retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Among the greatest challenges facing any business today is delivering on the promise of its brand and understanding that the brand might not mean the same to every consumer. With that in mind we have to take a short visit to a very odd couple: celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and performer Britney Spears.

First some background. My 28-year-old daughter, knowing I was heading to Las Vegas for business (the National Grocers Association show), made a specific request for her birthday gift this year. She wanted to reconnect with her favorite star of her tween years - Britney Spears. Although I knew this was fraught with peril, I agreed to both take and accompany her.

I was truly worried because Spears was the singer whose music most nauseated me during a period of household discord. Hit me baby one more time indeed.

Once in Las Vegas my daughter started working her agenda beyond the show. As we are both fans of Gordon Ramsay’s "Kitchen Nightmares," we decided we had to visit one of his three restaurants, choosing BURGR (that’s the spelling).

Ramsay clearly understands his special challenge. His shows have taught us what to look for, avoid and criticize in a restaurant, so we knew we had to examine everything in much the way Ramsay does to those on his show. In other words, his brand was really on the line.

We gave it a rave review. The décor was inviting and eye-catching. The menu varied, but not overwhelming. The wait staff was attentive, but not suffocating and we even liked innovative touches such as the use of networked iPods to gather customer feedback.

But the star was the food. Although we just ate burgers, we were impressed. Sarah and I ordered different items and were amazed at the special touches. For example, her burger came with arugula and mine with butter lettuce. A small touch of course, but it showed attention. The two ketchups we were given had special flavors and even the bun was unique.

In short, Gordon Ramsay succeeded.

Britney Spears promised to be more challenging.

As you can gather, I’m not a huge fan of hers, but then again, not every brand is made for every consumer. It became extremely clear to me once the show began that of the 4,600 in attendance I could not find five people older than me. (My daughter counted only two.)

But Britney knows her key fans and therefore knows her brand. For example some costumes from her early videos are on display and the fans (Sarah included) line up to take their selfies. Once in the theater, the fans are encouraged to use Twitter to share those photos and the tweets end up on the large screens next to the stage.

Then came the concert. Seriously, I have no idea if Britney can actually sing, but she sure understands two things: Las Vegas shows need a lot of energy and her fans are completely devoted to her - exceptionally so, I think, because they know how high she soared and how far she fell. It was more than them singing along to every song, it was how they danced with her, cheered every step she took and showered her with an emotion that was almost overwhelming.

When I asked Sarah for a one-word review after, all she said was: excellent!

Here’s the thing: I don’t think Britney cared that I was part of that crowd. I’m not her core customer and never will be. I think what she (and the show’s producers) understand is that she talks to a different generation. That her presence in Las Vegas draws a different and much younger crowd than, say Rod Stewart, who was performing just a few hotels away.

In many ways, the future of Las Vegas might hinge on attractions like Britney Spears, who may be scorned by Baby Boomers, but tug at the heartstrings of our children.

In other words, she, like Gordon Ramsay, gets branding in a way that we need all consider.

But first I have to listen to lots and lots of Springsteen. I have all the wrong songs stuck in my head!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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