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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Metro's Best Whiners

Saturday, October 23, 2010 By

I heard a lot of griping on Facebook about who was named Metro's Best this year - mostly from people masquerading as interested third parties, but who had ties to people with "dogs in the fight," so to speak. Workers for companies who lost, freelancers and friends of the owners of "competing" local media, that kind of thing. In other words, welcome to middle school.

Despite their obvious sour grapes, I agreed with some of their complaints. For example, I don't really see why Metro's Best New Local Restaurant has to be Cheddar's, when there are so many other new local restaurants. Shishkabob on North Belair Road, Frog Hollow and The Place on Broad Street, Rooster's Beak on 10th Street... that's all I can think of right now. I can't tell you why Cheddar's shouldn't have won, because I've never eaten there; ditto the category's second runner-up, Carolina Ale House. Generally speaking, Scott and I like the atmosphere at locally owned restaurants - not to mention the food.

There were other categories where I didn't agree with the winners chosen, but that happens every year. When I worked at the Spirit, we heard it from readers and advertisers when Outback was voted best steak, for example. We heard it from elected officials every time Austin Rhodes was nominated for anything. If it was a local place that won a category, we were "too trendy." If it was a chain, we were "bull$#!t sellouts."

I guess it was harder for people to call themselves bull$#!t sellouts. Because the votes were what counted. Three times as many people vote in the Metro's Best awards every year as in any other "best of" attempt in the CSRA. That's not propaganda. That's just the numbers. And those people who vote chose those places to win.


Well, that's a good question. First of all, it was a write-in ballot this year. That means that one thing mattered more than anything else: top of mind awareness. If people couldn't pull your business's name out of their brains within a few seconds, they weren't going to type it in. For example, there's a new steakhouse on Broad St. Don't ask me the name of it. I have no idea. And I bet no one voted for them.

That, my friends, is an Epic Marketing FAIL.

If no one knows who you are, how can you spread the "word of mouth" marketing that everyone around here loves to praise? "It's the best kind there is!" they say. Well, yes. And by that, they usually mean it's free. But, no matter what you mean, how are you going to get it? By not having people walk in your door? Well, you're doing just great. See you in the unemployment line next year.

One business representative crowed that their business didn't advertise so that it wouldn't attract the kind of people who would vote for Cheddars. Here's a hint: That business didn't win anything in Metro's Best. It's a great place, so why didn't it win? It certainly couldn't be the business representative's pretentious attitude, so please see the explanation above. In short, "the kind of people who would vote for Cheddars" could be giving you their money. But they're not.

I'm not saying that you should advertise - although you can't do worse than the empty tables staring you in the wallet every night. And advertising works, when you know how to hit your target demographics (creativity, get the numbers, and don't be ashamed to use an agency if you can't do it yourself). I'm saying you should market. And "word of mouth" marketing will only work when you have something buzzworthy for people to talk about. So what's buzzworthy about your business? Can you think of something exciting that you're doing?

I can't.

I'll tell you what Cheddar's is doing - besides choosing a high-traffic location with parking. Cheddar's is offering what mom-and-pop diners used to offer: quick, friendly service with hearty meals at a reasonable price - at least, that's the buzz I'm hearing - and it's close to shopping and the movie theater. So, really, Cheddar's is about convenience, affordability - and it's new! "Dey got one in Columbia, so dat means we're a big city now! Urhurh!"

I'll tell you what would be buzzworthy about a restaurant in this market: X restaurant is offering a full menu of healthy options - beyond salads and sandwiches - with a calorie count beside each item. Or Y eatery is now serving a pan-Asian noodle/rice bowl selection at a cozy corner shop with inside, outside and counter seating. Or Z restaurant is now serving a doughnut burger. (Have you heard about these things?! I want one. Unfortunately, X restaurant says it has 1 bazillion calories.)

New, different and - in this market - affordable: That's what will get your precious "word of mouth" marketing going. But don't skimp on the service. That's important, too.

And as for Metro's Best? I guess you can blame the newspaper for who won, what with them actually counting the votes, and all. You can listen to moles and sketchy salespeople who say that makes them "disloyal" to downtown (only one part of their readership) or that it means they've sold out. Whatever makes you feel better about yourself. But the real people you should blame is your customers because they gave their votes to someone else.

Ask yourself why they did.


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