One of the most difficult questions a company can face is: how can I get a customer to like my business in what’s already a highly-saturated market? In the enterprise-fueled world we live in, if you want to be a nationally-recognized business, you will inevitably face tough competition. This could not be more true than in the food industry. With choices abounding, from everybody’s favorite pizza place to gourmet banh mi sandwiches, there’s always someone waiting to knock you out of the kitchen.
So what does it take to make it in the culinary arena? Industry innovators have spearheaded a fascinating trend in the culinary landscape known as the pop-up restaurant. Originating from the Bay Area by celebrity chef Ludo Levfebvre, pop-up restaurants allow entrepreneurs to freely express their culinary creativity and experiment with little risk. The chef rents out a pre-existing space for a short period of time, offering a new and well-crafted menu to the public. The start up phase is relatively inexpensive, as all that needs to be bought are ingredients, temporary staff, and rent. Using an existing space omits the need for new kitchen-required tools, and all food service–required licenses are already in place.
The Making of a Tantalizing Menu
In addition to their innovative menus, pop-ups have gained popularity because they tear down the walls between the chef and diner, allowing greater face-to-face interaction. As a result, the path is paved for a more unique and personalized customer experience. Of course, the celebrity chef phenomenon is often key to why this model works, and it’s no accident that these restaurants have roughly coincided with the rise of celebrity chefs and cooking shows. Part of why Lefebvre was successful was that he’d already built a well-known name for himself. When these types of establishments “pop-up,” they are relying on an established reputation (and the audience that goes along with it) and a frenzied notion of exclusivity to drive traffic. Since their lifespan is inherently limited, they’re only able to serve a certain number of people the highly sought-after culinary creations. Limited time and limited quantity are the key ingredients for creating a marketing masterpiece of demand and exclusivity.
The underlying business strategy that touts the high demand, limited supply mantra is certainly not new. Fear of missing out is arguably the biggest factor in the success of businesses like GroupOn and LivingSocial, for example, and has been used by advertisers for as long as advertising has existed. (“Act now! For a limited time only!”) But technology and the rise of social media help to intensify those feelings and have changed the way brands and companies connect with their customer base. At the same time, customers are becoming savvier, their attention harder to engage.
According to Stephan Paschalides, creative director at Now Plus One, a New York–based trends and consumer insights consulting agency, “Experiential marketing is really taking off … and consumers are expecting brands to offer them experiences outside of their usual scope.” Levfebvre recommends that brands think about the pop-up as a concept within a concept, a way to break into a new market without re-inventing the wheel.
This new spin on exclusivity has also been implemented by Target and their partnerships with high-end designers. The concept of designer-department store collaborations began in the 1970s with the notorious Halston for J.C. Penney’s fiasco. Typically viewed as a huge failure on Halston’s part, designers like Vera Wang and Martha Stewart have perfected these partnerships and made lucrative collections that now reach new markets. Unique to certain stores, these designers, however, lack the exclusivity of Target’s limited time collaborations with designers like Missoni, who in 2011 sold out completely in record time. Using the principle of exclusivity, Target has positioned their brand as much more than a superstore, but a specialty retailer bringing quality designer lines to a new trend-savvy market.
No matter the industry, however, any brand can learn from Lefebvre’s innovations, whether it’s engaging in direct marketing, SEO-related outreach, leveraging social media, or building a concept within an existing brand. So, how do you make your product stand out in a market that’s filled to the brim? When looking to capitalize on your brand’s exclusivity, here are some things to keep in mind:
The heart and soul of any marketing strategy should focus on customer engagement. Customers are the ones who make or break brand names and reputations. Whether it’s community outreach or posting on social platforms, interacting with your target audience directly or indirectly is how the relationship gets started. Pop-ups and designer-superstore partnerships are able to invoke a well-known name or notion of novelty along with their respective followings both as an attraction and as a conversation/word of mouth catalyst. In this vein, brands should focus on building and leveraging a unique voice or brand ambassador that resonates with their intended consumer. This is a great way to encourage and sustain interest among current and potential customers. The only thing better than a new customer is a repeat customer. No marketing tactic, exclusive or otherwise, can really take off without engaging with the consumer.
Various types of customer engagement, such as direct marketing, social, SEO, brand advocates, etc., can generate a more targeted exposure which in turn sparks interest, ultimately leading to potential revenue for your company. By engaging in dialogue or any other type of communication with customers via social platforms, you are building a relationship. These mediums are populated by people who want to be sociable, so marketers should play into that. Begin a causal dialogue, offer sneak peeks at products, limited time discount coupons, anything that would make them feel as if they are not merely a number to the brand but rather a name and a face. It is interactions like this that could strengthen the bond between retailer and consumer by deepening brand loyalty.
The chefs behind these pop-up restaurants can be viewed as revolutionaries. Breaking down the walls of the conventional restaurant experience and paving the way for a new trend in cuisine and culinary experience. Pop-ups across the country are offering new takes on classic and international flavors with tapas, Baja fusions, game meats, savory sweets, and charcuterie boards just to name a few. Breaking the typical mold and innovating a new concept has created a value of sustainability for this trend in the market. Thus giving themselves a viable and continued sting of demand for their offerings.
Nothing makes someone feel quite as special as being part of something that feels “invitation-only.” To be one of the few who get to enjoy a ramen burger, a nutella calzoncino, or a cricket bar is symbol of foodie success and a happy customer. There’s just something about a limited edition product that plays on the human desire to be first in line.