The Best Brand Is....You!

Recently, I wrote an article discussing the Unique Selling Proposition: its definition, its use and its penultimate importance in all aspects of marketing, no matter what business you’re in. In another article, I told the story of Julie’s Mansion, a wonderful restaurant I was studying as a young hospitality school student. I mentioned that Julie (Jules F., the owner) was an eccentric, flamboyant entrepreneur who knew how to differentiate himself with the public by using the media and other crazy goings-on that took place in his restaurant on a totally irregular basis. Julie knew how to create a “Unique Selling Proposition” for his restaurant. His USP was classic. Julie had learned how to differentiate himself from the others competing in the same market segment. Moreover, he did it preemptively.

Let’s apply this definition to Julie and his Mansion. He first took a unique building; an old mansion built in the 1890’s, and turned it into one heck of a restaurant. Next he added impeccable food and service. Then, for entertainment, he differentiated his place with carefully chosen “jazz music” when not many were playing jazz on the radio or television. Finally, he added himself as the additional, no charge, and secret surprise ingredient.

His antics and reputation for craziness were both intriguing and appealing to this discerning crowd of upscale jazz lovers who could buy the best wherever they wanted. But you could only see Julie--live and in living color—here, at Julie's Mansion.

Julie was the preemptive factor.

Who could follow an act like that? And if they did, they would instantly be labeled a second-rate copy cat, no matter how good they were. First in is always best. Julie was first to do this, and he dominated that “position” in his target group’s mind for years.

He had designed and pulled off the perfect U.S.P.

This allowed him to “brand” himself by virtue of his offerings, his unpredictable behavior and his resultant reputation on the street and in the local media. These are the kinds of things he was famous for in his own place. People would go to Julie’s place firstly for the renowned food and service (you still can’t really be in this business without this) and to see what Julie would be up to next. What craziness would emanate from his office during the evening?

This was one of the most enjoyable student projects of my university career. I learned tons from Julie. I learned that branding is really theatre. It’s the taking of every single aspect of your business—as seen and experienced by the public—and then ‘managing’ those aspects so the buyer/customer experiences them discreetly as your brand within that category of food service outlets. Julie’s Mansion was a distinct brand of restaurant that included much more than the food, service and ambiance. Included, at no extra charge, was the surprise element of unique experiential enjoyment.

What is your brand? I’ll tell you what it’s not. It is not your name, logo, décor, website, menu, music, smiling serving people, prices, easy parking, location, ad campaign, or the color of your delivery vehicles. Sure the elements of your brand might include these components. But your brand is something that is identified as a perceptual experience by your customers and consumers. It’s a way that a customer “sees” you in his or her mind.

In the case of Julie, he was the brand. He personified the uniqueness of this business. He made that restaurant. He gave it a human face, one of laughter and surprise. His business was his own personal circus, and he knew it. He planned his moves and added his own spontaneity to come up with a blend of zaniness that intrigued and entertained people. They experienced his restaurant with stick-in-the-mind-memories. When someone was asked about Julie’s, they would respond: “isn’t that the big place on Jarvis street, with the wonderful food, owned by that whacko guy who does all the crazy stuff?” Notwithstanding the wonderful food and service, the question was never answered: “oh, yes, that’s the place on Jarvis street with the super food and service.”

You have the innate ability to be your own brand. For some, that will sound scary. But for others, those of us who have a bit of actor or actress in us, it will sound downright exciting and challenging. Break down your customers’ experiences into components that can be managed and offered better than is being done anywhere else in your local trading area... now. This is your basic recipe. Now add to that some uniqueness that customers/guests can't experience elsewhere. Mix in a bit of the unusual. Now turn up the heat, while adding a dash of surprise. Then cook on the front burner for a few minutes. Serve it up steaming hot.

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  • Hello, Maria:

    No, I don't think you're in the wrong place at all.
    (‘Although I can't comment on the folks in Kentucky).

    First, make sure that your food is really perfect the way you want it. Don’t fool yourself. Have other totally objective people ask people in your town to find out how your food is perceived by the market.

    There is nothing worse than drawing lots of traffic to your restaurant when you unknowingly have some serious problems. You are just spending time and money to “advertise” that you have problems. Those who experience them will only complain and tell many others. It’s when word of mouth, or mouse, really hurts you.

    So make sure your food, service, cleanliness and ‘value for money’ are all in place and nailed down tight...then get started with the ideas below.

    Naturally, the bigger the trading area or market you are in, the better it will be for a restaurateur who wants to differentiate herself with this sort of experiential ‘theatre’. Realize that it might be much more difficult in a small town or county. You have far fewer potential customers to draw on; and it’s much easier for the word to get around to your prospective customers.

    Julie's secret was that you NEVER KNEW just what he might be doing on any given night. His secret was the element of SURPRISE. People never knew what might happen, so they came to see for themselves.

    There was no opportunity for them to get "bored" with the same thing each night; because with some things, "if you've seen it once, you've seen it a dozen times.” It’s not often that you will read a book again or watch that movie again after just having seen it.

    Maria, SURPRISE is what you need.

    Grab a calendar, sit down and figure out what unique things you could do which are "Greek-oriented" ...for each of 30 successive nights. (If you don’t think you can come up with 30 separate things, then find at least 15). Find out as much as you can about Greece that the average person won't know; use that knowledge to create your 15-30 different scenarios for at night. Study all the games/sports they played there; get some help from other family members or friends who like to joke around and maybe are a bit of an actor themselves.

    Follow your calendar through one month, move it forward a few days in the next month, so there is no 'schedule' effect about what you might (or might not) do on any given night. This could be real fun....and no one else will be doing it except you.

    Remember you are really providing local "theatre".

    Get your local newspaper to come out and see what you do and write about it. Do the same with the local radio station. Generate some “ink” for your outlet.

    You are differentiating yourself....preemptively. No one else in your town or trading area will be doing these different Greek-oriented ‘things’ at night; the word should spread.

    People are attracted to differences, not just similarities, unless they are looking for ‘protection’ of sorts in knowing they will get the same quick, menu item all over the country.

    Don't forget to take lots of photos and make an album of all the crazy things you've been doing at night. Let the guests take a look at the album while at their table; generate discussion, interest and something different they just won't get over at Tom's, Dick's or Harry's restaurants.

    If they don't respond to something like this, then move to a bigger town/city... or if you have to live there, just be open for breakfast and lunch.

    Good Luck,

  • How much of Julie reminds of me. I do the same in Hardin county Ky. A Greek restaurant from the moment you walk in to the moment you leave. In the middle of the meal I will turn up the greek music and I will call like Zorba the Greek 'Let's dance" and I will be the first to take a few steps on the floor. They look at me like "Whatever" Maria. They are so tight but they do come for me and if I am not there they get didappointed. Like where is she? I supposed to be there 24/7. I do flambe' saganaki in the middle of the restaurant, we all exclaim OPA!!!! but still other than my busy lunches with the famous gyro sandwiches, I don't seem to boost my evenings. So, a couple hundred dollars from the lunch crowd is not enough to keep the spirit going. What am I doing wrong? Am I in the wrong place?
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