It is without shame or regret that I share just how old I am when I reference record albums, liner notes, and the occasional swag that came with them. Beyond the music, these were a way to connect with and be part of your favorite band. They were a peek into the process, the lifestyle, or simply the hype that brought them to your attention in the first place.
I remember Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp record(s) came with a mini-pin, and the records themselves were smaller than the standard shape and size. I remember buying my sister the picture disc of Elvis Costello’s New Amsterdam when I was visiting a friend in Carbondale. The whole of the vinyl was tulips. Obviously, these details stood out, or I wouldn’t remember them decades later.
Nowadays, you can download your music, pull-up a YouTube video, and Google your favorite bands, but it’s tough to have something tactile to look at, to share with a friend. It’s easy to forget that discovery over time. It’s easy to forget the feeling you had when you first had an album on repeat for a week.
I feel the same way about bars and restaurants. Rich with emotion and inspiration, in 2020, they feel a lot like consuming music. It is collected but not tactile. It is memory-based. The feeling of walking into your favorite bar or restaurant is getting fainter by the month. The vibe—the people, the smells, the intent created, curated, cooked, and served up by your hosts—is being dulled by time and circumstances.
Masked-up and keeping our distance to keep one another safe, it’s how we have to be right now. For restaurant owners and chefs, the takeout, to-go, and delivery methods have been a way to try and stay in business and make it through this pandemic. For bar owners, it is even more difficult in many states with safety restrictions limiting their ability to operate.
Arguably a bar and restaurant are more than its food and beverages. It is a highly emotional experience that is a collection of sensory elements all coming together to create delight in its many varied forms, which gets me to new packaging and connecting brand loyalists to what they love and remember from their favorite bars and restaurants.
I’m going to pick a local favorite as my muse for this example: Gainsbourg is a local French bistro in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. It takes its name from Serge Gainsbourg, and though I’ve never interviewed the owners about the origin story of the brand, I have formed an opinion of what it’s about for myself – which is how consumers adopt brands and become loyal. “I like that; I’m like that…”
So during the pandemic, you can order takeout, cocktail kits, or even bottles of wine to go from Gainsbourg. It’s a nice reminder of an evening there, but it doesn’t last. When the food’s gone and the bottle’s empty, the experience is over, and you are back to memory and recall to inspire your next order.
It’s a small, cozy space that’s not perfect, but in a lovely way. The cookline just behind the bar. The cocktails are inventive, served in mismatched glassware. Music plays nonchalantly in the background, complementing a muted black-and-white film projected on the far wall. Surroundings and fellow patrons—always somehow so much cooler and more soulful than I’ve ever been—create an appeal that draws me in further with every visit.
All of these factors combine to form a rich sensory experience, seemingly impossible to replicate, particularly in one’s own home. So how, if you are Gainsbourg, do you package-up this experience and send it out the door when money is tight, and margins thin?
My answer is that it is the imperfection and patina of the space and the sensory cues of the music and film that could be added to the bag that you pick up on a Friday night. A second-hand 1960’s French postcard over-stamped with Gainsbourg’s phone and order info. A link to tonight’s playlist printed and enclosed in your bag. New-old-stock cocktail stirs. Stickers, cut-out articles, little unexpected cultural surprises that become tactile reminders of how the brand makes you feel. Not expensive stuff. Thoughtful stuff. Imagining for your customer what they feel when they can have that on-site experience.
The same goes for bars. The Kraken Bar & Lounge in the University District of Seattle is a venue well-known for its punk rock shows and pub fare, but it will be ages before there can be live music again. What if the pulled pork sandwich to-go came with a flyer, a 45, stickers, swag, or an original drawing or photo collected over the years? A way to fill in the experience, the vibe that customers are missing in this pandemic.
Intentionally these suggestions and examples do not include items like serving ware, candles, or table linens, because who has the money to add those things to orders right now? And it’s kind of not the point. Those liner notes, photo jackets, and little bits that came in albums didn’t have any real shelf value. They had high emotional and recall value. They gave us evidence of our affiliation and participation in the music.
By including some of the “lifestyle” that goes along with memorable food and beverages, we make it easier for loyal consumers to remember the vibe and look forward to the day they can experience it on-site again.
Interested in how you can keep your consumers connected to your brand? Reach out to Peter & his team at firstname.lastname@example.org.