Good morning ️
A few years ago, I attended a writing residency program in Yangshuo, China with a group of writers who hailed from different parts of the world. We stayed at a small, 12-bedroom inn surrounded by karst mountains and overlooking the Li River.
It was spring and the flowers were blooming; and every day during meal times the owner of the inn — who also happened to be the program's host — told us how each dish had been procured and produced.
The green vegetables were sourced from the garden behind the inn, as were the mushrooms. The eggs came from a local chicken farm not fifteen minutes away from the inn. The tofu was homemade, produced by the two women who practically ran the inn; and the tea came from a tea house which had its own plantation up in the Yangshuo highlands.
It didn’t occur to me then, but looking back on that trip, it astounds me how much those stories had contributed to way we experienced flavor. The process of procuring the ingredients of the meals we were eating became a sort of holy grail to us, so much so we couldn’t stop talking about how good and fresh the food was — even after we had returned home from the trip. To this day, whenever I talk about that particular experience, I would always begin with Yangshuo and the inn’s locally grown food in all its freshness and natural splendor — which is the best ad money can’t buy.
The Case: Reimagining Starbucks
When former Starbucks manager, Howard Schultz, bought the small coffee shop chain in 1987, no one could have foreseen his role in changing the coffee shop culture around the world. Around the same time he purchased the company, Schultz visited Milan and thus began the story of how he discovered espresso bars on every city street and how that discovery inspired the Starbucks we know today.
Among Schultz’s notable observations at Milanese espresso bars was the interaction between customers and baristas. Visiting customers are exposed to similar experiences as those who visit public houses (pubs); and like bartenders, baristas greet customers by their first names and quickly move through the concoction of ingredients to mix the drinks while chatting excitedly with said customers. We see this as part of Starbucks’ strategy in cultivating a sense of familiarity and community, by asking for our first name and writing it down on the cups as a form of novelty. Since then, the strategy is used by many other coffee shops around the world.
Another crucial observation was the theatrical performance of coffee roasting, mixing and brewing in full view of the customers waiting to pick up their orders at the Milanese espresso bars. This also became a standard practice at all Starbucks stores, where customers are able to view and enjoy the process of brewing and mixing their coffee orders — from grinding the beans, to steaming milk, to pulling shots of espresso, all the way to creating their latte art.
There are other things which Schultz observed during his visit to Milan which we can now enjoy as part of our Starbucks experience; and each of those observations serves as a testament that when we talk about customer experience in the food and beverage industry, we rarely talk about just food and beverage. It’s everything else that comes with it.
Of course, it is important to remember there’s no point in talking about elevating customer experience if the product itself is flawed. Customer experience adds values to the product; and without a good product, it doesn’t matter what kind of experience you wish to add to it.
The Analogy: Defining Customer Experience
Let’s say you wish to start a home-based business selling pineapple tart, or nastar. This is the product you wish to sell to the market. You know exactly the elements that lend your nastar its special quality (USP, unique selling point). Perhaps you add special ingredients into the pineapple jam mix; or add something special to the dough. The product is what you need to build your customer experience around.
When we talk about customer experience, we're also talking about details. So, get ready for this.
The art of persuading any audience is far from easy, but it doesn't have to be complicated.
What you need to do is make an informed decision on every little thing that aims toward building your customer's experience. For example:
Plastic container? A glass jar, perhaps? Or a cardboard box with dividers, similar to the way premium chocolates are packaged? Sturdy or soft? What will keep your nastar from breaking into a million pieces during delivery? Whatever you choose will give a specific experience to the customers. Don't choose a packaging just because it's the cheapest one out there; but rather choose the one you feel adds value to your product. The more valuable (read: useful) your packaging, the better.
Look and Pricing️
You’ve chosen the packaging and the particular experience you want to deliver to your customers. Now, you must decide on the look and pricing. Are you going for fancy, or regular? Melt-in-the-mouth every day goodness; or melt-in-the-mouth special occasion? This will also determine the customer experience. Make sure these two go hand-in-hand. Nothing is worse than a cheap-looking product that carries an astronomical price tag.
What’s the story of your company/brand/product? How do you want your customers to identify with you? Story is probably the most neglected part of the customer experience, yet the one element in your arsenal that requires little to no cost at all. What story does is give your audience context, and context builds confidence for them to try your product, or even better, recommend your product to others in their social circle. A story-less product is the kind you never really bother explaining to your customers, so you always end up trying to sell them the hard way.
The Takeaway: Do I Need a Story for My F&B Business?
Well, it depends. Do you want your customers to remember you and your product every time they think of nastar? Or are you OK with being one of the brand options they go to when they are craving for nastar? It’s important to answer this question, because if the answer is yes to the first question, then you need to invest some time (and perhaps some money) to build your story.
Early in this note, I have shown you how the combination of food and narrative powers can leave a lasting impression upon the consumers. Now I’m going to break it down to five practical steps you can apply to your own food and beverage business — and if you don’t mind, I’m going to use the nastar business analogy as an example.
Here we go:
#1 Your brand personality
Goal: First impression
This is your first handshake with your customers.
Say you have decided to use the name Alexander for your nastar's brand. What sort of personality can you associate with the brand? Hmm. You’ve read somewhere about Alexander the Great and his brave conquests. Now we’re getting somewhere!
Say you do more research on him and find that he is regarded as one of the world’s greatest military commanders — strong in leadership and fearless in combat. Aha!
