April 28, 2020

Master Your Restaurant's Brand: Pauline Brown, Former Chairman of Louis Vuitton

Master Your Restaurant's Brand: Pauline Brown, Former Chairman of Louis Vuitton

Longtime leader in luxury goods and former Chairman of LVMH North America, Pauline is renowned for acquiring, building, and leading some of the world’s most influential brands.

In her groundbreaking new book, Aesthetic Intelligence, she shows businesspeople how to harness the power of their own senses to create products and services that delight their customers and build businesses that last. Her book is based on a course that she designed and taught at Harvard Business School.

Here, she looks to our industry, walking us through how to build a successful hospitality brand.

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SHOW NOTES

What is Aesthetic Intelligence?

Taste

A higher level of perception

The ability to discern and communicate what looks and feels good

Grew up as first-gen Jewish American in a creative but practical household

Going into business doesn’t always embrace the creative side

It took Pauline many years to combine creativity with her business knowledge

The importance of creative briefs

Marketing document

Roadmap for the brand plan

Stems from the company’s central idea into a more fixed template for branding

How to create a creative brief for a restaurant

Start with the core idea/usp/story

The core idea needs to be relevant, original and engaging to capture the imaginations of customers

Create an execution strategy to communicate that idea to customers

A central part of a restaurant’s idea - how do I want people to feel?

Getting to know the customer on a basic level

What do they order?

What is the occasion they come to your restaurant?

How much do they typically spend?

What time of day do they come to the restaurant?

Getting to know the customer on an advanced level

Mood state

Who are they as a person?

What drives them?

What are the wanting to feel in the restaurant?

Empathizing with the customer and getting to know them elevates the brand

Creating a “halo-effect”

Building anticipation before they come to the restaurant

Creating long-lasting memories for the customer after they have left

Aesthetics don’t need to be expensive

Nice things don’t need to cost a lot of money

Practical ways to save money aesthetically improving a restaurant

Consider the things you are already doing e.g paint a wall. Could that wall be a different color?

Making the same decisions more mindfully

Editing and taking away can also be effective

Having lots of capital can be a bad thing

Lots of money can make people lazy

Less money = more resourcefulness and creativity

Restaurants are not easy businesses

Most restaurateurs think very practically as operators

Tips to uplevel the customer experience in a restaurant

Sound design

Lighting design, down to the color of the bulbs

Visual design - small details

Pitfalls to avoid

Hiring a team that is not passionate about what they do

Amazing service leaves a lasting impression

Transcript

Josh Kopel:
Today's episode is brought to you by Yelp, whose mission is to connect people with great local businesses. They're also helping me connect with you, which is totally awesome. Now, here we go.

Pauline Brown:
You can't teach kindness. And the thing is like a fundamental part of hospitality is a mindset that not only am I equipped to serve well, but I actually enjoy serving.

Josh Kopel:
Welcome to Full Comp, a show offering insight into the future of the hospitality industry, featuring restaurant tours, thought leaders and innovators, served up on the house.

Josh Kopel:
I'm Josh Kopel, and on today's show we chat with Pauline Brown, the author of Aesthetic Intelligence and former chairman of LVMH North America, which helped build some of the greatest brands in the world, including Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon and Tiffany's.

Josh Kopel:
Restaurateurs have long known that patrons are looking for more than food and beverage when they dine out. They're looking for an experience. Pauline Brown has gone to painstaking effort to classify the thousands of elements that come together to tell our story. Here, she looks to the industry, walking us through how to build a successful hospitality brand.

Pauline Brown:
So aesthetic intelligence in a word is taste. It's not design, it's not beauty. It's about perception and it's about a higher level of perception. And aesthetics, if you actually go down to the origins of that word, comes from the Greek word [foreign language 00:01:44], which is in a nutshell, it's about how we perceive the senses. If you think of a related word, like an anesthesiologist, that the job of an anesthesiologist is to numb the senses so we don't feel pain. And with aesthetics, it's about higher sense of feeling and aesthetic intelligence is the ability not only to discriminate what feels good or looks good to you, but to communicate and articulate around that and to recreate it for others. That's the power of great taste.

