Posts in Restaurant trends

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Pet food, Restaurant trends, Social community, Social media, Transformation 1 comment on “Building Trust in the Midst of Fear”

Efforts to create, innovate and communicate will inform your brand’s future

You’ve undoubtedly run across the ‘dystopian future’ movie storyline, usually brought on by some cataclysmic disaster with intrepid or hysterical survivors running into a grocery store, only to be greeted by empty shelves while wading through torn packaging detritus everywhere. I had this movie-like experience only last night at the Mariano’s supermarket nearby. I witnessed the fear-driven cart Olympics mad dash as aisle after aisle of products were emptied save a lone, bruised apple and a dented, torn box of cereal left dangling precariously on an otherwise barren shelf.

Uncertainty and media drama are partners in the perceptual stew that pushes people into behaviors normally reserved for cinematic storytelling. Fear of the unknown grips as the house now achieves safe haven sanctuary status and toilet paper becomes one of the most elusive, rare and sought-after commodities in the nation.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In 1940 at the height of the Blitzkrieg (The Blitz) that showered Great Britain with bombs in the night, dropped indiscriminately on London neighborhoods, the government released its now famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On. This statement became a dominant theme embraced by incredibly brave British citizens in the face of unrelenting catastrophe and sharpened their resolve to weather the life-threatening storm.

Right now, today, you have an opportunity to help your customers Keep Calm and discover the opportunities presented by a large dose of enforced family time and homebound adventures and experiences. Creative, innovative thinking and generous outreach is the required skillset.

Lemonade from lemons

The foodservice industry is taking it on the chin. In Seattle, the hardest hit city in the nation from COVID-19, business has virtually disappeared from restaurants as people remain home. Arguably Seattle’s finest dining establishment, Canlis, an iconic example of culinary quality that has led the dining scene there for decades, elected to close.

Chef-owner Tom Douglas told Restaurant Business magazine revenue was off by 90%, which might as well be 100%. Nonetheless, Douglas’ response was instructive to us all. He announced the opening of three concepts based out of Canlis kitchens that will serve the takeout, drive through and home delivery market segments. The Bagel Shed will offer breakfast options; Drive on Thru will provide lunchtime burgers, veggie melts and salad; Family Meal will offer a rotating menu of dinner entrees and a bottle of wine delivered to your door. A creative deployment of solutions and assets that helps keep the team employed while answering the opportunity for off-premise consumption business.

Salve for Uncertainty

Communication, and lots of it, is required in these unprecedented times. Your motivation is not only to inform users of what your business is doing to keep the flow of goods and services they need safely in motion, but also to express care and concern for their health, wellbeing and happiness.

The schools my daughters attend are now closed. My youngest is a dancer, and her classes and performances have been cancelled. My oldest is an ice skater and the rink is shut and practices stopped. What we have going is each other, our wonderful dogs, more time together and adventurous spirits.

How can your brand operate as coach and guide for family activities, more hands-on experiences with the pets, and a renewed focus on home-prepared meals? With no sports, no concerts, no large group events of any kind, the marketplace may well be listening and consumers more open to engagement than ever before. There are certainly wayyy fewer distractions competing for precious attention.

Your brand’s ability to operate as an enabler and resource is important in this environment. Social communities can become outlets of shared experience. In Chicago, the Nextdoor online community bulletin board is on fire as people share thoughts, ideas and concerns on the changes occurring before us. One of the most active conversations is around the status of fresh food supplies in local supermarkets and guidance on who has what.

People want to share and engage with each other

We have arrived at a new era where businesses increasingly understand they are about more than manufacturing, retailing and commerce. Companies have discovered their growing role in authoring the greater good. This self-discovery opens the door to building a more human and approachable brand that understands relationships with users are increasingly like real, human friendships and the natural reciprocity that exists in that personal dynamic.

When brands talk, walk and behave in a more human and relate-able manner, they become more resonant and trustworthy. You have been handed an extraordinary opportunity to help people in the midst of a trying storm. Empathy is a great characteristic and will serve you well as people embrace your voice of reason and support.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Mining the Marketing Gap: Promises and Expectations Lost

June 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, food experiences, Restaurant trends, shopper experience, Social media 0 comments on “Mining the Marketing Gap: Promises and Expectations Lost”

Actions and experience overtake words…

You see the ad on TV for the casual restaurant chain; beautiful food, luscious, mouth-watering dishes redolent in bright colorful hues with freshly-made steam stunts and sizzle sound effects designed to get that mouth watering. You might eat the screen.

We’re confident the chain brand minders see these displays of gastronomic splendor as adoring portraits of what they want consumers to believe. You can almost taste the flowing, cascading drawn butter. But then…there’s the actual experience. You can also see the disappointment train hurtling towards the taste buds at break-neck speed, when in reality the product itself can’t reasonably fulfill the promise envisioned in the marketing.