If these are the personality traits you decide to go with, then these should be the first impression your customer base get from your product and the experience surrounding it.
#2 Your brand personality as strategy
This is where you want to position yourself among the competitors.
The next questions after you have determined your personality traits are: What can you do with these? How can you translate strong leadership and a fearless spirit toward a box of nastar?
Think hard on this, because whatever you come up with will affect the way you communicate the brand and product.
Let’s say you add the words “first choice” in your communication campaign to boldly state your position in the market (leadership). Or maybe package your product in a way that is fit for a King.
Then, say you are one among a few nastar producers who dare change the recipe of classic nastar and tweak it into something more modern: perhaps nastar with pineapple-flavored marshmallow filling? Or nastar with red velvet dough? Whatever it is, make it unusual (fearless).
#3 Your raison d’etre
This is the reason behind your brand and product.
It’s always a good thing to communicate the passion behind your brand or product so that your audience can get a sense of how much effort you’re putting into your work — and that ultimately translates to how satisfied they’re going to be as customers.
Imagine building a social media page for “Pineapple Tart by Alexander” that begins with the story of how much pineapple tart means to you. Talk about how you got the recipe, or how it runs in the family. Talk about memories that connect you to the flavors of the best pineapple tarts you’ve ever had. Sharing such intimate knowledge with your audience will bring them closer to you and establish trust.
#4 Your process
Goal: Perception of Quality
This is how you build your customer's perception of your product's quality.
People can't get enough of behind-the-scene outtakes. A scroll down YouTube channel will show you as much, and more. People, in general, love to hear stories about the way things are created and made. Process. The best branding campaigns have always been transparent about their process; and in the F&B industry, process is an endless source of story and inspiration to many.
Let’s go back to Starbucks for a little bit. They are huge on process. They always tell you how and where they procure their coffee beans; they will even go as far as showcasing those beans at each store. Then they tell you how they work with farmers in countries considered the world’s largest coffee producers to give you the ultimate quality beans.
Your nastar can benefit from the same process sharing. Talk about the type of pineapples you’re working with to produce the nastar's jam component; or talk about the art of baking pineapple tarts. Make sure the process you are sharing is easy enough to understand. Don’t make it sound like rocket science.
#5 Your truth
Goal: Continued trust
This is just common sense. In business, you lie to your customers once and you will never recover from it.
You may be a great storyteller, but when you’re dealing with partners and customers those stories you’re telling better be one-hundred percent true. Stories lose their magic when they’re not true; and the farther you are from the truth, the harder the fall will be. There are no specific directions for this, except the most direct one: do not lie. Whatever you do, whatever the story you want to share, make it be the truth and not fiction.
The shop that always delivers ... 🥪🥪🥪
An excellent example of storytelling by a local F&B business is Lunch For My Husband. This online catering business began to take off during the pandemic and was born out of love for sandwiches. The couple behind this popular Instagram account are never short of ideas on the next sandwich recipe to delight their customer base. Seriously, if you haven't tried their sandwiches, you should. Even the brand commands a story!
It's evident from their posts that whoever's behind the brand and product are very passionate about what they do. Plus, speaking of brand personality, LFMH's communication strategy is on-point. Note the fact that they name each of their sandwiches to give it personality and some jazziness. No wonder they're always sold out. Brilliant!
OK, look, I don't know them personally, though it feels like I know their sandwiches by heart. This is not a paid mention or partnership, but if you are in Jakarta and are also into sandwiches like me ... you cannot miss out on these. My mouth is already watering, but my orders won't be ready for pick-up until Thursday 🥺
Anyway. Go, go, go follow them on Instagram now: @lunchformyhusband — You're welcome!
Fun Fact: The IKEA Way
In the last newsletter, I also said IKEA is one example of a furniture-cum-food business which uses story as the backbone of its communication strategy. Well, here’s how they do it.
We know and love IKEA’s furniture products. We also love its quality. However, the second-best thing about IKEA is its F&B business, known to many around the world as "that Swedish café". It is famous for its traditional Swedish snacks and meals — generating a huge international interest in Swedish meatballs since the first café opened in 1958. IKEA tells the story of Swedish culture through the sales of its traditional food worldwide; and makes us, their customers, a part of that story. In essence, every day, IKEA creates the kind of unparalleled experience you won’t find at Home Depot or ACE Hardware.
Up next: Website Story. Most companies have a website; and most of those websites are ... well, dull. They are rigid, hard to navigate and their only concern is themselves. I mean, don't get me wrong. They serve their purpose. They give you the whole who, what, where, why, when, and how. It's just that the could be ... waaaay better, you know? Most businesses aren't willing to invest in building their websites because they think that .. "Ah, it's just a website! It's not like you're building an office space"
It is, in fact, exactly like building an office space ... and more! Your website is your company's face. You want your customers to be wowed by it.
Some websites are really, really interesting to visit and they are worth sharing with your best buds, such as HubSpot, Reebok and PayPal. These websites tell a story which their audience wants to hear. The secret?
Yawp, you know it: find out next Monday, Jan 25 at 9 a.m.
Guess what. Want to do something fun? Send me a challenge by pointing out a business industry or type of business or business process which you are convinced cannot be storified OR which you want me to solve and storify. I will use that as a case study in future editions of ReDraft and personally contact you if we choose your challenge to be included in the newsletter. Ready? Send your challenge to: email@example.com
Thanks for sticking it out this far, you. I truly appreciate it.
Let’s take this further?
Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer
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