business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

I was in Dallas this week, speaking at the annual Meat Conference run by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the American Meat Institute (AMI). When I arrived on Sunday night, I was hungry. No surprise, I’m almost always hungry.

So I did a little searching on my laptop, and found a Tex-Mex place called Iron Cactus within walking distance of the hotel. I strolled over, pausing for a few minutes on the way to stare at the outside of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, a place that always manages to fill me with dread every time I see it, as if passing a dark graveyard with bad memories.

Iron Cactus, a three-story, glass-walled restaurant a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, was pretty busy. But I managed to secure a small bar table on the first floor, where I settled in with a margarita and the menu, watching the action all around me.

Phillip Taitel, the manager on duty, came over to me and said that he was short of waiters, but that if I didn’t mind, he’d be taking care of me. Fine with me, and we started chatting about the menu.

I asked a couple of questions, and he finally looked at me quizzically and asked: ”Are you from Texas?”

I was a little surprised by this, since as someone who was born in Greenwich Village, raised outside New York City and lived most of his adult life in southern New England, I don;t actually sound like JR Ewing. But I resisted the impulse to make a wisecrack, and said simply: “No.”

My reticence was rewarded. (Fans of Tony Kornheiser will understand if I describe what happened next as a “Mr. Kevin moment.”)

Phillip said, “In that case, here’s what you’re going to have. Start with the tuna ceviche, and then follow that up with the chicken fried steak.”

I told him that I didn’t recall seeing chicken fried steak on the menu.

“It isn’t,” he said. “We actually had to take it off the menu because it got too popular - we didn’t have enough industrial fryers in the kitchen to handle the demand. But if you want it, we’ll make it for you.”

I had only a moment’s hesitation. “Is it really that good?”

“Tell you what,” he said. “If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it.”

I needed to know nothing else. And the result was wonderful - ceviche that was spicy and refreshing, and chicken fried steak that was hearty and artery-hardening. (I tried to be good. I ate about half the steak, had one forkful of mashed potatoes, and all the broccoli. A heart attack before going on stage simply would not have been a good idea.)

Here’s the lesson. Philip was not just a restaurant manager, but an advocate. And better than that, he was an advocate with a narrative, which inspired trust and a leap of faith on the part of a soon-to-be grateful customer.

That’s what good marketers do. They don’t just put the product out there, slap a price tag and/or a bar code on it, and then let the customer do all the rest of the work (content in the knowledge that a slotting allowance can cover a multitude of sins).

No, they create a story, they connect with the customer, and they turn a transaction into an experience.

This story is about chicken fried steak. But it doesn’t have to be.

That’s what is on my mind. As always, I want to hear what is on yours.
KC's View: