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Too Smart by Far

ever notice how brilliant kids are at sussing out people they've only just met? In a matter of spilt seconds your average 3-year-old can instinctively tell whether he will like someone or not. And no matter how long you give it, kids are highly unlikely to change their minds. Even more annoyingly, they're usually correct in their instant assessment of people.

I'm currently at 34,000 feet above Iceland fighting a 100 mph headwind, and the 3-year-old sitting opposite was right the first time about the Blue Rinse sitting in front of us. She boarded all smiles and "sorry for holding up you young people" like. I liked her; she'd make a nice Granny. Not the kid. No smiles or shy chat for this crinkly. He didn't like her.

Five hours, three returned meals and six "calling bells above your head" later and I was with the kid. This lady had to go, parachute or not. Reykjavick might make the headlines by the time we landed.

The moral of the story? Authenticity. It's a difficult concept to describe but easy to explain. That is, if like that high-flying kid, you trust your instincts and you're not fooled by the packaging. Substitute some failed themed restaurants for the Blue Rinse and you're already there.

one of our companies designs and builds authentic Irish Pubs to earn a crust. Most Americans can probably understand why such a concept might actually work in the Land of the Free. But we've built over 300 of these things in 35 countries - and some in places where they haven't even heard of Pubs, let alone leprechauns.

Yet customers in places like Novosibirsk in Siberia, Nanjing in China, Tromso in the Arctic Circle - all clamour to the beat of music, drink and food from a culture some have never heard of, or understand.

Why does this phenomenon of the authentic Irish Pub concept travel so successfully? We're not really sure, but what we do know from hard-earned experience is that the more we dilute the design essence, the less people like it. The more we dilute the authenticity, the less beer the Pub sells.

So when it comes to xxxertainment concepts, customers appear to have an in-built authenticity radar that tells them instantly whether they're going to like the experience. And whether they're going to come back, or recommend it to a friend.

This radar also sets their level of expectation for food quality, service, and value-for-money perception. The only way to override their radar is to provide an exceptional experience, which, by the law of averages, is going to be a rare occurrence.

Let's probe this radar thing a little more deeply. We've just completed a major in-depth study on how design affects consumption on behalf of a major international Spirits company. What we've learned is that we're all going to have to think a lot smarter and a lot more laterally if we're going to succeed in the future. A future where the prize is to be found in slicing and dicing, the world of segmentation. And it's all due to people having a pain in their psychographics.

For the uninitiated, psychographics is a tool that f.m.c.g. marketeers have been using for some time (f.m.c.g. = fast-moving consumer goods). Psychographics categorises target audiences by people's behaviour and attitudes rather than standard demographics of age, income, location, etc.

It's a valuable tool because demographics would tell us that three guys living on the same upmarket street have similar needs and behaviour patterns. The fact that those three guys might be a neurosurgeon, an Internet millionaire and a crack dealer living side by side isn't embraced by demographic theory.

the study of psychographics tells us that there are broadly five groups of people, and you need to do different things to ring their bells.

The first group is called early adopters or Pioneers. These are the affluent trendsetters, the people who seek out and find new concepts and make them successful. You'll recognise them because they mostly wear black clothing, choose funny eyewear, read Czech poetry and always look depressed, even when they're happy. (The other four groups are broadly sheep-like and will follow the Pioneers).

The problem is that Pioneers are the hardest group to please and hate sharing space with non-Pioneers. But you can't succeed without them. Mind you, you'll make your real money from the four other groups that follow - normally six to 12 months later.

Pioneers have the most finely honed authenticity radars. They will turn up first when you open. They will ignore your core design/theme/unique entertainment offer. They're more interested in interrogating your logo and tablewares. They'll examine your taste in toilet furnishings (always a quick way to win them over). Ideally they'd like to see the style of your to-go packaging before they see the menu!

For Pioneers, the sum of the parts is always greater than the whole. That's why in developing entertainment concepts we always try to challenge these guys by coming in from left field with something that is either (a) so ethnic and authentic that it can't be criticised, or (b), something that blows away all of their reference points.

unfortunately, many concepts ignore our psychographic needstates. Ever developed hernias over concepts that did a roaring trade for 20% of its trading hours, but diddley squat for the other 80%? Well, join the queue.

The solution is to tap into people's emotional needstates - i.e., fun, chilling out, adrenaline moments, etc. This strategy looks at your potential audience, by demographics and psychographics, and identifies the needstates that your concept could satisfy. These needstates are put into the concept brief and solutions are found.

Here's an example. One of our clients runs a successful chain of 140 bar/restaurants. Like most of their competitors, they did the majority of their business Thursday through Saturday nights - amongst a young audience.

Through a thorough analysis/design process, we created an inexpensive Mark II version that used chameleon design elements to develop day-part performances. So, their outlets now deliver different visual and aural experiences by day-part.

It is now a cafe in the morning, a bustling bistro at lunch, a chill-out venue in the afternoon, a cocktail bar until 8 p.m., a jumping pub till 10 p.m. and a throbbing nightclub till the wee hours.

Business is up significantly across day-parts, across the week, and amongst different age groups.

and so we reach the end of the diatribe. What are the learnings? That borrowing proven f.m.c.g. thinking can deliver new markets or exponential growth from tiring concepts. That ethnic concepts delivered authentically deliver the goods.

And that customers, like that kid in the airplane up top, are far too smart for their own thinking.

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