Friday, November 16, 2007

Try this survival technique, Grasshopper

I was having an out-of-body experience the other night when I bumped into Confucious, who was surfing the ether to dream up sayings that might impress women. “Hey, Cunfucious,” I shouted, “people have been gushing for centuries about how wise you are. Any sage advice for casual-dining execs trying to get through this rough time without a pink slip?”

“Buzz off, Scooter. I’m a philosopher, not a miracle worker.” He tugged on the Fu a few times. “Aw, alright. Tell ‘em, ‘That brand which commoditizes must make the Target dog its own.’” He smugly smiled.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You meatball, don’t you get it?” he retorted. “They who squeeze all the character from their concepts are marketing wrung-out washcloths.”

Still a blank stare.

“Look, dummy, these chains all scrambled to sand off the rough edges that made their concepts different because a simple oval makes a better cookie cutter than a silhouette of Carmen Electra. It’s easier to duplicate blandness 1,200 times.”

Still no light-bulb bubble above my head.

“Yikes, don’t you see? They’ve turned the industry’s strongest segment into a commodities game. You could step into any of the grill concepts and have no idea which one you were in. And they who commoditize buy cut-glass thongs from Victoria Secret.”

Embarrassment, but no flicker of comprehension on my part.

He heaved a heavy sigh. “Look, if you’re a commodity, the only way you can compete is on price. That’s great if you’re the size of Wal-Mart and the whole market is expanding, so you can make it up on volume. But restaurant spending is softening overall, and margins are already thinner than Kevin Federline’s talent.

“The only other option,” he continued, “is differentiating yourself as a brand with pronounced character and flavor—a distinct experience, where you stake out a specific piece of the market instead of trying to be all things to all consumers. That’s exactly what Target did.

“It’s going to turn off the customers whose idea of spice is mayonnaise on plain macaroni. But it’s going to be embraced as a standout by the folks who wouldn’t mind something different from the status quo. And there are a lot of those people.

“Otherwise,” he said, “You’re the Kmart of a few years ago.” He saw my puzzled look. “It went bankrupt, Einstein. While Target was kicking butt.”

And with that, he gave the Fu Manchu another tug and was gone. All I could think to do was yell after him, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

1 comment:

  1. Yo, I hate Target! Everyone who shops there looks like they eat at Applebee's, especially those ladies in mom's jeans carrying, like, 30 extra pounds.