Josh Kopel:
Have you always been attuned to aesthetics?

Pauline Brown:
I think I was always sensitive to it. I came from a family of a lot of creative individuals and very decorative individuals, particularly my maternal grandmother. She always made things with her hands. I don't think I had any particular talents for it though. If you would've met me when I was, I don't know, eight or 12, you wouldn't have said, "Oh, that girl's going to go on to rule the fashion industry." I was sort of a tomboy if anything, but I think I always had a higher awareness than my peers of not just how things looked, but how they felt to me. And that was the first start.

Josh Kopel:
Is that what sparked you beginning to study aesthetics? And in what capacity did you study it?

Pauline Brown:
No. I really came at it almost by accident. I studied business. I come from a family that in addition to having some creative threads is very practical. I'm actually the first generation American. All four of my grandparents were refugees from Germany during the Holocaust. So sort of classic Jewish-American story of rebuilding and came here with all the expectation that I would go to the right schools, that I would work very hard, that I would apply myself from a very young age. I was doing what I could even just to take in a little bit of babysitting money. And I did it not with any sense that this was child labor. It did it because it gave me freedom.

Pauline Brown:
I went into business in large part because that was one of a few options. It was business, law, medicine. This is what you did if you're a first generation American. But I always struggled because I didn't believe in business for business's sake. I always sort of was drawn to creative people. There was a real kind of demarcation between who I was professionally and who I was personally. If I looked at the type of people that I would hang with or the type of books that I would read, and then I looked at how I spent my days or how I dressed for work versus how I dressed for a party, it was really two different Mes. And it took a lot of years and a lot of confidence and a lot of, I guess, experimentation before I could really reconcile those two sides and say that I really need to be in environments that are driven by creative people, by people who care about style and beauty and experience and delight. How do I find businesses that foster, that are inspired in some ways even exist because of those qualities.

Pauline Brown:
And so lo and behold, I eventually, and I was already in my early 30s, find my way in the cosmetics industry. If you think about beauty, and I mean beauty products, there's no reason for that business to even exist if it doesn't provide aesthetics. There's no functionality. It's not like anyone's wearing red lipstick because it makes them healthy or it makes them better at what they do when they're not wearing red lipstick. But people do it because it elevates them in their sense of being and their expression. There's all sorts of reasons that mostly women in this case gravitate to beauty products. It was a real awakening for me to be in an industry where not only was it a big business and one that was a very healthy business, but one that was really built on the backs of these concepts that I hadn't remotely been taught while I was studying business and while I was doing more practical things.

Josh Kopel:
One of your core philosophies is that concepts need a creative brief. Can you explain what that is and how a restaurant could utilize it?

Pauline Brown:
Creative briefs typically start in the consumer goods industry and in creative consumer companies. It could be a fashion company, it could be a cosmetic company. But it's a conceptual paper and it serves as a roadmap.

Pauline Brown:
The reality is most great brands don't actually start with a brief, they start with an idea. The idea is much bigger than anything they're going to sell in year one or year two. If I give you the example of sort of a Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton didn't start simply with trunks for traveling, although if you go back to the earliest days of the brand in the 1860s, that's what you would have seen, but it really started as an innovation for travelers who were going overseas on steamships, because this is the steamship era, and who needed not only something that was lighter weight than the wood trunks they used before, but that would protect their clothing from the elements of the water because they were on the ship for months at a time.

Pauline Brown:
The idea behind Louis Vuitton, whether it was conscious, and I don't think it was by Mr. Vuitton at the time, was about how do I provide products that can answer people's love of adventure and of traveling of discovery.

Pauline Brown:
If you go all the way now to 2020, this love of adventure and discovery and travel is still very much part of the ethos of that company, no matter whether they're selling pants or they're selling watches or they're selling modern luggage, and so I would say with restaurants, the creative brief is sort of an execution strategy around the idea, but you really, before you even think about doing a brief, you start by saying, "What is the idea and where can we go from there?" If your idea is not original and ownable and relevant, and one that'll lasts beyond the here and now, it probably has to be revisited.

Josh Kopel:
Can you walk through some of the individual elements of that brief?

