Do you ever wonder why the tire company known best for its mascot — a big man made of white tires — is also the most trusted name in fine dining and classical-French restaurant reviews.
Maybe you thought the tire company and restaurant review publication just happened to share the name, Michelin. Actually, one created the other. The Michelin Guide as it exists now, 100 years after its inception, is the result of a marketing campaign going so perfectly it became sentient.
For those unfamiliar with the Michelin guide, it’s a series of annual guide books that awards ratings and reviews to restaurants and tourist destinations. The guide is best known for its Michelin Stars, which are given to restaurants and have been known to affect the success of a fine-dining establishment. One star means a restaurant is very good in its category, two means it is well worth a detour and a third star means the food itself is worth a road trip.
That third star spells out the genius of the Michelin Guide. This tire company was promoting great food in France in the early 1900s when cars were very uncommon, but more than anything it was promoting car travel. At the very heart of it, this high-end restaurant guide was promoting the use of tires.
Think about how genius that marketing plan is. A tire promoted the idea of traveling for food so well that people looked to it for food recommendations, and also tried to get them to the restaurants.
Michelin did what many marketers forget to do: they got around their consumers’ defenses.
That’s one of, if not the biggest obstacle in marketing — getting around people’s defenses.
We see hundreds of brand messages every day at the very least (though some estimates say thousands). No matter how sincere the message or how much we think consumers care about our brand, as marketers we are ultimately trying to sell something.
As consumers, we become rather adept at blocking these brand messages out, whether mentally or by using handy new tools like DVR, online ad-blockers and MP3 playlists.
Marketers try to use humor, entertainment and useful information to circumvent our new built-in ad-blockers. But more often than not, they end up further alienating their brand message, or delivering a punch line that has nothing to do with the brand message.
Michelin got around our defenses by producing something of great value and still remaining dead on target with brand strategy. They tell people about great restaurants and places to travel. They are advertising travel — something the general public perceives as good and even fun — in a way that sells tires.
Keep in mind; this is a time before the Internet or Food Network. You might have not known what’s happening in the next city — much less 50 miles or more away. Michelin provided real value to potential customers while keeping their mission in mind: sell more tires.
It’s easy to approach marketing through a standard advertising mix: print ads, television, radio, etc. The problem is that everyone else can do the same thing. It’s worth spending just a little extra brainpower and preparation to circumvent the defenses of the customer, and we can do it in a way that they will gladly welcome. You do this by providing something of value.
Michelin dedicated its brand image to finding the highest quality of food and restaurants in France — and eventually the entire world. Interested foodies responded by traveling far and buying new tires.
Lowe’s has used its social media brand to show people quick and easy tips for completing projects and maintaining their homes instead of spending all their energy on advertising products. Customers respond by purchasing their project supplies at Lowe’s.
I’ve found a lot of marketers believe consumers care about their brand simply because it exists. That’s not true. Operate under the assumption that no one cares or thinks about your brand, and find a way to make it valuable. Making your brand a value-add keeps you top of mind.
Imagine it: your company puts out a magazine that everyone in the industry uses to stay up to date on industry trends. You don’t even have to advertise because your brand is plastered all over the publication. The moment a customer, competitor or industry peer engages your publication, you’ve just gotten past their defenses.
We have to think like the Michelin brothers did more than 100 years ago.
What value-add can we give our customers?
What niche can our brand fill?
What can we make that is worth driving toward?