Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Prague Food Festival took place for the 4th time back in late May of this year. It had been in a number of different locations over the four years and this year it was in arguably the most prestigious – the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle.

The weather co-operated and the sun shone throughout. Many of the city’s top restaurants were there serving tasting-size portions of their best dishes.

All sounds great apart from the fact that the organisers made some basic mistakes that led to much disgruntlement amongst visitors to the festival. As opposed to previous years there was very little in the way of ‘built-in’ furniture for sitting on at the venue. The grass was off limits even for walking on and there were nowhere near enough tables. Nobody thought to co-ordinate with the restaurants leading to lots of places serving very similar dishes. When the whole point of such an event is to try out lots of different things this was a disappointment for many. Other organisational mis-steps were cited, such as requiring advance ticket purchasers to go to one specific entrance, where the queue was longer than for people purchasing on the day, and a lack of toilet facilities. These concerns were all posted on the PFF’s Facebook page (some of them were removed to, a whole other level of fail) along with annoyance at how the prices for dishes had become excessive – though they were little changed from the previous year. The overriding criticism was that the organisers of PFF were only in it for the money and didn’t care about the visitor experience.

Marquees at Prague Food FestivalThis weekend saw the first FoodParade – an alternative to Prague Food Festival, featuring some of the same restaurants as PFF and whole load more from outside the central square mile of the city – up and coming places, or places with strong followings of locals but with a desire to expand their customer base. The festival was located out of the centre of the city but still just as accessible by public transport. As a visitor to both the difference can only be described as like night & day:

  • The odd PFF practice of giving you a set of chromed plastic knife & fork when you enter, that you are supposed to re-use (or find somewhere to wash, incidentally not very easy), gave way to an altogether more sensible ‘metal cutlery available at every stand’ approach.
  • The festival currency, “chefs”, had a conversion rate of 1 chef to 10 crowns, which was printed on each ‘chef’ whereas at PFF, each “grand” was worth 25kc, which you had to remember. A little touch that was aimed to be more transparent about how much dishes were costing you.
  • Tables were conspicuous by their abundance not absence.
  • All the restaurants and food retailers were treating the event as they should – a marketing exercise rather than trying to make out like bandits. Some even gave coupons for money off when you go to their restaurant.
  • The weather forecast on Sunday predicted rain. In anticipation of this the organisers put up marquees and posted pictures of the marquees to their Facebook page so people could visit without worrying about getting rained on while they ate.
  • FoodParade’s Facebook page is full of enthusiastic compliments from visitors, already looking forward to next years.

Without a doubt FoodParade’s organisers saw what was wrong with PFF and have put together an enjoyable event that stands as a true festival of food.

The marketing takeaway?

Keep an eye on what your competitors’ customers are saying in social channels:

  • Watch their Facebook pages (you can subscribe to a Page’s updates as an RSS feed)
  • Create saved Twitter searches
  • Set up Google alerts for their company names or product names + words like review, complaint, feedback.

And of course you’ve already got this kind of monitoring set up for your own brands and products haven’t you?

Fish where the fish are

Or “grill where the people are having beer”

beer gardenOne of the many things I love about Prague is that there are many places, just out of plain sight, that tourists hardly ever notice – little oases for real Czechs to drink Czech beer and eat grilled meat (and vegetables too at the better places, like this one).

Here’s a map of where I had dinner recently.

[mappress]

So, Location, Location, Location eh?

Well kinda – what’s great about the location of this beer garden? Well it’s inside a ‘national monument’, site of a former castle, on the battlements of Vyšehrad. It’s hardly ‘picturesque in and of itself. There are great views, just over the hedges. Hardly anyone goes to look at the view though.

It’s not exactly easy to get to, approximately a 10 minute walk from the nearest metro station. What’s great about this place isn’t specifically the location, it’s the atmosphere – people sitting and chatting, people cycle to here, bring their dogs. There’s nothing better on a warm evening than a cold beer (24kc/less than £1, less than $1.50/€1.50) from the quick service hatch and some čevapi and grilled eggplant and zucchini from the Croatian-run grill.

queueingWhat makes this beer garden better than any of the many others in Prague? It’s the food; better than standard Czech grilled fare (usually un-spiced lumps of pork or chicken, most often questionable wurst). These guys really care about the food they serve. It’s always beautifully cooked and seasoned and it’s reasonably priced.

How did they get this busy? By making it really easy to do business with them? By spending loads of money advertising? No and no. The ordering process is a black art – for most items you have to go to the counter, place your order, often without the benefit of a menu or pricelist, based on what you see and what you see other people eating. They then give you an approximate lead time. You go back when the 20 minutes is up, queue up again and get your food. Hardly slick. They’ve also never advertised, word of mouth works so much better, why bother.

So now there’s a symbiotic relationship between the little pub and the grill (which are run independently). If the grill’s not open, business at the bar is slow. There’s a ‘whole product’ experience that lots of people love and come back for regularly, often bringing friends who’ve not been before, expanding the tribe.

What’s the marketing takeaway from all this? Is it ‘build it and they will come’? Or is it, as Twitter’s Ev said recently ‘do something awesome’? Maybe it’s just that sometimes, marketers need to just stay the hell away and let people do their thing.