3 survival tips for being a culinary pioneer
24/01/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , ,

3 survival tips for being a culinary pioneer

Originally posted on FSR. Read the article here.

As restaurateurs and restaurant-loving folks, we all have that dream of opening a fresh new concept that takes a community by storm. These dreams enter my head from time to time as I interact with clients who have the same aspirations. Their pitch usually goes a little something like this: “It’s like Chipotle, but we’re going to be making (enter new cuisine idea here).”

Everyone wants to follow in the footsteps of Chipotle. Across all restaurant spaces, their name has become synonymous with changing the game. What’s usually overlooked, however, is that the game Chipotle changed was already well-established: the game of Mexican cuisine. It is much harder to bring an unknown to market than it is to adapt an existing concept, but that’s exactly what “Culinary Pioneers” seek to do.

Culinary pioneers look to introduce new cuisines in new markets. Upon first thought, it seems like success is primed for the taking. Upon closer review, however, a cold, hard truth is revealed—this scenario has a better chance of failure than success. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re properly prepared for the trek ahead and avoid common causes of failure, you can be the pioneer you dreamed of becoming.

Failure happens for numerous reasons. There are a few traps I have witnessed that stand out as being more common than others. To avoid hardships and the inevitable failure of your endeavor, keep these lessons in mind.

Understand the true cost of pioneering

The major issue with pioneering a concept is the general lack of knowledge, understanding, and experience the population has with the food you’re bringing to market. It’s not a staple in their diets. It’s not something they crave every day. Therefore, marketing this new cuisine is two-fold. You have to educate them and promote the brand simultaneously.

We all know starting a restaurant is already a costly endeavor where “bootstrapping” is ill-advised if not impossible. To properly pioneer, you will need the budget to educate the population on the offering, and simultaneously promote the new restaurant like you would under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, this is twice as costly as usual restaurant marketing, if not more so.

Take a look at your marketing budget and double it. Then double it again. Chances are, you have severely underestimated how much is necessary to spend on marketing in the first place.

Organize tactics into a series of separate campaigns for promotion, education, and loyalty building. Each campaign should show images of the food, describe it, and convey what makes it as good, or even better than other options.

Think of creative ways to make this new cuisine tantalizing and memorable. You have to create the desire to try something unique for the first time.

Do not overestimate or imagine market demand

We all loved Grandma’s pierogies, or the way our uncle hand-made those bao buns. Despite their nostalgia-stuffed goodness, however, your market may not be interested in them as a dining option. That means that although your special cuisine may be quite scrumptious, it will not fly as a restaurant concept on its own. Pursuing this dream will lead to failure, as the market just isn’t buying the product enough. It’s business 101: supply and demand.

Take an honest look at your offerings, and ask yourself if people will buy it daily. Do some taste tests with people who are objective, or organize a popup restaurant at a weekend festival to see if people will buy what you’re making. Essentially, you have to do whatever it takes to get a real world understanding of whether or not this boat will float. Maintain utter honesty with yourself. If people aren’t buying it, then swallow your pride and reconfigure your dream. Do not open a restaurant with unpopular dishes centered as the primary menu offerings.

Select the proper location

Location reigns supreme—in this instance especially. Don’t forget it. Don’t ignore it. With a new concept that sells an unfamiliar cuisine, location is paramount. Successful restaurants find prime real estate, but new spots rarely can afford it. You need to find a second-generation spot that’s situated in an area that has both commercial and residential traffic. This isn’t a wish-list item. It’s a must-have.

A second-generation location will require less money to build out, freeing up extra capital for marketing and promotion. Even though another concept has already left or failed, it doesn’t mean this space isn’t well-suited for your concept.

Make sure the spot is nestled in an area busy with both commercial and residential traffic. Commercial will support your daytime business with walk-ins, business lunches, and catering. Residential will get you through the evenings when the businesses close for the night. If you choose a location that sways one way or the other, you can bet that it’ll affect the respective day part accordingly.

Finally, parking is everything, unless you are in a place with so much foot traffic that parking would be a hassle. This place is called Manhattan. If you aren’t in Manhattan, you have to have ample parking. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

These three restaurant pioneer killers are very real and happen more often than not. There is no wiggle room. Now is not the time for capitulations. If you are serious about succeeding and being the “next Chipotle,” you’re going to have to keep focused on making sure these mistakes aren’t made. It’ll take a load of chutzpah and a stiff upper lip to keep forging ahead into the great unknown, but if you’re one of the few who has what it takes (money, market demand, and location) you could reach the Pacific, like the true explorer of restaurant frontiers you very well may be.

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The key to humanizing your brand: Don’t forget your roots
22/01/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , ,

The key to humanizing your brand: Don’t forget your roots

Originally published on Branding Magazine

There was a song I used to listen to way back when by a band called H2O. The song was called “Don’t Forget Your Roots” and the message was obvious. Recently this song popped back into my mind when I found myself discussing new ideas in building brands. Because the way I see it, strong brands maintain their roots despite their innovation and growth.

As companies grow, their sights are set on constantly innovating and trying to change the game. Innovation is rarely identified with a look of heritage or classic style. However, brands can indeed be forward-thinking and innovative, while still maintaining their roots. In fact, when done right, brands that embrace their past often have a more humanized feel.

Every locale has its own special brand of roots and history. These elements are unbreakable, and there is a part of every person that holds on to this nostalgia. Brands who understand the power of this solidify their future by fortifying their past.

The strength of roots-based branding can be experienced in New Zealand’s rugby team. The All Blacksbegin every match with their Haka, an ancient Maori war dance that displays power and instills intimidation while unifying and energizing the team. While performing the Haka, the All Blacks and their fans are united, and the brand becomes stronger. The unforgettable performance is a hallmark that only that particular team can own.

Using nostalgia and localization as a branding device doesn’t mean sacrificing innovation. Innovation should still be pursued and developed to grow the brand. The brand’s image can be forward thinking and fresh. That’s exactly what Starbucks is doing with their new concept. Using their Seattle roots and nautical, maritime inspiration, Starbucks is able to innovate the coffee experience while still delivering a nostalgic experience.

One of their New Orleans storefronts localizes the brand through an apothecary style interior featuring New Orleans inspired art installations. This creates a Starbucks experience that destroys the cookie-cutter, rigid branding methodology and takes a new direction. They’re letting the locale’s history and roots inform the brand instead of just hammering a square peg into a round hole. This makes Starbuck’s a part of the community while creating a unique, unforgettable brand experience.

As a final example, take a look at Banana Republic with their “classics never die” approach to fashion. Some may say this isn’t a nostalgic brand, but when compared to competing brands, their approach is much more nostalgic while still being innovative.
Case in point: The Monogram Collection. Banana Republic’s retooling of men’s suits pulls away from the baggy, zoot suit style tailoring with which Americans have become accustomed. They created a higher end, tailored suit that can be worn off the rack in a classic cut that’s always in style. They’ve brought the well-tailored suit and made it approachable and accessible – in essence innovating while still being nostalgic.

Nostalgia can work in any industry for any brand that understands how important it is to maintain roots. Whether locally or globally, roots add richness and depth to an individual’s personality, and brands that understand this become more human. Humanized brands are easy to befriend and love. So, like the gents from New York’s H2O once sang, “Don’t forget your roots.”

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