The challenge with most full service restaurants is that what’s really for sale isn’t tangible. This intangibility is why it’s so easy for restaurateurs to lose their way.
A watchmaker can claim their watch is indestructible with clear indicators for navigation. Along with accurate time, dependability and directional guidance are the benefits. For a deep sea diver, or mountaineer, that’s going to be the watch to wear. So how does the watchmaker convey this to the best person for the right price?
Typically, the characteristics, or features of the product are highlighed- meant to lure the prospect closer in hopes for a bite:
My watch keeps perfect time, has a compass, altimeter, barometer, depth gauge, temperature gauge, it’s made of a revolutionary composite materials which make it virtually indestructible, while at the same time I’ve managed to design it so that all this ground-breaking functionality doesn’t look like the controls from a jet cockpit.
– Watchmaker for himself
In this watchmaker’s mind, everybody should be able to have use for at least one of the features, so everybody should by the watch. He approaches anybody and everybody running through the list of features thinking sooner or later one’s going to hit the mark. But, frustratingly, he can never get much more said than “my watch keeps perfect time and it-”. Why?
Everybody already either has a watch, or they don’t need to wear one anymore because their phones keep pretty good time. Should the watchmaker get further into his statement, the next responses will be “I don’t need all that”, “too complicated”, “sounds expensive”, “don’t bother me”, and on and on.
Why all the features, anyway? There was a time when there was no watch. There was a time when there was the first watch. This first watchmaker was first to market and as the concept of time became understood, it sold itself. Then other watchmakers, to get in on the act, also started making watches but added new things to it to be better than the first watchmaker.
What happens is what’s for sale takes precedence over why it’s for sale. The belief is it’s necessaary to compete against other watchmakers. This results in a lot of effort with little sales. What then for our watchmaker’s watch? A stethoscope?
The restaurant industry is not much different. There was a time when there were a lot of firsts. When it was easy to stand out. But now we’re fast leaving an era of invention and innovation.
Consider what happens each time a movie gets closer to looking exactly like real life. There was a time when seeing walking skeletons for the first time would keep anybody up all night. We’re nearly at the point where it will be hard to stretch the imagination. On one hand the power of the tools we have as a society enable us to freely create at extraordinary levels, to learn and produce with astonishing efficiency. All forms of gratification are expected to be immediate. While these persuits of real-time perfection create new levels of entertainment emersion, there is compromised at the same time part of our innocence and the wonder and joy of discovery.
The ease of access and familiarity with peak experiences has pushed the bar of “features” so high that it’s becoming increasing difficult to compete not even against each other, but against expectation. This means we’re no longer even competing against a competitor. The competition is expectation. It’s within.
The Watchmaker for the adventurous
But what if we switch perspectives. What if the watchmaker forgets his watch, forgets what the other watchmakes are doing, and considers for a moment that his watch, and all the incredible innovations, don’t matter. What if the watchmaker looked at human instincts, needs and emotions. Let’s try this:
When you’re far from family, I will make sure you find your way home, on time.
– Watchmaker for the adventurous
For the person that hears the words of the watchmaker for the adventurous, what this person does next is instinctual. I have to find my way home. In this statement, the watchmaker speaks the adventurer’s own words. When the watchmaker’s purpose is clear, their product’s reason for existing remains on track because what’s really for sale now is certainty, security, dependability to those who pursue uncertainty, growth and contribution.
What happens next is a negotiation. The value on the table is either going to be based on bells and whistles or home.
Further into this value proposition, “on time” conveys assures to friends and family back home.
What happens next is even better. In his book, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp builds a case that within our core instincts, the instinct to seek is the most important (other instincts are anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play and seeking). When we coordinate and plan activities, the seeking process, the neurotransmitter dopamine (which is linked to reward and pleasure), is produced.
We are programmed to seek, and this seeking process creates pleasure
Back to the watchmaker for the adventurous. By appealing to the need to return home, the watchmaker shows empathy towards a specific type of person’s needs. Trust is established. Now the journey towards a contract can begin. Because the prospect feels it’s safe to move forward, the need to seek continues. Instinctively moving forward, other needs get evaluated, each of the six measuring up to what the watch can offer in the form of personal benefits.
If the watch has a degree of rarity, if it’s exceptionally beautiful to look at, then it’s going to appeal to the need for significance. This statement suggests accomplishment. It also appeals to the need for uncertainty. Why not wear this for the world to see?