Pauline Brown:
Sure. I mean, you start with a brief of ... I mean, a brief is sort of a classic marketing document. I know Josh, you've read the book. I sort of talk about the fact that there's a brief around the product. There's a brief, which what you want with the brief is not just that it become a template, but that everybody who is then working on various aspects of the execution or the extension can look back to that brief and use it as a sort of standard approach. It's sort of your go to market strategy.

Pauline Brown:
But I go back to if I'm a restaurateur before I even think about the brief, I think about the idea, about the mood, about what do I want people to feel that is timeless in my place that I can express through all forms of my, whether we call it the brand codes or we call them execution strategies in the form of a brief.

Josh Kopel:
You've worked with restaurants, honing their customer service experience. Can you talk about that?

Pauline Brown:
Yes. I was on the board until about half a year ago of Del Frisco's. Del Frisco's is, as you may know, has about 70 different locations around the country, across four different brands. They're not all the Del Frisco's brand, though that is the flag ship.

Pauline Brown:
What was interesting to me when I joined the board is that it had been surrounded by a bunch of guys, and they were all guys, I was the first female, who had been in the industry for many years, and who really, really understood how you operate restaurants and more specifically, large chains of restaurants. They were deeply operational, and they understood every element of food service, whether it was the highest level or more fast service. What they didn't come with, and the reason that this opportunity even opened its way to me, was an understanding of the customer and not just the customer when he or she is sitting in that restaurant, but that same customer, the other, call it, 30 days a month when they're not in the restaurant and this understanding of how do you create a brand that lives outside of the two hours or so that someone may be dining in my particular space.

Pauline Brown:
When I think of customer relationship, I don't think so much of, although it's certainly a starting point, that's a very basic metric, but how much did this customer spend last time he or she was there and what time of the day was that customer here, or what was the occasion that brought that customer here?

Pauline Brown:
What I like to think about, and it's to me a much more powerful platform for delivering service, is who is this person? What are their dreams? What were they hoping when they came here that they would feel, or that the people that they had brought with them would feel? I turn it into less than sort of functional definition of who they are at what moment, what age, what income, and more into a mood state. Because at the end of the day, we know most people going to restaurants, in fact, almost 100%, are not going simply to nourish themselves. If they were simply going to nourish themselves, to fill their stomachs with food and drink, there's a lot of cheaper, easier, faster ways to do it. But they're going to accomplish something that is more profound. It could be a professionally oriented objective, it could be a romantically oriented one.

Pauline Brown:
And the same person, by the way, may come back two times a month for each of those agendas. But unless you have the empathy as a restaurateur to understand the person in his or her entirety, I think you really reduce them to something that becomes much more transactional and much more forgettable. And that's the problem with a lot of restaurants today. It's not that they don't serve well, it's not that the food's not good, the design's not good, it's very good, is that it's not memorable.

Pauline Brown:
There's the chapter in my book where I talk about this halo effect, which is important in a lot of businesses. It's really important in food service in restaurants. The halo effect is essentially this idea that about half of the joy that people take from an experience is not just the experience that they had when they came into the four walls of that restaurant, in the case of the restaurant industry. It's the experience that this combination of the anticipation, "I'm really excited to try out this place. I'm going there next week." And the combination of the anticipation and the memory, "I had such a good night at that restaurant," and the way they talk about it, the way they remember it, and very, very few places, fine dining and otherwise, really think about this combination of anticipation and memory. But if you can get those things working in your favor, you've got a lot more resonance than simply worrying about what happens when a person actually comes in and the person actually leaves.

Josh Kopel:
Well, one of the other things I took away from the book that I thought it was so important to discuss on the show is that aesthetic improvements don't necessarily need to be expensive.

Pauline Brown:
Right. Well, people often assume that it's a trade off. If I'm going to invest more in the lighting than I have less to invest in the food, for example. And I say, "Okay, sometimes that's true. So if you're opening a new restaurant and you're going to hire the likes of a Kelly Wearstler or Peter Marino, who don't do projects for much less than $10 million, of course it costs a lot.

