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Follow trends, one guest at a time

During a recent speech given to a room full of hoteliers, with a nod to Sam Hill, I laid out my version of the key trends impacting retail in general, and hospitality & foodservice in particular.

Customization is King. From Casual dining concepts offering mix-and-match dinners, to Hoteliers like Joie de Vivre providing first time guests a tour of San Francisco completely tailored to the desires of the guest, brands are seeing the value of giving the guest both a choice and a role in creating the outcome. This is not new. Fuddruckers’ original success was a direct result of giving the guest a chance to make the World’s Greatest Hamburger. It only suggests that this ‘trend’ is a tidal wave and not a gentle ripple, because it’s been a long time coming. The consumer wants choice and a role. They determine your brand, one experience at a time. Implications? Customization is not recreating the wheel every time, but breaking the brand down into manageable chunks, to be reconstituted into experiences that feel unique to each guest.

More Noise, Less Filling: Inundated with information and wired for more — that’s today’s consumer’s paradox. We love our email, our instant messaging, our internet and our cell phones, but our brains cannot absorb the amount of data rushing at us. A brand that has imbedded itself in the non- logical part of the brain (where do you think Lexus, Harley or Starbucks’ brands reside?) provides the comfort of stress free identification. Those brands also happen to enjoy an enormous competitive advantage. People buy experiences that ‘fill up their emotional bellys’ and reject messages hurled at them because you think it’s relevant. Besides, it’s not just noise, it’s boring. Implications? Be true to whom you are, reflect exactly how the customer perceives you and up the dial on the experience, itself.

Tribes emerge. Demos are ‘so yesterday’. We’re no longer constrained by physical or geographic barriers because of interconnectivity, so consumers can now congregate with those of like passion, regardless of location. The best brands focus on these Tribe’s passions (think Harley again). Yet marketers and CEO’s are still stuck in the time warp of 25–54 demo targets. Wait until the business world wakes up to realize that the rating system feeding that measurement dinosaur has been over-estimating the reach of advertising. They’re not getting their money’s worth. Worse, it’s ‘targeted’ to a generalized populace, when our culture is becoming more splintered than ever. How many cable channels are there again? 500? There will be panic and fury run amok in the halls of executive row. Implications? Niche marketing just got more interesting. You can target more effectively and appeal to that non-logical center of each of us. Passions rule. Transactions bore.

You’re lying: No one tells the truth. Companies don’t. People don’t. Brands don’t or that is what it seems. Consumer BS meters are at an all time level of sensitivity. Conversely, there is a deep (or maybe even deeper) need to believe. Companies that focus in on their ‘key value’, the essential moral, if you will, that fuels their passion, will endure. It also increases the chance that the branded promise will be delivered repeatedly. The value driven brand won’t just win, it will dominate. Lexus is the king of this. People know if you mean it. So, walk the talk. Implications? If you explicitly try and live your values, consumers will give you plenty of slack. Everyone understands that perfection is impossible. But, the pursuit of excellence is a journey worth taking, one which guests will want to take with you.

Know & Appreciate me: People want to be acknowledged even as they are cynical and depressed about the prospects. When the best WOW a QSR guest can give me is that someone thanked them sincerely, you know we’re operating like zombies. Implications? Anyone who provides a personal touch (Hello??? Thank You??? Welcome???) is miles ahead of the pack. Imagine what could be done if people actually were recognized? Take your loyalty club and reimagine it as a conversation club, not a coupon dispenser.

Make it exactly like I remember, only better: It’s not nostalgia at work here, but a hunger for some imagined ‘better time’, when things were done with pride and care, when a claim of quality was more believable. The truth is that products may have had those characteristics, but they had other flaws we won’t accept today. Some of the retro car designs play into this. So the smart marketer stakes a sword in the sand around being excellent or operating with integrity and the product they produce will fulfill these longings.Implications? Consumers in this country, in spite the sneers of style mavens, like the artful, if artificial recreation of the past. They appreciate quality and expect it, but the success of Universal Walk in LA or much of Las Vegas as true, egalitarian gathering places, demonstrates that the search for a memory is really a search for community.

You shut up! No, you shut up!: We’re feeling angrier and angrier. Road Rage rules. Partisanship has gotten nastier, consumers less patient and everyone is exhausted. Politeness can become a differentiating brand characteristic. Being the friendliest place in town is not a goofy aspiration, but a way to beat the bejezus out of the competition. Implications? You first hire based on attitude and energy, then on someone who is inspired by your passion. The rest is training and these associates will be able, not just to withstand consumer’s frustrations, but also sooth them with genuine caring.

There are plenty more trends that affect us, but these are my Sweet Seven. Tell me if you don’t see these at work in your life. They aren’t just passing fads, but powerful emotional shifts that have taken, in some cases, years to reach their crest. But once the roller coaster descends, companies unprepared for the ride are flung into oblivion and business school case studies.

Rick Hendrie is President & Chief Experience Officer of LINK Inc– Remarkble Branding

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