Does your business pass the Whitby test?

So where do you fancy? Whitby or Scarborough?

I’ve just walked in from the garden. March 26th and I’ve been sitting outside with a glass of red wine. If it’s like this over Easter we could well be joining the exodus to the coast. So which one will it be? Whitby or Scarborough?

More to the point, is there anything these traditional British seaside resorts can teach us about business? Yes, I think there is. And at the risk of antagonising my clients and friends in Scarborough, I think that in the marketing stakes Whitby is the clear winner.

Why do I say that?

Because I think Whitby has a very clear message. Traditional English fishing town – the Abbey – fish and chips – the moors – Heartbeat – Dracula – Goths – Captain Cook.

I’ve used 16 words there and ticked off 8 reasons why you might go to Whitby. Not every one of them is going to be attractive to you but can most people looking at that list find a reason to go to Whitby? I’d be astonished if they couldn’t.

Can I do the same with Scarborough? Traditional seaside holiday – Alan Ayckbourn – the Castle… And at that point I’m starting to struggle.

Before you think that’s just my opinion, or that I’m trying to open a Northern branch of Reid Enterprises, ask the question of a few friends in the South of England. Without exception all our friends south of the Watford Gap service station feel the same way: if they come up North for a weekend at the seaside, it’s Whitby they head for, not Scarborough.

And I think those 16 words – and the clear message they convey – are the central reason for that. There’s a combination of history, fantasy, tradition, family holidays, countryside – and Heartbeat; tons and tons of free, feelgood-factor advertising.

Now let’s leave the ice-cream, candyfloss and blood-curdling screams of the Dracula exhibition and return to the sober and business-like surroundings of an Alternative Board meeting. I’m constantly intrigued by how often this question of a short, sharp simple message comes up in Board meetings. It’s almost as though we’re frightened of simple messages – that we feel a need to over-complicate things.

Whether it’s ‘we try harder’ ‘just do it’ ‘finger-lickin’ good’ or – closer to home – ‘bread wi’ nowt taken out’ you can say a lot in a few words. The trouble is, it’s hard work. It’s easy to describe your business in fifty words – but a lot harder to do it in five words.

So there’s a challenge for you. As you’re sitting in your garden this Easter, the North Yorkshire sun soothing away your worries, a Shiraz smoothie at your elbow, grab a pad and pencil and apply the Whitby test to your business. Come up with seven or eight succinct reasons why people should do business with you. (And no points for woolly nonsense like ‘we care’ – they’ve got to be reasons that an objective observer could agree with.)

Hopefully you’ll have around a dozen words that capture the unique quality of your business. Now you need to get ruthless and cut that down to half a dozen words – the fewer the better.

Chances are, you’ve now achieved two things. Firstly, you’ve got right to the core of your business – what it is you’re selling and what it is that your customers value. And when you go back to work on Tuesday, if what you’re doing isn’t strengthening or furthering one of those core values, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Secondly, you might just be on your way to that elusive strapline: the short, sharp, memorable message that tells someone all they need to know about your business – and why they should deal with you.



  1. Cath Blakey · April 4, 2012

    Great blog as always – although not sure I’ll sitting sipping vino in the garden without several thermal layers on, we have snow in Harrogate and its VERY chilly!!
    Ok so here goes, my business…
    Creative marketing that works
    and I managed it with just a cup of tea!

    • edreidyork · April 5, 2012

      Love it Cath – and what’s more, I know your strapline is accurate! Keep up the good work, and enjoy the (cold) blue skies!

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