brand management

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Today I had lunch at a usual spot—a gourmet Thai and Malaysian restaurant with a euphoria-inducing red curry. I enter, they smile and place my order without asking.  A talk with a manager revealed that the food quality remained good across the three restaurants because they simply decided to keep it that way. When COGS went up they raised their prices rather than, for example,  order white chicken meat with 10% more water at a lower price. Why?  Because, as he explained, with raised hands aerially animating the cooking process, when you make a Malaysian red curry dish as I favor, that extra water (10% extra) “goes all through the dish”  and alters the consistency, weight, aromaticity and texture of it.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are details. A giant human lot wouldn’t notice them. Or perhaps not right away. But some—like me— would. And they’d stop patronizing.

Returning hands to a checkbook, the manager talked while signing a check for a vendor. He’s front office. He looks at numbers. He writes checks. And he knows intimately about a dish down to the procured ratio of animal protein to animal protein plus water content.  This is brand management—when everybody all the way up the chain to the checkwriter knows what alterations in inputs won’t work, how the vegatables’ texture will change, how the eating experience will deteriorate, knows what makes their brand a brand, and bothers to respect it.

In our brief but dense economics chat on the economy generally, commodity prices and the differentiated restaurant business in particular, the manager gently but defiantly made repulsive faces while describing the cheaper meat alternatives in the market. He clearly lacked competence for and personal identification with “going cheap”. Many customers value that. We pay more. Or if we can’t, we come less or even stop coming.

But we don’t stop coming because we stopped liking you. We just can’t afford you. Not liking you isn’t fixable. We won’t come back even if the price drops or our means improve—we know what you’re selling and we don’t want any—and we won’t recall euphoria (now gone) when we talk about you–and we’ll talk: “They used to be so good; don’t know what happened to them.”

Not affording you is fixable. You don’t look evil—a bunch of prices went up. You’re not picking on us. We can still recall euphoria and talk about you. We just can’t afford you–right now. For highly differentiated products brand integrity is crucial. There’s a reason we’re bothering with your brand. It’s in the details. Don’t destroy the reason.  Or if you do, know that what you’re really doing, is rebranding.  And maybe you’ll be fine—serving a different clientele. But customers like me won’t be there—and wherever we are, we’ll be unable to speak well of you.

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