In this light, the value proposition for this watch becomes self-evident. It could save their life. It displaces the wrong kind of uncertainty for family at home with the good kind of certainty. How much value is there in that? The benefits from the product are transmutable. That is, there is personal value for the adventurer, but there is also value for the adventurer’s friends and family. The idea of certainty travels from the watchmaker to the adventurer to family and friends on an instictual level. This energy moves just like electricity through a wire. In this case, however, the watch is the conductor.
For the friends and family of the adventurous, they need to feel certain their loved one is safe. To do this, confidence is required to gain trust. The watchmaker’s confidence is absorbed by the adventurer and then delivered to loved ones.
These instinctual needs and emotions go from person to product to person to product. To happen naturally, without friction, clarity, precision, and purpose, from the correct point of view, have to be defined from the start. When approached from a position that’s within the person, there can be no resistance. How can we resist our own needs or beliefs? This is how we get inside- because we exist inside. Even on the crowded city street, the need to find the way home is automatic, and timeless.
But what if the person isn’t technically an adventurer? Maybe there’s people in this crowded street that wish they could mountain climb, that wish they could leave the concrete and trek off into the real jungle. Maybe there’s an unrealized dream of letting go, cutting loose, going back in time to do things life never made opportunities for.
A value proposition that appeals to a sense of unfulfilled uncertainty can touch unrealized dreams for those that never escaped city life. The value proposition may even be a powerful enough to trigger a desire to act- to finally seek out those unrealized dreams. And so for this person, we have:
A world of limitless possibilities awaits you. Imagine the stories that you will tell.
– Watchmaker for the dreamer
And now we have two distinct target personas for one product: Let’s say Indiana Jones and the trapped city-dweller.
This watchmaker’s marketing, social media, and product packaging are designed around evoking an emotion of trust, of possibility, of triumph, of returning home.
The 6 core human needs
Let’s look at how these needs formulate our adventurer’s view of his world and how his life will unfold:
For self and others, the adventurer needs to exude confidence, needs be safe, to meet goals, not miscalculate, and most importantly, return home.
The adventurer needs to experience uncertainty, to feel adrenaline, to let nature reveal itself to all senses- both physical and spiritual.
The adventurer believes in possibility, takes risks and triumphs. Going into the unknown and returning brings him closer to his peers, and sets him apart from others. It’s part of the paradox of needing to be unique while needing to belong.
Love & Connection
The successful adventurer needs to share the stories of the journey. Family and other adventurers want to learn and experience through these stories.
The journey itself expands worldly knowledge, the development of new and more meaningful friendships. In the moments where limits were pushed, spiritual and personal realization was amplified in ways not possible when safe at home. With new stories to tell, with new personal growth, the adventurer can only now fully experience the next need.
Teaching other adventurers, recommending how to reduce risk (and the tools that made it possible), how to measure, how to execute, how to triumph. The act of contribution gives certainty, significance and growth to others through love and connection.
The fast track to success
This cycle of instinctual behavior, driven by needs, chooses for us how we live our lives. This cycle is no different for any product or service on the planet. It’s universal.
Let’s visualize this cycle in the restaurant. Imagine both negative and positive outcomes of each need. For example, question what happens when a guest seeks significance. From this person’s perspective, what happens when this is nurtured? How do they respond? What do they say? And what happens when it’s neglected?
The goal is to craft a value proposition that appeals to these needs. What’s unique about the restaurant industry is it’s ability to meet all six of these core human needs. Most businesses do well if they can meet two or three. But all six? That’s a lot of firepower.
With each need fulfilled, there’s a burst of emotion, guided by instinct and then action (just like the burst of fire between spark plugs and pistons). The positively charged bursts grow our brand. Negatively charged bursts shrink our brand. Ignition failures (non-action) cancel out positive bursts which leads to stalling.
When a restaurant’s concept and actual guest experience are harmonious, the RPM of all six cylinders put the business on the fast track to success- for the benefit of society.
This leverage means less effort to attract the right business, and less effort for the brand to become recognizable. It also means, much like the watchmaker’s value proposition of targeting the value of life (kind of priceless), that a premium can be charged. This is how success builds on itself. The two should always be in balance.
So what’s your value proposition? Who are your restaurant’s adventurers? What’s their life like?
Create a journey that guides them through, or inspires fulfillment of, these six human needs. What emotional result will they experience along the way? What stories will they tell?