dynamic home of some of the world's greatest architects and designers. But the best Terminal 5 could offer its millions of arriving passengers were biros on string.
A small thing, but an extraordinary one. Because every touch point matters. And that's the key to great brand experiences, not just getting the big stuff right but the small stuff too (which is so often the stuff that has the most impact because it's the stuff most brands fail to focus on).
And, remember, this was a brand experience. Not only for Terminal 5 and its sole tenant British Airlines, but for Britain too. Because countries are brands, and sloppy attention to detail and poor quality control was part of the old British brand for far too long.
Now I'm not saying that a beautiful piece of desk or pen design would alone make or break the British brand. But in a four-billion-pound budget there would surely have been enough room to fund some aspiring young design students to create custom pieces fit for the purpose. A small thing but with a potentially big impact. Not unlike the biro in fact, just better.