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What Your Business Can Learn from the Michelin Restaurant Guide

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Michelin Guide Lead Magnet

Michelin Guides are a series of guide books published by the French tyre company Michelin for more than a century. The term normally refers to the annually published Michelin Red Guide, the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, which awards up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. Michelin also publishes a series of general guides to cities, regions, and countries, as the Green Guide.

In 1900, there were fewer than 3,000 cars on the roads of France. To increase the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tyres, car tyre manufacturers and brothers Édouard and André Michelin published a guide for French motorists in 1900 – the Michelin Guide. Nearly 35,000 copies of this first, free edition of the guide were distributed; it provided useful information to motorists, such as maps, tyre repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France. They even went as far as to put up homemade road signs to assist travellers.

As the tyre company grew, so did their guide. They launched country-specific editions throughout Europe that became popular enough to compel the brothers to start charging for the booklets in 1920. Michelin subsequently introduced guides for Algeria and Tunisia (1907); the Alps and the Rhine (northern Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria, and the Netherlands) (1908); Germany, Spain, and Portugal (1910); Ireland and the British Isles (1911); and “The Countries of the Sun” (Les Pays du Soleil) (Northern Africa, Southern Italy and Corsica) (1911). In 1909, an English-language version of the guide to France was published.

During World War I, publication of the guide was suspended. After the war, revised editions of the guide continued to be given away until 1920. It is said that André Michelin visited a tyre merchant and noticed copies of the guide being used to prop up a workbench. Based on the principle that “man only truly respects what he pays for”, Michelin decided to charge a price for the guide, which was about 750 francs or $2.15 in 1922. They also made several changes, notably listing restaurants by specific categories, adding hotel listings (initially only for Paris), and removing advertisements in the guide. Recognizing the growing popularity of the restaurant section of the guide the brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants, who were always anonymous.

Following the usage of the Murray’s and Baedeker guides, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments in 1926. Initially, there was only a single star awarded. Then, in 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced. Finally, in 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published:

  • One Star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
  • Two Stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
  • Three Stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).

In 1931 the cover of the guide was changed from blue to red, and has remained so in all subsequent editions. During World War II, publication was again suspended, but in 1944, at the request of the Allied Forces, the 1939 guide to France was specially reprinted for military use; its maps were judged the best and most up-to-date available. Publication of the annual guide resumed on 16 May 1945, a week after VE Day.

In the early post-war years the lingering effects of wartime shortages led Michelin to impose an upper limit of two stars; by 1950 the French edition listed 38 establishments judged to meet this standard. The first Michelin Guide to Italy was published in 1956 and they awarded no stars in the first edition. In 1974, the first guide to Britain since 1931 was published; twenty-five stars were awarded.

In 2005, Michelin published its first American guide which covered 500 restaurants in the five boroughs of New York City and 50 hotels in Manhattan. In 2007, a Tokyo Michelin Guide was launched. In the same year, the guide introduced a magazine, Étoile. In 2008, a Hong Kong and Macau volume was added. As of 2013, the guide is published in 14 editions covering 23 countries.

The Marketing Relevance

A tyre company is responsible for one of the most prestigious global food guides. A tyre company!

In a rather broad sense, the Michelin Guide was a ‘type’ of lead magnet initially created for two reasons:

  1. Solve a problem for the small number of cars on the road in France (way back in 1900).
  2. Create demand for the product indirectly by encouraging drivers to wear out their tyres visiting restaurants.

It’s interesting to note that the guide only attracted a fee after the brothers determined that the guide wasn’t respected because it was free; “Man only truly respects what he pays for”. This dilemma exists today as it did back then. Despite having a seriously valuable document that potentially solves problems for our leads, there’s still an overwhelming psychological barrier associated with digital downloads because of the association with ‘free’ and ‘spam’. Sometimes it’s harder to give something away than it is to sell it.

Solution: create a compelling unique value proposition. Don’t focus on what everybody else does – focus on what sets you apart.

What can we do as business owners to introduce a product line to our business that is associated with our core services but distant enough to provide diversification? We tend to tackle this diversification in two ways:

  1. Diversifying business interests and structure.
  2. Diversifying online business methodology.

For the mortgage industry, business diversification might mean introducing insurance or partnered financial advice on one end, and creating a “Michelin Guide” on the other end of the spectrum. As an industry with a total reliance on stringent legislation and compliance that dictates the terms of your survival, it makes sense to diversify simply for the purpose of business risk management. What happens if the mortgage industry becomes a pay-for-service industry tomorrow? Would you survive?

Car loans aren’t as glamorous as home loans, and the rewards are generally smaller. However, applying effort to this area yields seriously profitable results. We’ve had clients introduce this service to their business and they’ve ended up writing over seventy loans a month with three processing staff to manage the workload. The car loans invariably results in home loans if the relationship is managed correctly.

Many mortgage brokers don’t want to diminish their own brand value with the inclusion of automotive loans, but they also don’t want to diminish the value of the latter product by hiding it in the back of their website. The solution might be to build another standalone website specifically for car loans. The products can be managed and marketed independent (but connected to) a primary brand. If a client would like this website we’ll build it for them.

The extent of ancillary products that potentially float around the periphery of your primary brand is limitless.

One of the most search mortgage keyword strings online is ‘Mortgage Calculator’. Aussie Home Loans recognised this trend years ago and invested heavily into exceptional proprietary products; they also invested resources into the necessary SEO to attract organic traffic. These calculators – despite being rather vanilla in natureare were their Michelin Guide (not so much anymore). The calculators are not particularly innovative products but they are responsible for a massive influx of traffic to their website. While a little off-topic, Aussie’s online marketing or SEO is not nearly effective as it once was so the results aren’t reflected in any search you might conduct today.

Satellite Websites

Back in 2007 when I was operating my own Mortgage Business I recognised the need for a reliable source of BSB number data. There was no solution online so – rather than build the tool into my own website at the time – I built BSBnumbers.com (it was one of about a thousand of our company websites at the time). Working as a digital strategist (in addition to broking) it was only natural that I’d incorporate Google Ads to generate what I thought might be a few dollars a day. Fast forward two years and the site routinely attracted over 100-thousand distinct visits a day, which translated to at least $100US a day in income – more now of course. There are now numerous copycats on the market… but ours was the first.

The primary point of the ethical ‘Satellite websites’ (such as the BSB website we now provide to our clients as part of their program) as it relates to our own clients is that these highly-trafficked websites potentially provides a platform for garnishing traffic. Used in a spammy manner (such as black-hat Private Blog Networks, which violate Google guidelines ) satellite websites invariably have a negative impact upon your SEO; used correctly with nofollow links, and by providing a genuine feature-rich service, they’ll seriously enhance your online presence. We have an article scheduled that discusses our unique program in more detail here.

We now build a BSB number search engine, ABN/CAN lookup search feature, and a range of other tools into our client websites as a means of providing SEO-hungry link-magnets (if clients prefer we build the tool on a standalone domain). In fact, there are over a hundred features we can optionally include on a client website… and if we don’t have something packaged we’ll build it for them. This is not totally unlike the premise behind the Michelin Guide; we provide something of value that solves a problem in order to provide something else.

Note: Our satellite websites differ to anybody else on the market. We don’t use them as an SEO tool (low quality Private Blog Networks are against Google’s terms and will invariably result in a compromised SEO presence). Rather, we create audiences of people around seriously high quality websites.

Of course, our higher end Michelin-inspired proprietary products generate, on average, about 120-million of additional yearly volume to our mortgage broker clients. Want to learn more? Call us.

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