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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10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry
10/11/13 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , ,

10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry

Originally published on Branding Magazine

Most of us have used, or are at least familiar with using, archetypes as a way to identify and profile a core audience. There have been quite a few books written on the topic outlining numerous archetypes. Although informative, the books rarely focus on a specific industry as unique as the restaurant industry.

Archetypes tailored to food service may seem similar to other industries, but there are a few key differences. Their biggest point of differentiation is that individuals often shift their archetype. Whereas one day Mrs. Jones may be more interested in a hearty meal, the next day she wants to eat healthier. This means that a person may take on the characteristics of many different archetypes in any given span of time because of the emotional and physiological drivers of food and eating.

These frequent shifts further emphasize the need to use archetypes as a way to focus brand efforts as opposed to the more literal approach of demographic research in the restaurant industry.

In my experience as a restaurant brand strategist, I have encountered a number of archetypes that seem to pop up frequently. The following isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’ve outlined the 10 most common that I’ve seen.

Couponer. We all know them, the do-anything-to-save-a-penny kind of person who clips coupons, buys Groupons, and Scoutmob’s their faces off. These bargain hunters will go to just about anywhere that has a deal. Although they’re not loyal, they do spread the word about a restaurant, as they like to brag about their latest savings.

Hipster. If it isn’t mainstream and corporate, they’re going to love it. Keep it lo-fi and DIY. They like the craft and respect the handiwork that goes into every little detail. Hipsters like to keep a good thing a secret, so don’t expect them to tell the world about an establishment. They are incredibly loyal as long as it never becomes a mainstream joint.

Superparent. Well-informed young people are bearing children and they’re bringing their penchant for research, knowledge and understanding to the table. They want food that’s good for their family. This means more organic, gluten-free, and produce sourced locally. Affordability for the quality is also a hot button issue for this archetype. The Superparent will exercise a great deal of loyalty, and are likely to referring other Superparents to a restaurant.

Evergreen. Some may call them hippies, but this group has grown beyond that stereotype. The Evergreen is looking for a socially responsible company beyond the cuisine and food offering. What light bulbs are being used? What green efforts are being employed throughout the operations? What is the carbon-footprint? The answers to these questions appeal to the Evergreen greatly. A socially conscious establishment will find unbreakable loyalty and a word-of-mouth fanaticism from this archetype.

Pseudo-Foodie. They’ll talk about things like “presentation” and “chef-driven,” and they’ll pay attention to textures and technique. They’ll do this at a fast casual restaurant and post about it in great detail on Yelp. These are the Pseudo-foodies and they clock over 20 hours of Food Network programming per week; adding to their “expert knowledge.” You won’t find much loyalty, but will find some word of mouth as they must be sure let everyone know about their latest culinary experience.

Fitness Freak. One part Healthnut, and one part Gym Rat, the Fitness Freaks seek a healthy restaurant experience that caters to their dietary needs and, often more importantly, their image of fitness. For them, Fitness isn’t just something they strive to attain, it’s a lifestyle they constantly announce to the world. Healthy food options, with nutritional information are going to appeal to this group.

Straightshooters. No hoopla. No nonsense. They just want good food for a good price. They’re not worried about sourcing, green initiatives, calories, and so on. They want it with the least amount of bells and whistles. The good thing about the Straightshooter is they can be quite loyal to simple brands. They may not broadcast it to the world, but they will be a sustaining force behind any solid concept.

Socialite. Did you just open? Are you the hottest place on the hottest scene? Are celebrities and high rollers frequenting your spot? Then you’re prime for a Socialite to grace your establishment. The Socialite wants to see and be seen. They want to be at the newest openings at the most expensive restaurants. They want celebrity status. They’ll tell everyone they can about your new spot, but will most likely accompany your accolades with a flimsy undermining comment to ensure it’s understood that they deserve better. The Socialite will come back as long as the restaurant is the talk of town. Once it gets quiet, they’ll be on to the next.

Wanderluster. These are the culinary adventurers. If it’s new and unheard of, they’re going to be there digging in. The Wanderluster is looking for a new experience with new, different food. This could be mean extremely new like schnitzel, or just different than the mainstream like Thai. Either way they are constantly expanding their culinary horizons and experiences one concept at a time and they’re super excited to talk about it. The Wanderluster is more likely to be a blogger as they also like to document their experiences.

Manly Man. Don’t let the name fool you. Women easily fall into this archetype as well. The Manly Man wants a heap of savory, deliciousness on a plate for a good price. These people couldn’t care less about your dainty plates of healthy food. They want it good and they want a lot of it. They’re ready to eat well and drink great beer without a second thought to anything but price. They want value, but will pay for the goodness they get. Manly Men also like to talk about their gluttonous exploits and will devote themselves wholeheartedly to their favorite hearty hotspots.

As stated earlier, these are just 10 of the common archetypes I’ve experienced and seen in action. When developing brand messaging and identity, it’s essential that we look to archetypes as a guide, and not as an absolute totem.

What food-lover archetypes have you encountered? What kind of characteristics of brand loyalty to they tout?

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