Over-cooked proteins running along side the previously freezer-burn state of ingredients comes through in chewy textures and dryness that slams head-on into the saucy, just-ripe, fresh product pictorial. Imagery can be artfully arranged on beautiful plates displayed in the advertising. If everyone could just eat the ad, please!

What’s the price of breaking a promise and expectation?

What is presented as hand crafted comes through as factory made, and in that bright shining moment the aura of disenchantment comes home to roost. Yes you can cynically declare, “sure but what did they expect, it’s a chain restaurant after all, not some high-end white tablecloth place.” Even in the silver service trade the same experiences of historic letdown can be had when chefy epicurean food doesn’t ring true and questions arise about who is really behind the kitchen stove.

Just beyond the restaurant service levels, dining room experience, wait times, order accuracy, cleanliness, friendliness and all-around happiness-inducing procedures, lurks the opportunity to either delight or dissatisfy.

Across the continuum of retail experiences from supermarkets to clothing retailers to department stores, boutiques and beyond, everyday there are moments available to wow and surprise or participate in an epic fail. In today’s digital culture, the reality, broad-daylight moments can be relayed to communities of friends or fans in mere seconds -replete with accompanying photography or video to verify the facts.

True experience is key. The validation of assertions in marketing is so incredibly important, we, at Emergent, have built an entire marketing model around trust creation. We call it Validation Marketing. The price of failure to build trust is just too great. Reputation is everything and reality is the truth serum administered daily by measuring the gap between promise, purpose and actual proof.

The decline of marketing effectiveness has often been laid off to the “interruptive” tactics of forcing people to gulp down sales messages. Now that consumers have control over media, the force-feeding is about gone. Persuasion sits on the garbage pile of old-line mass media ploys – a communications dog that just won’t hunt anymore as consumers click to avoid the onslaught.

However we have another aligned explanation: the wink-wink of imagined expectation vs. authenticity served early and often, has constructed a concrete chasm between brands and their users. You cannot underestimate the fallout, the insidious rust and corrosion that’s heaped on brand/consumer relationships when ‘actual results may vary’ stings the hardest. It happens all too often when what someone thought would occur inside the store or product package gives way to the “the little white lie” that was shaped with cinematic story in the marketing.

Transparency reigns supreme

There have been too many trips to disappointment junction. What we now have is a belief breach in the brand relationship. If the product or store experience doesn’t match the marketing is it wrong to go there in the first place? It might be.

Every brand, every business today lives in a glass house. What can be known will be known digitally, quickly and by ever-larger audiences. So the distance between anticipated outcome and actual experiences must be closed. The trophy in the battle for future growth will go to those marketers who understand the significance of this behavior principle. Sweating the details of how everything works to deliver on expectations is required. What you say, especially do and provide must all match up.

How does an organization assure that the truth is told rather than fiction? If the truth about the product is sub-optimal, fix the product – ditto store experience. By the way, the product and experience IS the marketing.

When transparency is embraced as a marketing principle, the move to ‘reveal all’ changes the paradigm of how plans, programs and communications are built. If you are amply proud of your product and store experience because the real encounter and formula is indeed terrific, then pulling the communications curtain open a bit wider becomes more comfortable, do-able.

  • Trust sits at the core of everything in marketing and in business. Having respect for the consumer’s welfare and intelligence should share equal stature in how strategies are created. Employing trusted sources and voices as part of the marketing mix are vital to helping validate what is promised.

This is the price of admission, now, to a brand relationship. It’s a 360-degree approach to marketing and planning that recognizes how all aspects of what a brand or store or restaurant does and how it performs must be factored into the trust equation.

What delivery on the promise looks like:

  • SweetGreen’s promise of devotion to fresh, real produce ingredients is true and lives in the product experience.
  • Starbuck’s assertion as a third-place of social experience is for the most part, a true thing (some recent behavioral missteps a note-able exception).
  • Apple’s promise of intuitive product experience is for the most part, true.
  • Amazon’s delivery of a friction-less e-commerce shopping environment bears truth daily.

For every true there’s many more that routinely blow the tire between what’s promoted and what happens. The organization’s total commitment to optimal quality and experience is required BEFORE communications are designed.

Communications inspired by transparent outreach and allowing consumers inside the tent, will win out over the portraiture that looks great on the surface, but is hiding something else underneath. The really great athletes in virtually every category of competitive sport achieve their fame and fortunes daily by working, sweating, training, trying and performing. They are driven to do so.

Marketing should fully embrace those same operating principles, energy and work ethic. No disguise needed.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine

May 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Culinary inspiration, Digital ordering, Food service, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Retail brand building 0 comments on “Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine”

Can regulation make it rain?

