MEG Food For Thought: Be Flawsome

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We count on the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group (MEG) to deliver fresh insights each year at its spring conference held in Chicago just prior to the NRA Show. With our client, the National Honey Board (NHB), serving as a repeat sponsor, we have had the opportunity to capture these nuggets first-hand and find ways to apply them to our annual marketing programs.

This year’s MEG meeting started like most, with a demonstration of the secret MEG handshake for any newcomers, followed by personal introductions from each person in the room – several hundred, between members and sponsors – in a new record time of under 13 minutes.

Next, in a bold and brilliant move, MEG welcomed seemingly antithetical keynote, the director and star of Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock. He opened with the assertion, “Nobody wants to be first to lead.” Spurlock talked about challenger brands and the importance of taking chances. He emphasized now is the time to take risks. “The more risks you take, the less risky things become.”

Indeed, it takes a brave operator to try something really new and unconventional – marketing or culinary. Of course, countless introductions and marketing campaigns fail to gain traction, but innovation is key to standing out in a competitive industry. Limited-time offers, or LTOs, are a perfect way to test concepts on a smaller scale. For our NHB client, these have been a great place for honey to make its way onto menus in less traditional applications. A prime example, PF Chang’s “Garden to Glass” menu and promotion, which features cocktails made with a honey simple syrup in place of traditional simple syrup – a bold move for a chain. The LTO has been extended due to its success, and honey cocktails may very well be here to stay.

Best-selling author and motivational speaker, Eric Qualman, discussed the art of being "flawsome."
Best-selling author and motivational speaker, Eric Qualman, discussed the art of being “flawsome.”

Spurlock’s unconventional, thought-provoking presentation also heralded transparency as a critical element for today’s restaurant marketers. He believes that customers want you to tell the truth so that they can make informed choices. He highlighted his own pop-up restaurant concept, Holy Chicken, as an example of transparency with regard to ingredients and marketing. And it seems the public is eating it up – literally and figuratively – so much so that he’s opening permanent Holy Chicken locations. Spurlock’s bottom line: the truth always wins.

Next up was anthropologist Robbie Blinkhoff PhD of Content-Based Research Group. His presentation, “Growing a Culture of Presence,” highlighted the importance (perhaps now, more than ever) of being in the moment and fully present. Needless to say, cell phones were quickly stashed away and before we knew it, Blinkhoff had the room fully engaged in a conga line, turning strangers into fast friends. Subsequent breakout sessions afforded participants a deeper dive into industry implications, exploring the question, “How do we create an economy built on presence?”

My key takeaway from this exercise was that offline relationship-building is irreplaceable and sometimes it is important to unplug. Certainly, building relationships online – whether you are a brand or a professional – has great merit, but there is nothing quite like being in the moment and having a shared experience in-person, with one person or room full of people. Ultimately, if you can create a shared experience with a brand that translates online, even better. For maximum impact and return, foodservice marketers should prioritize synthesizing online and offline customer experiences.

Best-selling author and motivational speaker, Eric Qualman, closed the 2017 MEG conference with a session called “Modern Leadership: The 5 Habits to Success in a World Gone Wi-Fi.” In his presentation (and in his book, What Happens in Vegas Stays on You Tube), Qualman asserted, “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social and mobile, the choice is in how well we do it.” At the same time, he discussed the art of being “flawsome”– failing fast, failing forward, and failing better –suggesting action remains more important than perfection. Qualman says that the real crime lies in not seizing the day.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, Qualman distilled digital marketing to something refreshingly old-fashioned: relationships and people. He encouraged the MEG audience to “post it forward” – that is, like and share content from colleagues and industry contacts, offer online accolades and endorsements, and find other ways to strengthen your connections on and offline. He underscored the importance of the human element, even as we use technology to connect – simple but compelling advice that I will carry forward as a marketer.

Some great food for thought. Thank you, MEG 2017.

Andrea Schepke PR Director EvansHardy+Young
Andrea Schepke, PR Director

After serving as Managing Director in the Los Angeles and Chicago offices of Hill & Knowlton and supervising accounts like the Almond Board and Network For A Healthy California (5-A-Day) for Porter Novelli, Andrea joined us to take the reins of the National Honey Board foodservice account. Her strategically directed combination of events, media relations and advertising have helped create significant buzz in a very important market for our client.