Planning a wedding in less than 100 days ain’t a walk in the park. Navigating through the wishes of Indian parents is fun, because the limitless thali of their checklist is laden with generous helpings of love. It’s the third person in the wedding that greys your hair quicker than dying it a statement-silver: The Great Indian Pundit. Horrified at the request of a 30 minute wedding puja, he’s gotten more pampered & placated than the bride-to-be. For a quick breather, the gent (you remember him from here, here, and here) and I snuck out from a wedding planning meeting to grab supper.
Based on an invitation to review a new entrant, we skipped the evening friscuits (fitness biscuits, haven’t you heard?) & coffee, and hungrily arrived at this #NewInTown. Only to be greeted by a wall of frowning gentlemen with the 3 words that I only yearn to hear from Ryan Gosling, “Are you media?” After a quick recovery from the recoil of that ghastly statement, I hesitatingly uttered, “Umm, yes” (I neither consider myself as Media, and most definitely not an Influencer). Six checks later, we were seated; only to be asked by another suspicious-sally about which publication we represented. After 20 minutes of hunger-laden irritation, we made a quiet exit from this empty house of confusion.
Ravenous, we ducked into the next open restaurant; only to encounter our second ugh for the evening. Chowing down dinner quicker than Usain Bolt’s milestone 9.58, a jeans-jacket-sneakers-beanie wearing gentleman walked in. Seems fine, till I tell you that this man’s entry had the service team up in (polite) arms. Two camps of servers were swiftly formed, one that discussed how he looked, the other that reminded him 4 times what cuisine this place served. Surprisingly, neither was his glass offered water, nor was his crockery laid out. As I lay down my spoon to observe this, the biting inhospitality towards this man left me uncomfortable. After 10 minutes of the microscopic judgement, the gentleman got up and left the restaurant.
In a previous Stevie’s Scribbles, I commented upon putting down our crisp serviette of airs and treat our staff the same way (or as close as) we’d like to be served. My last two (dismal) dining experiences made me think about the importance of reversing the cycle, especially in a time of the rise of the Celebrity Influencer. Influencer marketing is a strategic form of marketing where the focus is placed on influential people rather than targeting the market as a whole. This marketing-pivot helps as clever testimonial advertising that has a compelling influence over potential buyers. Call them value-added influencers or new-age celebrities, but they are your new business agents.
Post the free-hotel-stay shitstorm that had everyone up in arms about the actual influence of an Influencer, with some read-worthy views by The White Moose Cafe & Elinor Cohen. The latter made a cutting observation on Facebook:
“Business wise, a brand would benefit more from working with a thought leader, who has 5000 real and engaged followers, who could become real and paying 5000 customers. Than a buzzword thrower with 20k-50k followers (or more) who are only following thanks to herd behavior and who are not likely to pay for a product or a service. Real thought leaders *care* and make a point to be knowledgeable about the topics they cover.”
Whilst I agree with some parts of this statement, I know of many brands who have seen a surge in interest and purchase, thanks to an influencer’s tweet or Insta-story. Other than the fact that it’s beautifully styled, has impeccable service, and has one of the coolest managing-teams in place; Narendra Bhawan is a successful case study that has benefitted from careful Influencer Marketing. But the grimace is grave when the owner of The White Moose Cafe voiced the thoughts & concerns of many business owners, “puts into question the authenticity of influencer marketing,” because “She (the influencer in question) would have spoken nicely about the hotel only because she was getting it for free.”
The beanie-wearing gentleman was a paying customer. Invited or not, media or not, I am an ever-curious paying consumer. My mother calls me a Marketer’s Delight, because I try every new product & service, and be a loyalist to a massively funnelled down list. Whilst one was declined service because he didn’t look the brief (which is what, one wonders), the other was delayed service because she wasn’t media. Has the mandate for hospitality changed, where the new rule is to roll out the red carpet bejeweled with impeccable service at the sight of a Celebrity Influencer, in the hope of great pictures on social media, or mitigate backlash on their very same coveted social media handles. Yes, seeing where a fashion blogger eats always piques my interest, whether or not she has a refined palate or knowledge about the cuisine. But other than 5 people on my feed, I don’t know anyone else who calls out a product / beer / restaurant / brand as average, because ‘Hey! It was free!’
As part of The Pandora’s Box series published in 2016, an anonymous restaurateur wrote, “The debate in my head is always simple — are food bloggers people who don’t know their food and are in for a free ride? Or they there because of their love for food? So while I think a free review should be celebrated, it definitely should be followed up by a paid meal, just so that you know how things pan out. Or better still, for restaurants, instead of fearing what the bloggers might say, isn’t it time that the restaurants start rating these bloggers?”
So here’s some free (maybe, unrequited) advise:
- Yes, continue to pamper the Celebrity Influencer, if you must. But remember, a kind gesture to the average joe will have you a paying & loyal ambassador for life.
- Whether or not someone is an influencer/media/Ryan Gosling, be kind. Had that suspicious-sally spoken with more grace and suggest I come back when doors open to public – she would have had a 100% successful business conversion.
- Take this with a handful of salt, because I have been told to loosen up & stop taking food so seriously. But, here goes nothing: When building your preview guest list, slice your data and correctly assign the objective against each name. Don’t automatically assume a fabulous-looking, perpetually-dieting, instagram-OG, non food-enthusiast to know the difference between Salmon Roe from Caviar (explained in the 6th paragraph of this anon submission). His/her take on your product will be different, unique, their feedback may help the business in other forms. But let’s not invite them for a preview and then guffaw behind his/her back once they write their review. They’ve been invited for a free meal, and owe no one nothing but a content burp and a courteous thank you. If you yearn an objective, serious, detailed, and researched review longer than 150 words, invite them for legitimate feedback & views.
Today, time is the biggest equity where the circles of personal & professional lives are steadily overlapping into one huge mash-up. People look for solace in a correctly oxidised glass of Merlot, comfort in a bowl of spaghetti, meditative-pause in a kickboxing class, search for self-expression whilst shopping. Be respectful & hospitable towards your paying customer – his/her time, his/her hard earned or inherited money, his/her decision to choose you amongst a competitive landscape – because know what you’re up against.
Netflix at home.
Here are some interesting reads about Influencers:
My personal favourite: http://www.dssc.co/delhi/2016/10/08/pandoras-box-unlocked-dssc-tales-semi-drunk-chef/
Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Tara a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her (possibly) wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.
Featured Image Courtesy: robertwilder.com