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Unique selling point – vol. 2

See “Unique selling points – vol. 1
I hear all the time from owners and operators that companies like Applebee’s are successful because of their big advertising budgets. I say “bull”. Applebee’s, for example, is successful because of it’s branding. It’s the effectiveness of their marketing that gives them their competitive advantage, not the number of dollars they sink into it. Branding yourself is more than just employing millions of dollars worth of repetitive marketing. That is not why the marketing programs for chains work.

Branding yourself starts, the whole marketing program starts, with choosing a unique selling point, choosing that thing that makes you different. Here’s a clue for that thing; It’s NOT your food or service. If you’re running around telling everyone your food is better, you sound just like everyone else. That’s not unique, it’s the opposite of unique. No matter how much you tell everyone how great your food or service is, you’re not giving them any reason to come to you that all your competitors aren’t also giving them. Point of clarification: ALL YOUR COMPETITORS THINK THEY HAVE BETTER FOOD AND SERVICE THAN YOU, AND THEY TELL EVERYONE THEY CAN.

While there are people that will say a certain place has the best food, or the best service, these are only perceptions, and perceptions can be based as much on a businesses marketing as it can it’s product. Keep in mind, there are millions of people out there that think Applebee’s food is better than anyone’s, including yours. Is that an opinion based on any type of objective analysis or professional expertise? NO! It’s an opinion, most likely driven by emotion, the emotional bond Applebee’s has formed with that customer. Let’s face it, 9oz steaks and microwaved vegetables are NOT better than your food. No way. But…. to those people that go to Applebee’s religiously, it’s perceived as better, or at least a better value, and perception is reality.

So Applebee’s has millions of marketing dollars to brainwash their customers, and that’s why so many people think they’re the best, right? WRONG! It’s not the marketing dollars that create the perception, it’s the effectiveness of the message.

One thing Applebee’s did from the beginning, back in 1980 I think, they chose a unique selling point. They created a story or an image that separated them from their competition. Then they created a moniker to support it, and designed their store around that USP. Applebee’s markets themselves as “America’s favorite neighbor”. They sell their customers a sense of community, whether their customers recognize it or not. Notice the unpretentious design to the inside of an Applebees. The stained glass windows in the door. The fixtures that almost make you think of the nice old couple down the block. Notice how they make an effort to decorate their stores with photos and memorabilia from the city or region that the store is in, or when they can’t, other items you would expect to see in that nice old couples garage or house.

Applebee’s sells their customers a sense of community. They want to be viewed as that favorite neighbor on the block, that nice old couple down the street. By doing this, they attach themselves to an emotion present in everyone, the need for community, the comfort of being at a beloved neighbor’s house.

THAT is a USP. Notice, I didn’t once mention food or service anywhere. Food and service can also back up the USP, but it can’t BE the USP, because there is nothing unique about claiming you have better food or service than anyone. A USP separates you from your competition, it doesn’t lump you into the same group. Then, when you have built your concept effectively around a USP, you will begin to make that emotional connection to your customer that is stronger than any connection you can make with your food or service. If you’re really good at delivering on your USP, and you push it in all your marketing from your logo to your ads, you will effectively brand your restaurant as THE place to go when customers want to feel the way your USP claims you will make them feel.

Emotions are the primary reason for humans to make any buying decision. Big corporations know this, and they employ marketing companies that help them exploit this. Armed with emotion marketing, the quality of food and service becomes secondary, as people can be marketed into believing food and service is actually better than it is. As I’ve said many times, that doesn’t mean good food and service aren’t important, it just means they are a minimum requirement for being successful, not the primary reason for it.

Once again, it’s not the big ad budget that makes companies like Applebee’s strong. It’s the effectiveness of that marketing message.

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