This article was written in conjunction with Women Leading Kentucky, which is an exceptional nonprofit organization designed to uplift business leaders and students through roundtable discussions, networking events, and annual scholarships. The roundtable discussions and networking luncheons hosted by Women Leading Kentucky sell out quickly, so please reserve your spot for the next event today: http://bit.ly/17ihrgg
Most professional marketers and members of academia can agree that a natural and critical place to start building a brand is with market research and customer segmentation. However, it is rare to see small business owners take this crucial step to the extremes that Diane and Rob Perez did when creating a new dining concept in Lexington, KY. The wife-husband team’s text-book approach to building a business by focusing on the brand has proven to be wildly successful. During the most recent roundtable discussion hosted by Women Leading Kentucky, Rob Perez shared the inner workings of this approach, which included market research, target market segmentation, brand vision, and brand storytelling. He also touched on the challenges and growing pains involved in developing a new brand. In the last section of this article, the author will offer two additional marketing tactics that could be employed to enhance Perez’s efforts.
Marketing Research = Insight
Long before Team-Perez opened their first restaurant in Lexington, KY, Rob Perez was earning experience and gaining insight into the themed-dining category. He worked for Hard Rock Café for ten years and while working for Disney helped to launch the ESPN Zone concept. During Perez’s tenure at these two national, casual dining brands, he learned, through in-depth focus groups and market research, that there was an obvious disconnect between consumer behavior and existing restaurants. Specifically, Perez’s experience afforded him two valuable insights.
First, he learned that women are much more likely to make dining choices than men. Perez’s earned knowledge has been reaffirmed by Nielsen’s most recent consumer spending report, which acknowledged that not only do women handle the bulk of the purchasing decisions, but that “women will control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade” (U.S. Women Control the Purse Strings, 2013).
Beyond the decision-making and spending power that the modern woman wields, during Perez’s market research for ESPN Zone, he learned that consumers felt inundated with the sheer number of sports bars in the market. He said that women felt that marketers in the dining industry were focusing too much on males’ preferences and motivations.
Armed with these two valuable insights, Team-Perez set out to design a brand that would recognize the clear spending patterns and reflect the preferences of women. However, what is important to note about their successful approach to branding was that they further segmented the female target market into a specific type of woman. Perez noted that their brand targets female leaders, “who carry nice handbags.” Furthermore, to create a convincing business case for the brand, Team-Perez conducted their own in-depth market research with the members of Women Leading Kentucky. Perez explained that they wanted their brand to be a mirror image of the needs, desires, and motivations of its segmented target market, which was conveniently represented by this organization.
A Clear Vision
True to text-book form, once Team-Perez conducted research to define and refine its target market, they moved on to create a definable vision for their casual dining brand. This vision was depicted in rich imagery throughout their business plan. Perez clarified that the team displayed inspirational photographs that illustrated what the brand would look and feel like. With this futuristic vision in place, Perez explained that all business decisions and marketing strategies, which were and are continually developed for the brand, ideally embody and reflect that vision. He suggested that this approach takes discipline, but if employed successfully, can translate into a consistent brand that customers understand and come to expect.
The Story of Saul
In a September 2013 article in AdWeek, it was proposed that “brands need to move away from thinking about branded content and embrace true storytelling” (Hamm, para. 1). Team-Perez has long since understood the power behind a story when developing and growing a brand. In fact, after birthing the vision for the casual dining brand, the Perezes named their baby, Saul Good. Of course, every person has a story, so the team made the calculated move to tell Saul’s story to its target market.
As Saul Good’s patrons have come to understand, Saul grew up on the east coast in his father’s jewelry store, which he was destined to take over. However, as Saul traveled the world to acquire fine jewels for the inherited business, he fell in love with the tastes and allure of Belgium – in particular Belgium chocolate. This love affair caused Saul to convert the family jewelry business into his namesake dining spot, where his customers can be overheard describing the music, food, drink and delectable chocolate as so good that, “It’s Saul Good!”
In his presentation, Perez readily admitted as Saul Good has grown from a concept to three thriving restaurants in Lexington, KY, the journey has not been without its challenges. He said he and Diane have learned from hard lessons in reputation management, staffing management, and social accountability. For example, Perez made clear that a crucial factor in growing the Saul Good brand is being accountable for how it directly impacts the staff and community. He said that giving back to the community and remaining relevant and supportive of the growing staff are two areas that Team-Perez name as top priorities.
A Note from the Author: “A Marketing Perspective”
As a formally educated and professionally trained marketer, I was not expecting an impressive branding success story to come from a restaurateur. However, I was clearly wrong. Diane and Rob Perez are more than restaurateurs; they are savvy product developers with a keen understanding of branding. My introduction to their dining concept, Saul Good, reminded me of the final lines of the Disney movie, Ratatouille (2007):
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.
