What if we thought about Marketing the way this restaurant thinks about dinner?
One of the best things about being a marketer is that your work intersects almost everything. (It’s not like being a professional shepherd, say. The disjoint is greater between the work of sheep-herding and the rest of the world.)
One of the worst things about being a marketer is that your work intersects almost everything.
We’ll be standing in line at the post office, and a woman behind me, whom I know vaguely from somewhere (maybe our kids played soccer together?), is telling me about renovating her house. She’s figured out who has the best take-out. She knows all the best laundromats. She wonders whether she might launch a crowd-sourced online resource for locals who might value such information…
The next thing I know, I start verbally mapping out a whole website and marketing plan for her.
My teenage daughter is standing by my elbow, attempting to ignore the conversation. Later, when we’re back in the car, she teases: “You know, not everything in life requires a content strategy.”
But doesn’t it?
For marketers, the Venn diagram of work and life is a perfect circle.
It’s almost irresistible to link pretty much anything to our business.
A Google result for “What marketing can learn from” delivers 350,000,000 results: What Marketers Can Learn from Netflix. What Marketers Can Learn from Trump. Or Hillary. Or Zoolander. Or Prince. Or Beyonce’s Lemonade. Or Super Bowl 50. Or other marketers. And then Trump again.
Too much of a good thing can be too much of a good thing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Which explains why I often feel a kind of allergy toward things like What Marketing Can Learn from “Chewbacca Mom.” (1.9 million results, and climbing.)
Then sometimes a situation presents itself (a particularly infectious Star Wars fan, or a woman in the post office queue), and you can’t not draw a parallel.
Such was the case with Maaemo.
I don’t even know where to begin to describe what it was like to dine at Maaemo, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Oslo and one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
The kitchen—located in a glass box overlooking the dining room—sources ingredients from throughout Norway, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until the wait staff describes the process, farms, and food behind each of the 20 courses as they’re served over 5 hours.
No menus. No ordering. You just have to roll with it… because what shows up is pretty adventurous:
- Porridge with shaved, smoked reindeer heart and brown butter
- Fermented trout with spring lettuce
- Charred onions and quail egg (fanned into a pineapple?)
- Brown cheese tart
- This gumball-sized thing called a liquid waffle served over mountain tea made from wild herbs found only in Bøverdalen
- …and 15 more “experiences” with oysters, frozen blue cheese, scallops, squid, pork belly, salted sheep fat, artichokes, and I don’t even know what else.
And that doesn’t include the wine/beer/sake/cognac pairings.
So what’s all that have to do with the business of marketing?
None of us have a nursery full of newborn vegetables.
Or a barn full of cured and smoked animal bits and parts.
We don’t even have a fjord from which to scoop a mackerel for light pickling, or access to a freelance nettle forager.
We sell software or services or un-sexy “solutions.”
Maaemo wasn’t memorably remarkable just because of the food, though. It was just as—maybe more so—memorable for its slow, deliberate, intentional approach to its business.
So let’s do this already: What can marketers learn from Maaemo and Esben Holmboe Bang, its 30-year-old Danish chef?
What if we thought about our marketing the way Maaemo thinks about its food?
1. A Bold Brand Story: Creating a Backbone
Maaemo translates into English as “all that is living.” That close-to-the-earth feel forms the backbone of its story: The kitchen doesn’t go to Whole Foods to source its scallops.
(Actually, the scallops are presented tableside, still quivering. Let’s hope they didn’t have a sense of their impending saucing.)
“We want to have a clear identity,” the Chef says. “I try to explore the landscape of Norway in my food.”
His words conjure up images of the bucolic and pastoral—of lambs frolicking on a charmingly grassy knoll.
But “exploring the landscape” actually means mining the woods and fields and waters of Scandinavia for stuff to eat.
It means not sugar-coating where the food comes from. And it means the chef himself gets his hands dirty.
There aren’t many restaurants that include dark, raw, visceral stories like this right on the homepage.
Chef Bang establishes himself as a kind of badass: This sheep doesn’t exactly commit suicide.
What this means for you:
Is your brand story rich, real, and (at least slightly) rebellious?
Is your story guaranteed to repel some people, as much as it galvanizes others?
2. A Slow Burn: Creating Anticipation
Maaemo sent a confirmation email the day prior to our reservation. The staff had begun prepping for our visit, it said. We were to dine at 7:30 PM, but they would begin prepping the actual meal at 8:30 AM that day.
You couldn’t help but wonder… at noon. At 2. At 3: What are they cooking now?
The email was a small gesture. But it powerfully conjured anticipation in our heads.
“Customer empathy” gets tossed around a lot in marketing. But it’s really about aligning yourself with your customer’s point-of-view.
What this means for you:
What’s your customer’s likely mindset now? (Or now..? How about now…?)
How might we best communicate with them, each step of the way? (You can call it “customer journey,” if you insist.)
3. Inspire Sharing: Creating Value in Unexpected Moments
Companies or people that try too hard to inspire social sharing are one of my pet peeves. Yes, I mean you speakers and presenters who include a phrase like “tweet this” on a PowerPoint slide. Or blogs or sites that include a “tweet this” popup or call-out.
Such devices signal…
(1) That you don’t trust your audience to find an experience or phrase that particularly resonates with them, or
(2) That you care more about amplifying your message via your customer’s social reach than you care about serving the needs of your audience…
You know, the people right in front of you.
At best, it comes across forced. At worst, it comes across desperate.
At some point during the evening at Maaemo, the staff invited each table of diners to ascend a circular staircase to visit the glassed-in kitchen. It felt like a pilgrimage to witness the theater and magic of the meal prep.
Staffers were friendly and congenial—no snobbishness here. They offered to take a photo with us; we didn’t even have to ask.
Know your audience.
Create value at unexpected moments, as my friend Mitch Joel says.
And trust your audience to do the rest.
4. Slow Down at the Right Moments: Creating Momentum
Summer is the restaurant’s busy season. Besides the normal work of running the restaurant, the staff is also preparing and preserving food to last them through the winter.
Chef Bang again:
We preserve the flavor of summer. We pickle, dry, and ferment. We store the vegetables in dirt cellars and so on. It’s an old, natural way of preparing for winter.
There are faster and more efficient ways to get fresh vegetables in winter. But they—importing, industrialized farming—would dilute both the tastes and experience of Maaemo.
For me, this was the most powerful idea of the evening: Maaemo slows its prep to create a quality experience. Its momentum comes from a slower approach that values the process as much as the product.
What if all of us took a similarly long-term view of our business and marketing?
Maaemo builds its own larder and preps its own pantry.
Maaemo does the slow and boring work of preparing for the future.
Maaemo invests in craft and creativity. “The creative process is not something that we have rules for,” the chef says. An ingredient shows up in their kitchen as an idea might land in another creative person’s brain. “We talk about it. We taste it. We play around with it.”
Maaemo measures success via two metrics: the satisfaction of customers and (more unusually) the happiness of its staff. Its kitchen staff travels from all over the world to work in the Oslo kitchen, in both paid and unpaid capacities. Maaemo wants the people who work there to be excited to come to work. They want the work to inspire.
The bottom line is this:
Businesses that move too slow are road kill. Yet, does slow have a role to play in marketing? In business?
That’s a post for next time.