THERE are things that you can’t just duplicate. I discovered this very recently when I took a closer look at what it takes for a brand to stand out among local businesses in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo.
Once a year the city becomes the focus of attention when it hosts the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair. Opportunity literally knocks on the door of many event management-related businesses ranging from catering outfits, sound system operators, decorative and accommodation service providers.
Regrettably, for many of them, it’s a hit or miss affair. Being a once-off event, the temptation is to cut corners and expenses in order to make a killing out of the rich pickings during the exhibition.
However, my attention was drawn elsewhere in the city where the food retail sector seems to be holding its own, albeit in a fiercely competitive environment. It’s one of the few sectors where entrepreneurs are keeping their heads above water.
Which explains why everyone and their grandmother are operating some kind of food outlet. It has become more than apparent that for one to survive in this cut-throat market, one has to identify their niche.
Food is a very sensitive area. It’s not just about making meals available, rather it’s about good cooking, issues of hygiene and creating a memorable experience and not for the wrong reasons!
The more competitive outfits have their territory well marked out. You can tell by the numbers passing through their doors and the need to book in advance to get the elusive table.
However, those that have taken the traditional route have had to add that little extra in order to reel in discerning patrons. They have shown that there are certain elements that can’t just be copied.
How many are able to show gratitude to customers who have chosen to enter their doors to sample their service? By giving their clients more than what they expect, it is not surprising to see customers prepared to part with the extra dollar.
The hundreds that patronise Sis Bee’s Kitchen located at the National Railways of Zimbabwe Parkade in the city centre and also at the flagship along Fort Street will attest to this. From the well turned out and friendly staff to the traditional washing of hands before a meal and the varied menu.
It’s not just about meeting a basic need, but rather, creating an emotional engagement between the customer and the brand. It’s about communicating the spirit of the brand.
People need to see the passion that lies behind the brand. Sis Bee seems to have got the formula right because even in her absence when she was hospitalised for a long stretch, the service never missed a beat.
The connection is between the employees and their valued customers as brand champions, referring everyone and anyone to share the experience. It spreads by word of mouth, the ultimate branding technique.
Marketing expert Philip Kotler has identified that critical element powerful brands such as Coca-Cola and Apple have learned, that is, how to make their brand live in the customers’ minds.
The brand must deliver the distinctive benefit that Sis Bee’s kitchen does. Gestures of abundance, hospitality and respect will be associated with the brand creating an invaluable emotional tie between them.
They say that you know you are doing something right when you see the competition copying what you are doing.
But in a vain attempt to replicate a unique experience, some only succeed in repelling those customers that make it through their doors.
They fail to turn their service into a whole story of dedication to service or product. Either it’s about shortcomings in presentation, for instance “makhaya” or “Tsholotsho” chicken drowning in oily gravy, or under-cooked tripe that takes forever to chew.
It could also be the appearance of those serving the food. Looking more like motor mechanics than waiters. Perhaps that is a bit on the extreme, but first impressions are vital. How you present your service to potential clients is as important as how you present yourself.
It’s not rocket science. Let us summarise it all down to three key elements of vision, promise and implementation.
Understand your customer’s expectations and values in order to target your brand vision to the appropriate audience.
They want not just service, but respect and the best in quality and delivery.
Develop a brand promise that is achievable. If you claim to be the best or the fastest, ensure that you are what you say you are!
Then last but not least, be consistent. Do not stray from your value proposition. A customer will remember your name only if your brand vision is implemented consistently and with clarity through the use of the same messages and images.
Sis Bee’s Kitchen shows such consistency throughout all her food outlets including the one that ran during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair.
The strength of her brand is its uniqueness.
Lenox Mhlanga is a social commentator