The Saul Good brand is only five years old, but it has proven to embody the power and clout of casual dining brands that have been operating for decades. But, it is still new and needs friends to continue to grow. Therefore, I feel compelled to offer unsolicited marketing advice for this impressive start-up. While I have a near endless number of ideas for Saul Good, for the purposes in this article, I will share two possible marketing tactics.
Using Social Media to Listen to Your Target Market. The widely acclaimed book, Groundswell (2011) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, has become known as the professional marketer’s guide book to social media. In the first section of Groundswell, Li and Bernoff recommended that using social media “is no substitute for traditional research, but it can fill in the details once you’ve identified a trend” (p. 94).
What you never thought to ask might be the most important questions for your businesses.
In the case of Saul Good, its owners conducted essential, traditional market research and identified a consumer behavior trend and a corresponding target market that when coupled together had enough depth to develop an entire brand around it. However, traditional market research only gives answers to specific questions that were asked of a specific group of constituents. On the other hand, using social media to conduct ongoing research can give answers to questions that a business owner never thought to ask. According to Bernoff and Li, “What you never thought to ask might be the most important questions for your businesses” (2005, p. 80).
Your brand is whatever people say it is.
Now that the Saul Good brand effectively represents three successful restaurants, the owners should consider implementing a robust social media marketing plan that is designed to guide an ongoing effort to understand the target market and what they are talking about online. As brand theorist, Ricardo Guimaraes put it, “Your brand is whatever people say it is” (Bernoff & Li, 2011, p. 93). In other words, owners of a brand can be as consistent and diligent as possible when it comes to developing what they aspire the brand to be, but, alas, the brand is really determined by whatever its stakeholders are saying about it. Ergo, using social media technologies in a systematic way to listen to and persistently monitor what is being said about a brand is a critical piece to the modern marketing puzzle.
Using Social Media to Talk With and Engage Your Target Market.
If a business is merely using social media channels to shout-out promotional messages, it will not appear that any true listening is taking place.
The authors of Groundswell suggested that using social media tools to listen to your target market, but “failing to exploit the information is like buying a jet and forgetting where you parked it” (2011, p. 96). Many business owners have Twitter and Facebook accounts, because they do understand the value in listening to their target market. But, if that business is merely using social media channels to shout-out promotional messages, it will not appear that any true listening is taking place.
Instead of broadcasting random or seasonal promotions on Facebook, modern marketers recommend that businesses should create original content, deliver it (on a weekly basis) to online communities, and give those communities compelling reasons to engage with the content. For example, Saul Good’s owners could create a social media campaign around the concept of asking their patrons to help write the next chapter in Saul’s story. Saul’s original legend could be revived in an interactive blog post and corresponding YouTube video. Then, Saul Good’s staff could give fliers to diners, which direct them to an online collaborative storytelling platform (e.g. http://scriball.com/), where they could easily contribute to the continuing story of Saul’s journey.
They want to be collaborators in creating the story with the brand
The aforementioned AdWeek article about the power behind brand-storytelling specified that effective “stories rely on the intended audience to develop their own imagery and detail to complete and, most importantly, to create;” therefore, “when we start to program a brand, we need to understand its full narrative and which parts of the story we need to create, which to co-create with the audience and which to leave to allow the audience to impart and complete their own meaning” (Hamm, 2013). Moreover, John Coleman of Fast Company claimed that “consumers now demand greater involvement in almost every aspect of their lives as the internet has empowered them to know more, control more, and do more. They want to be collaborators in creating the story with the brand” (2012, para. 5) The co-creation story of Saul’s continuing journey is, of course, just one of many ways to use social media to harness the power of consumer engagement, but it certainly could be a meaningful one.
The future of Saul Good is bright. Anyone who has eaten in one of the three restaurants or had the pleasure of listening to Team-Perez describe the development process understands that the Saul Good brand is not the logo, the zebra print, or the Belgium chocolate, but an alluring relationship between Saul and his fans. http://saulgoodpub.com/saul-good-locations/
Bernoff, J. & Li, C. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Coleman, J. (2012). Why Collaborative Storytelling is the Future of Marketing. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1826645/why-collaborative-storytelling-future-marketing
Hamm, J. (2013). Why Agencies and Brands Need to Embrace True Storytelling; Branded Content is Not the Same Thing. AdWeek. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/why-agencies-and-brands-need-embrace-true-storytelling-152534
U.S. Women Control the Purse Strings. (2013). Nielsen. Retrieved on October 10, 2013 from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2013/u-s–women-control-the-purse-strings.html