What agencies can learn from the tapas revolution – Tony Spong

02 Apr 2018

I’m sure we all have a friend who chooses the same dish every time they go to a curry house, while another will try the thing they’ve never had before. It’s funny how what one person sees as a risk another sees as an adventure.

Feeling safe and secure is a fundamental human need and, more often than not, the way we navigate menus is based on this. But another human need is to grow and develop, to seek variety and thus enrich our lives; the polar opposite of feeling secure. Not surprisingly, how we deal with the tension this creates is one of the things that defines our lives.

Sharing reduces risk

One of the reasons the tapas format of small sharing plates has worked so well for restaurants is because it gives customers a low-risk “mini-adventure”. The plates are small and you’re encouraged to share; if you don’t like the dish someone else in your party probably will, so you can order another without feeling guilty. The risk of disappointment is low, so diners get the certainty of a good meal, while at the same time they’re encouraged to let go of what is known and certain, and enter a new world of possibilities.

It’s pretty hard to get food wrong these days but what about situations where we are totally outside our comfort zone and have little or no past experience to call upon?

A trend to big shifts

At AAR, we’re currently seeing a steady flow of clients who are doing things for the first time, or for the first time in a long time. These include big shifts in business strategy, digital transformation, new product development or brand strategy upstream of communications.

Perhaps it’s no surprise to see agencies respond by reviewing their propositions and rewriting their narrative. They range from a simple tweak to something completely new. This month alone, I’ve met a ‘new’ agency being formed from three existing ones, an agency looking to open in London and one wanting a market overview to help fine-tune their story for today’s context.

But the big change that all agencies need to make is to think more about tapas. When clients are taking big steps outside their comfort zones, agencies need to be there to help them take low-risk mini-adventures. They need to present things in a non-threatening way, balancing the client’s need to feel secure with the need for variety to grow – be that as a person, as a business or, indeed, both.

What is the client really feeling?

Agencies too often forget what their audience is really feeling. They need to get better at unlocking what level of risk clients are comfortable with and managing communications with them accordingly. One agency I know does this by showing prospective clients where other clients are with their thinking in the relevant area. Because the ones they choose aren’t particularly advanced, the prospective client is reassured they haven’t fallen too far behind, and sees the next step as less of a risk. Clients need to be more open as well. By being clear what they don’t know or are feeling nervous about, they can help agencies can prepare the right selection of ‘dishes’ for them to taste.

The key here is trust. Clients don’t want to seem vulnerable, because they’re worried that if they do, they might be taken for a ride. At this stage, agencies need to shift the balance further towards reducing the perceived risk. Then, when the client is feeling more comfortable, they can start to show them a wider range of options. After all, if four of your tapas choices are familiar, you’re more likely to try something new for the fifth.

About The Author

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Tony Spong

Lead Consultant, Brand Strategy

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