Pauline Brown:
But let's just take a step back because even if you're not hiring any designer, you just say, "I just want a fresh coat of paint on the wall," you're making a decision and you're making it an aesthetic decision that will have an impact on your patrons. I always start by saying, "Let's just break down what is the decisions you're making anyway? I mean, you're going to put, if you're starting a new restaurant, you're going to put tile on the floor. You're going to put a lighting fixture somewhere in that restaurant. You're going to hire an electrician, and it's not going to cost you more necessarily to move the speaker from one area to another. It's not going to cost you more to do maybe a soft copper on the wall, as opposed to a sheer sallow green."

Pauline Brown:
I mean, who knows, there's a lot of decisions and at a minimum what anyone who's in the business of making people feel good, and I would argue that 90% of businesses should be focused on making people feel good or feeling a way that they want to feel, start with the things you're already doing and just do them more mindfully. Do them thoughtfully. Really understand and appreciate that every one of those decisions does have an impact on how people feel, whether they register it or not. And if you can get even a small combination of those decisions right and thoughtful, you will win goodwill in spades.

Pauline Brown:
Now, assuming you've done all the basic things, you've picked your coat of paint or your tile or your textures on the floor, the upholstery, you've picked it, and within every price category, every price segment you have thousands of options. It's a bit of a cop out to think that because I don't have the money, I can't do something nice. There's something nice at every price point. It just has to be thoughtful and it has to come together.

Pauline Brown:
There's another concept I talk about in the book, which is about curation. It's not just about making individual decisions. For example, there are pallets ,color palettes that I love, but they are not the color palette I would put in combination with other decisions that I'm making for what I want to achieve. And so being mindful about how all of these decisions come together, and then being able to edit down. Sometimes the best decisions you make are the decisions to do nothing and to take things away.

Pauline Brown:
If you have money, you will probably have the luxury to do some things better than others. There are lighting fixtures that are very expensive, but I go back to in the fragrance world, the Joe Malone example. When I was at Estee Lauder, we acquired Jo Malone. Joe Malone was a very, very small company. She a perfumer in London, had one small shop and was just opening at Bergdorf in New York. We knew, even though we were a big company and Jo was a small company, that there was a lot of buzz around it, that she was doing something right.

Pauline Brown:
She had no resources. She had no backers. There was no private equity investment back in the day. She couldn't have afforded to mold her bottle of her fragrances in a way that felt different and special. But there was something about her concept of fragrances that felt very special.

Pauline Brown:
What she ended up doing is she bought stock bottles, because one of the most expensive elements of launching a new fragrance brand is getting a mold so that you can individualize the glass bottles. That's a very, very expensive process. The likes of a Tom Ford will spend a million dollars just for the mold. She couldn't have afforded that.

Pauline Brown:
But what she could do was come up with other concepts around the brand that made it feel giftable. She put bows on everything. She had a color scheme that was quite unusual for the category. She created this store design that felt more like a lifestyle. It didn't feel like just another fragrance aisle of a department store, which everyone else did.

Pauline Brown:
There's a lot of things you can do by being resourceful. And sometimes I think having more money can be a disadvantage because people get lazy and they have a lot of money. They start following the formula of others that have a lot of money. When you don't have a lot of money, you have to think originally. And that's often the best stuff that comes out when people are thinking originally.

Josh Kopel:
can you think of hospitality concepts and offer examples of people you think got it right? Who has a set of intelligence within the industry?

Pauline Brown:
An interesting case study in hospitality is when Airbnb launched. Airbnb was not the first company or the first venture to offer a short-term rentals, home rentals. 20 years before Airbnb was even launched you had Craigslist. If somebody stayed at a place on Craigslist, it was probably because they had no other choice financially. It really was the lowest cost option and it kind of felt creepy and dangerous, but you did it because you absolutely had to.

Pauline Brown:
And then after Craigslist, years later, you had VRBO and HomeAway and a few others. And then Airbnb comes. Airbnb to this day, not withstanding all that's happening in the world and the hit that it's having on hospitality, is still valued at multiples of any of these others.

