Transcending a Sea of Commodities

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Alice Chocolates redefines the Swiss chocolate experience with their Sliding Case ($30).

In the mid 1980s, I used to walk to the local Circle K to grab a bar of chocolate, and knew it was going to be a Hershey’s bar. The choices were: milk chocolate, and milk chocolate with almonds. They didn’t even have dark back then. Who would want dark? If I wanted toffee, it would be a Heath bar. If I wanted rice crispies in it, it would be a Krackel… peanuts? Mr. Goodbar. I don’t like coconut so Almond Joy and Mounds were out. So, as usual, I’d end up with a milk chocolate Hershey’s bar, for about 50 cents.

All those bar products are owned by one brand, Hershey Foods. Now, in 2011, there are well over 300 brands of chocolate. That’s BRANDS, not products. The market is saturated with chocolate brands and they all have their own place. Some are known as old timeorganicartisanal and some gourmet. The list of chocolate bar trends goes on from there. What’s currently in fashion for chocolate flavors is very dark and extra bitter, savory (additions of bacon, sea salt, cheese, cayenne and other chili powders), fair-trade, and vegan/nutritious chocolate.

Fashion is about innovation, risk, experimentation and ingenuity.

A good fashion from great brands creates value for the consumer. A Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar (43g) costs a little over a dollar at the local convenience store nowadays, whereas a luxurious serving (35g) of Alice Chocolates is about $30. Take a look at the Alice Chocolates Sliding Case. It’s designed to appeal to women.

Bonny Wolf, food writer for NPR predicts the death of cupcakes and the coming of the pie trend as well as the movement from pork to vegetables as the ‘new’ main dish. She also writes that chefs will be making junk food upscale (a trend that’s been alive for two years here in Los Angeles), and featuring more pop-up restaurants.

Was it really that long ago where we’d eat just because we were hungry? That we’d eat mainly for nutrition instead of style and to stuff our faces to satisfy our rumbling stomachs instead of satisfying the latest culinary rage? As their appetites hunger for something new, consumers suddenly are looking towards what’s fashionable in food… and home-cooked meals are even being influenced by these evolving trends.

Eating Was Once Just the Ingestion of Food, Now it’s in Vogue

If you are in a fashionable industry like women’s wear, beauty, hotels, textiles, interiors, technology, baby collections, marketing, retail, event design, food and more… consider yourself lucky. You have the opportunity to change how people view your company by differentiating to create value for your clientele. Being well-positioned in a trending industry helps to build brand equity, and survive or excel in turbulent economies. Once you pull yourself out of the commodities market, your customers may just come to you when they are hungry.

Now it’s time to conduct a comprehensive brand audit and understand why your customers choose your product. If it’s based on price, then consumers see your product as a commodity. If there are strengths to your unique value proposition, but you still have to compete on price, you may be positioned too low or too close to others in your market.

In a trend and brand-driven industry, if you don’t position yourself, you’ll be placed at the end of the soup line.

What Are Your Customers Eating?

Check industry trends and see if you’re closer to leading the trends or following them. Where are you positioned in compared to the leaders in your market? Also take a look at the large and global brands. Brands promise quality, value, longevity, prosperity and most of all, personality. Look at them and learn what you can, either do what they do, or do something totally different.

What Are You Feeding Them?

Your communications should be aligned to your value proposition as well. Look at your signage, brochures, Web site, service items and figure out what is being said. If customer education is lacking, the benefits of the product may not be apparent to consumers. If there are inconsistencies with your messaging, diagnose the areas of weakness and make a note of the deficiencies.

Innovate Your Whole Restaurant, Not Just a New Dish

Take what you’ve learned about your business and communications and then look for branding opportunities. Although you may be able to find differences in your product offering, a stronger path to take would be to look for differentiation in your process, philosophy, integrity, service or other intangible offerings. Uncover hidden differentiators, what makes you different. And I’m talking about your brand, not your products or services.

Don’t judge a single meal, but rather, view your company and customer experience holistically like you would a full dining adventure: from the moment you would walk into the lobby, to the service at the table, observe the lighting, details of barware, how you feel after you’ve had a meal and how easy it is to pay the check. Although you may be able to lure in a customer with a new dish, you won’t create a lifetime customer after a first bite.

What about your company makes you real? Authentic? Different? Valuable? Fun? Once you’ve decided on a few directions, consult advisors and get feedback. Then take a step forward and try it out.

Become a brand that your customers want to follow, evangelists want to predict your next move, and your clientele will want to anticipate your next offering. Once you’ve repositioned successfully, your customers will start looking to you for guidance, education and leadership. You’ll transcend being just a manufacturer of products and services, to becoming a house of haute couture with a true following.

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