Most businesses have a lot to say to customers but do not consider if the message is one the customer wants to hear. In a world in which we are constantly bombarded with marketing messages, your customers need acute insights.
There is a big difference between marketing to customers versus educating them. What is often relevant to the consumer is not what the company values about its products, but instead what the product can do for the customer. When you assume customers have the information they need and are simply making a choice between brands, they shift from a learning-focused mindset to a competitive one. Smart consumers buy from companies that have educated them and presented multiple solutions. That builds trust—and long term—creates loyalty with the consumer.
What a brand doesn’t say is often as important as what it does say. While you are intimately familiar with your industry and your products, you can’t expect consumers to have the knowledge you have. Nor do they care. As such, it is critical to educate consumers on your products and what makes them high quality, solves a problem, or both.
Make it visible.
Allow customers to see as much of your process as possible. At Penn Station Subs, we use display cooking which allow customers to see their sandwiches and fresh cut fries being made to order. They can watch as employees slice the meats and cheeses for their sandwiches, so there is no doubt the ingredients are fresh.
Customers are highly educated, and their expectations are high. If you aren’t using fresh, high quality ingredients, you may be at a disadvantage. Conversely, even if you are, you can’t present this as a differentiator. Why? Because customers assume you should be using the best and freshest ingredients available. To help your business stand out, make sure to show customers what makes your products unique and special.
Use the name brands.
Using name brand ingredients can plant a subtle seed that you are offering your customers high-quality products. When customers see nationally named brands they recognize from the grocery store or national ad campaigns, they presume they are higher quality than a product that is white labeled or unrecognizable. Using brands like Hellmann’s (mayonnaise) or Heinz (ketchup) gives consumers more confidence than a generic product. Again, you will get the most leverage from these ingredients if you display them prominently.
Name brands also offer consistency to consumers. With less deviation in suppliers or ingredients, your product will be the same and more consistent every time. This supports the quality proposition level of customers. This consistently allows them to have the same great experience each time instead of perceiving your brand as hit or miss because you constantly alter or change ingredients or cooking methods.
If there is not a strong, easily recognizable national brand for an ingredient you use, it is fine to private label the product, but it may be best to leverage the brand equity that these national companies have built over many years when feasible. In addition to displaying the ingredients prominently in your retail location, think about adding their logos and their consumer insights to your website or advertising materials. Consumers will ultimately associate the quality of these ingredients with the quality of your product, and if you choose strong ingredients, that’s a great thing for your brand.
Put safety first.
Consumer safety is obviously crucial for all businesses, and for restaurants, this includes protecting customers from potential exposure to food poisoning or other potential illness. You have a responsibility to ensure the products you serve and the ingredients you use are safe. One way to do so is using national distributors. Bigger companies can trace a product or ingredient back to its original source, down to the field where it was grown, when it was picked and by whom. This means if a potential problem arises, you can isolate the compromised ingredients more quickly. National distributors that sell millions of dollars of produce each week have numerous safety checks in place that minimize exposure. Using a single source instead of multiple distributors also lessens the risk.
Not only are national distributors and name brands perceived as higher quality, but they both also have a lot to lose. They have mandates to enact specific safety policies and procedures as a responsibility to society. The millions or billions of dollars they do in transactions each year is extremely important to them, and because they have so much to lose, they often place more emphasis on safety versus less. One slip could cost them millions of dollars, so while they can’t fully guarantee these safety procedures are foolproof, you can leverage their procedures for your customers by using these products.
Focus on perception and messaging.
Remember, you are dealing with consumer perception, so you must look at it from their point of view. If there is an opportunity to enhance the perceived value of what you are selling, take it. Leverage the brand equity of well-respected name brands within your product mix when it’s prudent to do so, even if your business is small. The money you spend on ensuring quality and proving it to customers will be well spent in your bottom line.
Consider if the message you’re communicating is one customer wants to hear. Remember, when marketing, you are trying to sell consumers on your products. When educating, you are helping consumers understand the benefit of your products and the value you provide. Establish a more knowledgeable customer base, and you drive long-term loyalty.
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