There's a great story about how Wetherspoon's got it's name. The founder, Tim Martin, had a teacher who constantly told him he'd never amount to anything. So, when Martin set up his pub chain, he named it after his teacher so every time he walked past one he'd be reminded of telling the millionaire owner he'd never make anything of himself.
Whether that story is true or not has been disputed...but it's a good story.
What it does show is Wetherspoon's has been a rebellious brand since the very start.
Their latest shock act was to empty their drip trays and delete their entire customer email database which, according to recent reports, contains details of well over 600,000 people
So, why did they do it?
The official line Wetherspoon's gave was that "following a data breach in December 2015 Wetherspoon has been reviewing all the data it holds and looking to minimise". They stated that they "would rather not hold even email addresses for customers" as they believe that "the less customer information they have, which now is almost none, then the less risk associated with data".
In all likelihood, the real reason is probably due to the five-figure fines given out to the likes of Flybe, Honda and Morrisons in recent months by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for misusing data and hassling people via email.
But why now?
The threat of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes into affect on 25th May 2018.
Put it this way, Morrison's fine was a mere £10,500. Had Morrison's been cited for the same issue under GDPR, they could have faced a fine of up to 4% of their global revenue. With only 54% of businesses surveyed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) expecting to be compliant with the GDPR by May 2018, why not just start from scratch?
But, even if it's not why they did it, why should Wetherspoon's be applauded for deleting their customer email database?
1. For being brave
Too many times in marketing, brands do something because "it's the way we've always done it" or because "it's what the competition are doing".
Wetherspoon's aren't stopping marketing their offers, they're going to use social media and their website to market them instead. Whatever the reason, it takes courage to look at almost 700,000 people and say "let's stop talking to them in the way we are and change how we do it".
2. Is email the right channel for Wetherspoon's
700,000 people is a lot of people. Are they all interested in what cheap beer you have on this Wednesday or whether or not Thursday is curry night? Probably not. I don't know what open rate or click rate Wetherspoon's have on their emails, but the fact they've had the courage to wipe the database makes me think it's not ground breaking. Why keep ploughing valuable money and resource into a marketing channel that gets poor results?
By using social media to market their offers, Wetherspoon's can talk to a relevant and engaged audience who have chosen to let them invade their timeline. If they don't want to follow Wetherspoon's they won't. Speak to people who care; don't keep chucking mud at people who don't and expecting it to stick.
3. Because they can always go back to it
The more Wetherspoon's engage with their audience on social media, the more they can build up a loyal tribe. When they eventually re-introduce email marketing (they will) they can build up a database of relevant, engaged people who want to receive emails from them. It might be a lot less than 700,000, but it's without the threat of being cited by GDPR and is likely to be much more successful.
Brands need to be brave and embrace the age of customer power.
At CAB, we've recently released a white paper that looks at how brands could be doing so much more around listening to customers and marketing to them in ways that suit them.
You can download a copy of the white paper here.
If you've got any comments on Wetherspoon's, GDPR or CAB's white paper I'd be more than happy to hear them.
And if any of my teachers are reading this, I've still got all your names memorised so I can name something after you one day.