Nikhila Palat’s top nine mantras for brand building in the food space

The core of public relations is the personal relations you build and maintain with your customers, says Nikhila Palat, CEO, Katalyst Reputation Management. At Vikhroli Cucina Season 3 / FBAI 2016 Dialogues, Nikhila shared the A to Z of how to build a successful food brand

26 Apr 2017

Going about building your brand can be tricky business, especially in the crowded food space. But once you get the basics down pat, there is no looking back. And who would know this better than PR expert Nikhila Palat ? At Vikhroli Cucina Season 3 / FBAI 2016 Dialogues, Nikhila spelled out the must-dos for a food-related business to help build itself into a force to reckon with.

Know who you are

Nikhila’s top tip for any business is to ensure they know what they are all about before even venturing into the branding building journey. “You can’t be snobbish when somebody is calling for a reservation and then say you are welcoming. Everybody who serves local ingredients is not a farm-to-fork restaurant,” she says. She adds that very few brands are honest enough or even able enough to recognise or reveal their true self.

A point to remember: An honest experience will guarantee lasting support for a business.

Understand your audience

Nikhila advises businesses to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. Avoid forcing a product down the consumers’ throats. “What will make you come back? Is it the price, food, service, the ambience or a particular person? Or is it all of these factors?” she asks.

A point to remember: In a world of infinite choices, how does a business get someone to fall in love with it?

Think out of the box

Avoid the herd mentality — think out of the box and be different — was Nikhila’s next nugget of wisdom. She cited the example of the Taj Mahal Palace’s legendary chefs Hemant Oberoi and Ananda Solomon who were always ahead of the game. The iconic restaurants that Chef Hemant launched include The Golden Dragon, India’s first authentic Sichuan restaurant; and Souk which introduced India to authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Chef Ananda, on the other hand, is credited for bringing in authentic Italian and Thai fare to India, through the Trattoria and Thai Pavilion respectively. Nikhila points out, “Don’t think they didn’t get their fair share of people who opposed them or didn’t believe in them.”

A point to remember: Don’t be afraid to be different.

Everybody is a VIP

A mistake that most businesses make is to categorise customers based on their influence. Special attention is given to media people or influencers with more followers, points out Nikhila. However, she says this isn’t the way to do it. “It is important to actually listen to your customer, whoever it is. Respond to them, show them that their opinion matters and they will reciprocate 10 times over.”

A point to remember: In the age of social media, everyone is an influencer and a VIP.

Learn something new every day

"The minute you feel you know it all, it’s the beginning of the end,” says Nikhila. Be open to learning something new every day. She adds, “When you make yourself the centre of the conversation, you end up missing a lot of great ideas that other people have to share.”

A point to remember: Take a step back and listen to what everybody is saying. You can then merge this with your ideas to reach a larger goal.

The power of a story

Never underestimate the power of a good story — people love it! Nikhila used the example of Masque, a new fine dining restaurant in Mumbai, to illustrate her point. She narrated the story behind one of the dishes — the sea buckthorn ice lolly that is served with a black pepper mousse.

“Sea buckthorn is only available at one place in India. Chef Prateek Sadhu had to fly to Ladakh and from there, travel six hours to the Nubra valley. He then went to Turduk, a small village on the Pakistan border,” she elaborates. “This village has no electricity and no connectivity. Chef Sadhu took a couple of days to forage the delicious berries and bring them back to Mumbai. All for that one dish, the ice lolly. So the story really writes itself.”

A point to remember: The art of storytelling is crucial to brand building.

Find your distinct voice

A brand’s tone embodies and expresses its personality and way of thinking. According to Nikhila, a brand’s voice should be distinctive, recognisable and unique. This is what differentiates it. More importantly, once a brand finds its voice, it has to be consistent. “The art of marketing really is the art of brand building. If you’re not a brand, you’re just a commodity and the only differentiation is price, so, the winner will be the one with the lowest price,” points out Nikhila.

A point to remember: Find your distinct voice and be consistent in your messaging.

Use platforms correctly

“I can’t stress this enough,” says Nikhila. “You can’t post your Facebook post on Instagram, your Instagram pictures are an annoyance on Twitter. SnapChat is definitely more than just dog-eared selfies.” Given the power of social media and the interconnectivity of communication, there is no dearth of editorial space. However, what brands find difficult is capturing customers’ attention, which is often limited. Nikhila has a way of dealing with this too, “You cannot penetrate mental space of a person by bombarding them with news that you want to tell them. You need to reach that space by being relevant and being trustworthy.”

A point to remember: Relevant content can help harness the advantages each social media platform offers.

Hello, I’m listening

One of the best ways to build a brand is to actively engage with your customers, says Nikhila. Try to find ways to engage with clients on social media through topics that interest them. Get feedback from them and try to implement it, instead of interacting with customers only when they have complaints. Nikhila also advises brands to call up five customers every day. “Ask them how can I make your experience better and actually go back and listen. Do it every day and see how it changes your relationships,” she declares.

A point to remember: Follow up with your customers and actually listen to their feedback.

Nikhila summed up her chat with this nugget, “The core of public relations is actually the personal relationships you build. And the recipe for success is that those relationships are scalable.”

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