Marketing Tips from Hooters

There are two restaurants near my office in Santa Monica, Calif. Both sell salads and sandwiches, burgers and fries, coffee and soft drinks.

I'm no restaurant critic, but I'd say that the food at both is slightly better than adequate. Both feature sit-down table service that's pretty good. Both are in high-traffic locations, and both charge about the same.

A superficial analysis would suggest that they should both be doing OK. The product is about the same — the services are about the same. So I wondered, why does Hooters have a bigger lunchtime crowd than Denny's?

Welcome to the experience economy.

According to Harvard Business Review
authors Jim Gilmore and Joseph Pine II, we live in a world where goods (like burgers) and services (like low prices and waiters) are not enough to make you a leader in your market. You need to provide an experience people can remember and want to repeat. And you need to market that experience effectively.

The lesson here: the right programming is important. But programming is only the beginning of your marketing task. To be remembered, you need to create a memorable experience.

When your customers know everything about the product (the show), hyping it more is a waste of time. Consumers aren't watching your station because of what you do. They're watching because of their own desires, experiences, and emotions.

"Tonight at 9, Elaine and George Argue," assumes viewers can remember the content, the show and the channel between now and 9 p.m.

On the other hand, If you've created an entire experience, like Comedy Central, all they have to know is a) at this moment I want to laugh and b) Comedy Central will make me laugh.

The great cable channels, networks, and TV stations create memorable experiential environments that transcend programming. Think MTV: Music Television, Nick at Nite or Home Box Office — viewers tune in based on the experience, not the programming of the moment.

Here are some ways to get out of the "product" box and into the "customer experience":

Learn about your target's experiential needs.
Don't base marketing decisions on programming research. Instead, learn about the customer. Find new ways to take a good, hard look at your target viewer's world.

Be clear about your experience.
Viewers are hungry, but they need more than a burger and a place to sit. People flip on the TV to relax, to see people like me, to make the time pass, to learn, to hear a story, to laugh, etc. Flip your target's desired experiences around to the station or network point of view, and they become your "experiential promise" to your viewers.

Think about the customer experience first, then about features and benefits.
Take a look at everything you do in terms of "consumption situation," not "product."

Deliver your experience big time.
Take a page from the Nick at Nite playbook — every promo, every moment between the programs needs to sell your experience. Take every opportunity to help the audience link your experiential environment to what they are feeling.

Apply imagination.
The marketing of Hooters isn't about the burgers. Seduce your audience with a sample of the attitude, emotion, personality, entertainment and programming — the artistic combination — that make up your experience. Make them feel in a way your competitor can't, and they'll remember you — and be back.