Brand experiences, not stuff!

Three years on from COVID, do we have a ‘new normal’ and what are the challenges facing brands in an ever-increasingly competitive market place?

During the pandemic, some 30% of spend on eating and drinking-out moved into the large retail food outlets and online, and certainly some of this trade has moved back into hospitality, but sadly there have been numerous casualties along the way.

In some instances this has been a result of continued, reduced city footfall as workers remain reluctant to return to a five day week in the office – and local towns, villages and suburbs have benefited with the switch of spend from urban to local, including restaurants, pubs and casual dining venues.

But it has also become evident that the food and cooking knowledge that many consumers gained during lockdown has raised the food quality and expectation bar and more and more consumers are no longer content with the mediocre and seek out venues offering elevated food and drink experiences.

These eateries combine delicious food with wonderful service and that magical other ingredient which separates a fabulous eatery from an average one – brilliant staff.

Without doubt, the restaurants and pubs that achieve the highest ratings are those whose service is impeccable and where customers are ‘entertained’ on a personal and individual level, not just served.

Staff who are always attentive, who can spot a problem before it happens, who are just visible without being disruptive and know how to make out of home feel like at home – but better!

Danny Meyer of the celebrated restaurant, The Gramercy Tavern in New York talks about all his staff having a high HQ – a high hospitality quotient. Whilst they don’t top the awards for best food or best wines or fine dining, they have been consistently voted Number 1 Restaurant in the World because of their focus on making their customers feel individual and special.

So what can FMCG brands learn from this elevation of consumer service?

In my mind one of the cleverest food brands of recent years has to be Graze. The surprise snack item which is a key component of every purchase is a brilliant idea – the unexpected gift, the conversation piece, the anticipation builder.

Graham Bosher, the founder of Graze had previously launched the successful, movie rental business LoveFilm and there is no doubt he understood all the wonderful, positive attributes of people watching a film together at home.

The special occasion, the ritual of getting everything ready – super comfy, snacks, drinks, surround-sound. And then to enjoy the treat, a surprise and the unexpected, the escapism as the drama unfolded before them.

And in founding Graze he considered all these attributes and hit upon the idea of the unexpected addition.

Each week, avid subscribers would wait with excitement and anticipation to receive their box. And as many had them delivered to work, it was only a matter of moments before colleagues were crowding round to see ‘what was new’ and to try and pinch a taste – and to also fall in love with the brand. Brilliant marketing.

A lot can be learned from businesses that both delight and surprise. They communicate at a deep human level, they trigger positive emotions and in doing so create experiences rather than sell stuff!

Brands, whatever sector they operate in are increasingly going to need to create powerful, emotive connections with their audience.

And those that make people smile by combining great product attributes with a wonderful experience are going to be the businesses that thrive.

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