On Monday, May 7 Federal regulations went into effect requiring any foodservice retail business with 20 or more locations to begin posting nutritional details for food and beverage items on their menus. For most foodservice operators this means a revamp of menu descriptions and the addition of nutrition data sections at their web site and point of order. Typically this features spreadsheet-type lists spraying a blurry, eye chart-worthy inventory of calorie, fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium stats.

But hidden within the clarion call for more what-you’re-eating disclosure is a potential restaurant business goldmine. At stake is an important regulatory-inspired opportunity for change. Important given foodservice businesses already face increased dining dollar competition from the significant resurgence of home cooked meal popularity. Yes, a home kitchen renaissance is underway, spurred by pervasive consumer interest in healthier foods and a desire to exercise more control over meal preparations, portions, costs and ingredients choices.

  • Studies show consumers believe dining out means agreement to compromise on their healthy eating interests while they navigate a trip down the boulevard of indulgence. A recent report by food industry trends watcher The Hartman Group, revealed consumers increasingly blame restaurants for a stunningly short list of healthier choices and absence of transparency around food – thus why they feel obligated to stow their healthy lifestyle interests at the vestibule of their favorite restaurant.

According to Hartman’s work, when the majority of consumers who already claim eating out is less healthy answer why this is true for them, the top scoring reason ̶ at 41 percent of those surveyed ̶ was a focus on ‘other things’ rather than health and wellness. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

If prevailing food culture shifts point to home-cooked meals as the best and healthiest option for the vast majority of consumers, where does that leave restaurants on the better-for-you lifestyle bandwagon?

Could regulation make it rain?

The regulatory requirements may have issued a super-sized opportunity to reframe the restaurant menu story around a greater variety of healthier menu options. Then advanced with new technology that allows patrons to configure their own more informed, personalized menu choices ahead of arrival or on site with mobile friendly apps.

Reformulation through culinary innovation

But first, is the product itself. Restaurant meals can be made healthier without sacrificing taste by applying some of the more enlightened thinking now fueling the growth of new, emerging packaged food brands that are mounting a supermarket shelf takedown. Novel ingredients, cooking techniques, new forms of sweetening using natural sugars or sauces made with vegetable broths; meat alternatives formulated from nuts or pea protein – a cornucopia of new innovation is circling the food industry with an offer of improved nutritionals while delivering the indulgent flavors and textures of chef-inspired food.

There’s simply no longer any reason why menu items can’t be made healthier while retaining taste. It may add cost per serving but then we’ve also have seen repeatedly seen that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier fare if it can be verified as such – assuming taste is not sacrificed on the alter of improved nutrition numbers.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and MyMenu Tech

San Diego-based digital foodservice player HealthyDiningFinder.com, originally stepped into the restaurant marketplace to curate a search-able database of restaurants offering healthy menu items. More recently, they’ve rolled out their new MyMenu platform at CPK and Mexican cuisine specialist Rubio’s Coastal Grill, an algorithm driven business that offers restaurants a plug-and-play solution to their regulatory obligations, but served in a more user-friendly experience. It also brings a compelling add-on benefit: personal menu customization.

California Pizza Kitchen’s MyMenu pages open the door to new reasons to visit: With a few short clicks using a sliding bar selection tool on desired nutritional limits, the platform automatically sorts menu choices according to these preferences while calling up attractive photos and detailed descriptions of each dish or beverage. It reveals what’s in them and what they impart in terms of nutrition impact (calories, fat, sugar, etc.).

The Rubio’s MyMenu page also offers a pre-set list of menu alternatives created by Healthy Dining’s dietitian experts around lifestyle preferences such as Energy, Fit Lifestyle and Weight Control. Each choice rolls up special menus based on these specific interests.

The tool’s flexibility creates the option to customize a dish with ingredient swap-outs or to build a full meal while each dish and drink selection repopulates the overall impact on nutrition outcomes, so you know immediately how many calories and fat grams are involved.

  • In a soon-to-arrive platform enhancement, Healthy Dining says guests will be able to save selections for future use, and there will be options for purchase on-site, for pick-up or delivery. Then patrons will be able to build and retain their own personal menu for a variety of their favorite eateries using the tool  ̶  all based on individual dietary preferences and healthy dining interests.

Of course, the key here is to actually have healthier choices available, and in doing so, solve the dilemma of perceived nutritional sacrifice that restaurant eating might entail. The goldmine is simple: remove the friction from healthier choice at out-of-home eating by offering more healthy choices.

Then look to software platforms like MyMenu to allow patrons to examine, sort and retain their healthy meal preferences ̶ and with it creating an opportunity to forge foodservice brand preference.

For those restaurants that get this right, it could be an equally compelling do-it-for-me dining offer that rivals the siren song of home cooked healthier meals.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

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