Twist & Tweak - Two Principles for Innovation
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | October 28, 2008
Who would have thought it? You click on the TV, start channel surfing, and suddenly see a commercial in which a couple wanting to "eat better", sits down with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. You continue surfing and, behold, there is another commercial touting fried chicken as part of a diet for people counting carbohydrates. An oxymoron? Perhaps. But it is also an example of the Twist Principle in action. You see, in a world of Atkins, South Beach, and weight-consciousness, in 2003, KFC simply took a popular trend and bent it around its core product to come up with an innovative advertising strategy.
KFC is not alone in taking advantage of the Twisting Principle. When the low-fat craze hit the market, Wonder Bread splashed fat-free in blazing color across every package. (There was never any fat in Wonder Bread to start with!) A few years earlier, when people started grazing 24/7 instead of eating 3-square meals a day, the orange juice industry launched a promotional campaign hyping the beverage as a drink for any time; it was "not just for breakfast anymore."
And when our lives started getting too busy and we wanted to de-stress, Teledyne reinvented itself not as just a showerhead, but as the ultimate at-home tension-reducing body-relaxer. Their commercial featured a frazzled, fully clothed executive so eager to de-stress that he jumps into the shower (under his Teledyne Shower Massage, of course) still dressed in his business suit. Sales soared.
The secret of the Twist Principle is that the actual product does not change. The chicken is still fried (actually, it is pressure cooked) with 11 herbs and spices, the bread is baked, sliced, and wrapped the same way, the orange juice is squeezed and packaged as it has always been, and the shower head is still manufactured, distributed, and sold in the plumbing department. What does change, however, is how the product is position and advertised. The innovation lies not in the product but in the promotion. In other words, you do not have to invent a new mousetrap for people to beat a path to your hotel's door. You just have to develop an innovative way of twisting a trend around your mousetrap and communicating that to your potential guests. The key is discovering what the trends have in common with the basic qualities of your hotel. Once you discover that, you can wrap them around your promotional strategy.
For example, one of the hottest trends going is the "greening" of America. Fostered by media's attention to global warming, everyone is jumping on the conservation bandwagon. "Greening" has probably been part of your operations for years as a cost savings measure. But have you used your conservancy to its full marketing potential for your hotel? Are you, contrary to what Kermit the Frog might say, touting the fact that it is easy being green? Similarly, with the trend towards healthy living, many hotels are already using organic foods in their restaurants but are not twisting the trend around their advertising.
There are two caveats to the Twist Principle, however. The first requires that the bent trend must be believable to consumers on some level or they just will not accept it. A case in point: remember when Oldsmobile came out with the "It's not your father's Oldsmobile, anymore." campaign? The younger target market just did not buy it because, when they looked around, the only people they saw driving an Oldsmobile were their father's age. A major promotional faux pas. The second caveat necessitates that the bent trend campaign be truthful. Another case in point: the KFC healthy campaign only lasted about four weeks. The company discontinued commercials touting its fried chicken as part of a healthy diet after the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming the ads were deceptive. Not only was this a promotional faux pas, the brand got hit with a rash of negative PR to boot.