A Nation of Marketers. How the French do it.

A pleasant evening on the Rue Mazarine in Paris’ trendy Left Bank. Sipping an aperitif with the prospect of an excellent dinner to follow. The hubbub of happy customers accented by the chatter of the French waiters doing what they do best. Here is marketing at its most intimate, most natural and bolstered by the ever present and excellent communication skills of the French.

Napoleon once dismissed the British as a ‘Nation of shopkeepers’, and later had many years on an island to reflect on this mis-characterisation. But in reality, the French are the shopkeepers, and no stigma attaches to that description. They are naturally interested in serving as many customers as well as they can in the hours their premises open. To do this they use speed and efficiency in service. They advise and recommend the most appropriate food and wine, so that they become part of your purchase decision. And they employ charm to manage the inevitable hold-ups that occur when their café is full, yet they still want to continue to attract more patrons.

So, in brand terms they focus on relevance and differentiation first. The restaurant looks appealing, and has a menu clearly displayed outside. You want a good dinner and you want it now. So, they catch your eye as you hover outside, convinced that the place is too full. They determine your requirements: how many people, inside or outside table etc. They then give you an accurate time, which might be ten minutes or half an hour, and they stick to it. While you wait they may serve you, on the street, a complimentary aperitif, thus making the wait more pleasurable while ensuring that you cannot in all fairness walk away.

They keep you engaged in the light communal banter of the restaurant, psychologically drawing you further in. Then when you are seated, at the promised time, you are already a member of the customer family.  They have already begun to create brand affinity; you like the place, but you haven’t eaten a mouthful.

Then come ‘la carte’ and ‘le liste’, but they have already observed you, and are ready with recommendations which seem objective. They have wasted no time getting to know their customer. The best compliment you can pay a French waiter is to discuss the menu, narrow down your choices and then ask him for his recommendation. It generally results in the best meal, and for the restaurant it positions the waiter as authoritative. Once he is in this position he can persuade you to order anything. But he won’t abuse that, because he wants you back tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

So, by now the waiter has added Esteem to your perceptions of the Differentiation and Relevance of the restaurant. As these are three of the fundamental pillars of brand marketing, they have done pretty well. All that remains is to grow your Knowledge of the brand. This is a mixture of Awareness (which you must by now have) and Understanding (which you are gaining as the meal progresses).

As the evening draws to a close, you may well be given a complimentary drink as you consider the bill. Not the aviation spirit often tendered by Greek tavernas, but more likely a sweet wine you have never before encountered. Thus, softened up you pay the bill with a flourish, adding a generous tip for the waiter who spent this short journey as your guide. And as you emerge onto the street, perhaps sooner than you expected, another eager party are slipping onto your warm seat.

The French are highly proficient at marketing good food produce at a national and international level. They had an historical advantage in this, and it’s not what you might think. They developed slowly as an industrialised nation, whereas countries like Great Britain and Germany industrialised fast. This brought more people to the cities than there was fresh food to feed. So processed food, like pies and stews became traditional. And were adulterated to improve preservation. In the 1840’s British food factories thought nothing of tipping copper salts into tinned vegetables to make them look greener. The Western consumer obsession with calories is the legacy. The French attitude is different, they just serve healthier food. They always have.

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