You’ve heard about Michelin Stars, right? The ones they give to fancy fine dining establishments, the ones that celebrity chefs from all over the world covet for the recognition and distinction that their establishment is the best of the best. Michelin Star restaurants attract high-end customers and lots of prestige.
What if I told you that the Michelin of Michelin Stars was the same company as the Michelin Tire Man? You know, this stack of tires, marshmallow-looking guy?
Hard to believe right? Hardly seems fitting of the elite and exclusive Michelin Star restaurant or their posh foodie customer. Well, it is indeed the same!
Let’s go back in history a bit….
When French brothers Andre and Eduard Michelin founded their tire manufacturing company in 1889 there were fewer than 200 automobiles in France at the time. Even though cars had just been invented, they strongly believed in their future. Their problem: how do you sell tires in a world without cars? Not only did they need more people to buy cars, but they also needed those early adopters to drive them more (aka wear out and replace their current tires!). In this environment, increasing the number of drivers was more important than gaining an advantage over other tire manufacturers.
By 1900 when the first Michelin Guide was published there were 3,000 cars in the whole country, yet the brothers printed 35,000 copies of their guide, and then gave them away for free! Initially, the guide was a handy dandy resource that mapped out gas stations, tourist attractions, hotels, mechanics, and food. It also provided helpful how-tos, coincidentally, like how to change a tire! It was selective, and useful, and made driving more accessible.
The Micheline Guide was distributed free until 1920. In 1926 they introduced the Star to tell diners that they should expect top-quality ingredients, distinctive flavors, and a consistent approach at a star-awarded restaurant. Five years later they expanded the rating to the now known 3-star system, with two stars indicating that the restaurant “was worth the detour” and three stars indicating that the restaurant was worthy of being a destination on its own. Eventually, and based on readers’ requests, they narrowed down the scope of the guide to just restaurants. The guide became hugely successful and encouraged people to explore and travel more.
So, in order to sell more tires, the Michelin Star system was created to encourage people to drive more by visiting restaurants out of their way, aka quickening the tire replacement cycle. The guide provided value to current and future customers by offering useful and relevant information for a new industry.
It helped position the company at the very forefront of the market – before there was even an existing market!
On the flip side, as an expert on fine dining, the guide helped legitimize Michelin tires as a premium brand worthy of a higher price point. You could say that Michelin was the pioneer of content marketing!
Today, many businesses adopt Michelin’s marketing strategies as their own. For example,
Provide Value – look outside the box to find your added value, even if it is just extremely good customer service, and then pursue it wholeheartedly. Chick-fil-A does this. It has a great chicken sandwich, but part of their unique draw is their awesome customer service. Knowing that when I pick up my chicken sandwich, it will always come with “my pleasure” and a smile, is a unique competitive advantage over other fast-food joints. In an industry not typically known for exceptional customer service, Chick-fil-A stands out from its competition.
Create the Market – at first glance, tires don’t equal fine dining. When starting something new you need to create your market. GoPro’s marketing strategy is an example of this. Instead of advertising directly to consumers, GoPro invested in organic content. They hired extreme athletes and trained them to film their adventures with the GoPro action camera. The content generated buzz online which in turn created the market for ordinary people to become heroes by documenting their own extreme adventures.
Become the Expert - If you are going to create something make sure that you go all in and do it well. According to historical records, when the Allied forces landed in France to take on the Germans in World War II, all the soldiers were given Michelin guidebooks, as they had the best maps and details of France! The Guinness Book of World Records is an example of this strategy. The best-selling book we all know and love was originally started by the brewery as a promotional product to settle bar bets. However, the brewery took their job very seriously and painstakingly researched every fact to ensure accuracy, hence, forever being associated as the authority on world records and incredible feats.
Whether you are starting a new business or are in a mature market, the Michelin lessons are applicable to everyone.