A couple of months ago, I had a speaking session at an organization in Bangalore. It was just after lunchtime, and since this is Bangalore, I decided to go to the venue before time, have lunch at the mall next door and then head to the venue.
At the mall Food Court, I found an unending array of food choices. This being a super premium/posh mall, most of the food choices seemed alien to me. My food preferences are generally basic – simple dal, roti and rice would do most of the time. But I couldn’t find anything that I was comfortable with. At that time, I noticed a McDonald’s and despite not being a particularly specific fan of the brand, the sheer familiarity of the logo/brand made me sigh in relief. I know what I was going to get, anywhere in India, when I enter a McD. (I do love their paneer burgers) That was enough.
I and my family had a similar experience when we stumbled on a Saravana Bhavan in Singapore’s Food Republic Food Court. I also choose Adyar Ananda Bhavan (A2B) for the same reason, while traveling from Bengaluru to Coimbatore or Chennai, on the highway – the familiarity of experience and the fact that things cannot go wrong, at best. When I use Uber or Swiggy in Coimbatore or Chennai, and find that the experience is the same as in Bangalore, there is the same feeling – comfort in familiarity.
Rory Sutherland has a full chapter on this notion, in his book, “Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life”.
“When we make decisions, we look not only for the expected average outcome – we also seek to minimise the possible variance, which makes sense in an uncertain world. In some ways, this explains why McDonald’s is still the most popular restaurant in the world. The average quality might be low, compared to a Michelin-listed restaurant, but so is the level of variance – we know exactly what we’re going to get, and we always get it. No one would say that a meal they had had at McDonald’s was among the most spectacular culinary experiences of their lives, but you’re never disappointed, you’re never overcharged and you never get ill. A Michelin three-star restaurant might provide an experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life, but the risk of disappointment, and indeed illness, is also much higher.”
Bob ‘Ad Contrarian’ Hoffman’s latest blog post also reiterates this notion:
You’ve been driving all morning on a two-lane highway and you’re getting hungry. You come to the small town of Nowheresville and at the intersection there are two hamburger joints. One is McDonald’s, the other is Bubba’s Burgers.
It is highly likely that Bubba makes a better burger than McDonald’s. But it is also highly likely that you will choose McDonald’s. Why? I think the answer goes something like this.
While you might like to have the better burger, it’s more important that you have a burger that isn’t risky. While you might like to stop at a place that is comfortable and relaxing, it’s more important that you stop at a place that isn’t icky.
McDonald’s may not make a great burger, and it may not be the most lovely environment, but you have a high level of expectation that the burger won’t make you sick and the place won’t be icky.
In other words, Bubba’s may very well make a better burger, but McDonald’s is good enough and relatively risk free. The aversion to unknown risks trumps the likelihood of superiority.
So the question is, why do you believe McDonald’s is good enough and safer? I think the answer is simple. McDonald’s is famous. Fame creates many advantages.
The new OYO campaign (conceptualized in-house) got me back to this thought – of bringing in a layer of familiarity of what to expect in the wildly varied hotels segment.
In principle, the core message and the visual way it is depicted (a big, visible OYO logo on the building) is the precise emotion I felt when I saw the McD logo in that mall food court that day, amidst a sea of unfamiliar and alien-looking restaurants. Though… the entry point to an OYO-branded hotel is through the internet (online), and seldom offline, unlike my experiences (with McDonald’s or A2B that you look, and walk into). Can you not book online, walk around, look at a OYO branded hotel, walk in and book a room? I don’t know since I haven’t tried that.
It may be a bit early in OYO’s life cycle to have earned the level of familiarity that a McD has earned, after being in business for decades. And the stories we hear of OYO experience gone wrong also impacts that familiarity. But the core thought is in the right direction. Operationally, the brand needs to work harder to imprint the belief of familiarity in the minds of people. But that’s the business part. From a communication part, I think the idea is on target. To make you remember: “In a sea of unfamiliar hotels, when you see the OYO logo, rest assured” – pun unintended about ‘rest’. 🙂