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On spam and egg barms and why the North is complicated

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I was walking to a client meeting in Adlington near Bolton last week when a cafe proudly advertising spam and egg barms in its window caught my eye. It made me laugh, partly because of the contrast between the sign and a Newsnight clip of journalist Grace Dent expounding the benefits of Veganuary I’d been watching earlier that day.

I took a photo to post on Facebook – figuring my friends would find it funny too. Which they did. But I also managed to confuse a fair few people – and not just Southerners. A friend from Yorkshire asked me ‘What’s a barm? Is it a posh butty?’

Don’t assume you and your audience know the same things

In posting the spam link I’d assumed two things. That my friends in the metropolitan elite would mostly find the spam reference funny (hands up they did) and also they would mostly know, as I did, what a barm was (they definitely didn’t – including lots of friends in the North of England). How come? Because the North is complicated. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think it’s not a homogenous region with Manchester as its capital ruled over by Andy Burnham as the Greater Manchester Mayoral equivalent of the King of the North in Game of Thrones.

The North of England – research and understand your audiences

The barm is a great example of why organisations trying to market to ‘the North’ or ‘Northerners’ without understanding regional and local differences and context are going to end up unstuck.

There’s a great little diagram explainer for all of this which was first highlighted to be my Jo Miller, Chief Executive of Doncaster Council. It shows some of the many different ways of describing a bread roll, with lots of regional variation in the North.

It’s a great visual tool for communicators who need to argue the case for a bit more market analysis or explain why their communications plan might take a bit longer to pull together than expected.

The North – it’s complicated. And all the better for it. 


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