Pauline Brown:
And you say what did they do differently? Well, they didn't have a different functionality in terms of the others. They weren't leveraging the net the same way and information the same way many of the others were. But the two guys who founded Airbnb, one is Joe Gebbia, the other Brian Chesky, unlike all the others, they were not technologists. They each had graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and they started it with in mind, how do we use design as a source of comfort and trust and aspiration?

Pauline Brown:
I think they were very, very strategic and clever in how they used their design backgrounds to create a proposition via this very limited sensorial channel, which is the web, to make people dream about travel and about experience in a way that had not happened before and really reinvented what it means to travel, to the point where people will stay at an Airbnb sometimes before they'd stay at a Ritz Carlton or Mandarin Oriental. They went all the way up the chain with that particular design sensibility.

Pauline Brown:
Now, if your question is, how do we do it in the offline world, I would say one of the things, going back to my Del Frisco's example, is a lot of people who do restaurants well are very operational and there's a lot of elements. It's not an easy business and they reduce it to sort of the mechanics of what they're doing. And then of the more, I would say, tasteful ones in the mix, maybe they'll hire a great designer and be very mindful about, for example, the decor, the napkins, and so forth.

Pauline Brown:
If you want to take that to another level, though, when I go to a place that not only has good visual design, that would show well on the likes of an Instagram, but that has great sound design, why is there not more sophistication in sound design? And by sound design, I don't just mean the selection of music or how loud the volume is or soft it is, but I mean how the music is being projected because the technology around projecting sound has gotten so much more advanced and is so much cheaper today than it was a few years ago, and yet very few restaurants are leveraging it well.

Pauline Brown:
Similarly lighting, so lighting, we think of well buying great fixtures, and that helps obviously, but what about actually the bulbs, because it's not that much more expensive to change the temperature of a bulb to have it be a bit warmer or a bit pinker or even in different sections. And to be aware when you have the different colors in your various spaces, how the temperature of that light reflects off of it. Because at the end of the day, that is driving experience, whether the customer realizes it or not.

Pauline Brown:
The more you can tap into all of these unconscious elements of design, I call it invisible design, the more of an advantage you have, and the more apt people are to come back, not just to try it once and to say it was good, but to come back and just say it was great.

Josh Kopel:
Are there pitfalls you would recommend for restaurateurs avoiding?

Pauline Brown:
We can't teach kindness. The thing is, a fundamental part of hospitality is a mindset that not only am I equipped to serve well, but I actually enjoy serving.

Pauline Brown:
I'm often struck that I go to restaurants and people, meaning whether it's the maitre d' or the waitresses, they're very skilled and they go through the protocol well, but there isn't a sense that they actually enjoy what they do. And then it creates a bit of a distance and a transactional connection with me because if they're just doing their jobs so that they can actually get on with their life and do other things, then I sort of feel like, well it's a conscious or unconscious reminder that I'm really there just because I'm able to pay, and they're really there just because they need the pay. It reduces that equation to something very dehumanizing.

Pauline Brown:
The reason I bring this up is no matter what's happening in the world in terms of trend and development and macro economic factors and so forth, the one thing that never goes away is the need for people to find ways to touch their humanity, to feel. We disguise it in the form of community. We disguise it in the form of sort of connection or experience, but really what we're getting at is people want to feel human. They want to be treated like a human. And at the end of day, we go through a lot of our lives being dehumanized.

Pauline Brown:
I would say, at the start, it's really about hiring well, hiring people not who are willing to do the work, but actually derive genuine joy from it because their joy will be my joy. I think anything you can do to make those people feel that they're part of something that's bigger than a job will pay off in spades.

Josh Kopel:
That's Pauline Brown, author of Aesthetic Intelligence. You can pick up her book in hard copy or digital format on amazon.com. Also be sure to check out her radio shows, Trendsetters and Tastemakers, both on Sirius Satellite Radio.

Josh Kopel:
If you want to tell us your story, hear previous episodes, check out our video content or read our weekly blog, go to joshkopel.com. That's J-O-S-H-K-O-P-E-L.com. Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and while you're there, please leave us a review. A special thanks to Yelp for helping us spread the word to the whole hospitality community. I'm Josh Kopel. You've been listening to Full Comp.