It has been a week of great trepidation for the protagonists of gourmet catering, whether insiders or simple enthusiasts. We are talking about the most eagerly awaited event of the year for star-hungry chefs and restaurateurs. Those of the Michelin Guide presented on Tuesday, November 8, in Franciacorta

Today, however, we are not here to talk about haute cuisine, but about marketing.

Yes, because that of Michelin, the car tyre manufacturer, seems to be the first major successful content marketing operation in history, as well as an example of a strategy for expanding a business. But let’s take it slow.

But let’s take it slow.

Car tyres and restaurants: the story of a brand

The Michelin brand made its first appearance on the market in 1889 when, in the small town of Clermont-Ferrand, two brothers, André and Édouard Michelin, founded the Michelin Tyre company and quickly became the leading tyre supplier in France.

But what would car tyres have in common with restaurants? Easy! The road to them.

In fact, it seems that the two brothers were at one point looking for a way to encourage car travel, and what better solution than a guide ready to make life easier for drivers?

Indeed, there were few pointers for travellers at the time. Imagine, then, how useful a booklet – the first Michelin was red – listing mechanics, service stations, garages, restaurants and hotels where to stop for the night or for a short break could have been.

Marketing scenarios and an anecdote

What the two brothers essentially did, was to offer ‘content’ that would make it easier to travel by car in a way that would lead to more trips, more cars on the road, more wear and tear, and therefore more tyre sales.

Nothing but content marketing in the service of a strategy to expand one’s market. As all marketers know, a company that wants to increase sales has three scenarios in front of them:

  1. Identifying new customers;
  2. Finding new uses for their product;
  3. Drive a greater use of the product to accelerate wear and tear and, as a result, the replacement of the product.

The Michelin Guide perfectly embodies what content marketing should be: a publication about a target universe that the company only partially enters and where the product is present but does not claim all the attention for itself.

And again, to bring up another cardinal marketing principle, it is worth mentioning this anecdote.

The first guidebook, from 1900, was given as a free gift to customers and partners of the company. Legend has it, however, that André Michelin, on one of his tours of workshops, saw his red booklet being used as a workbench stand. From that moment on, he decided to sell it for 7 francs so that users would attach more value to it.

Thus it was that the Guide became the point of reference for motorists and travellers, increasingly refining its style and the quality of its restaurant-related content.

The birth of the Michelin Stars

The Michelin brothers’ marketing operation was working so well that they decided to include a ranking of places of interest, using figures who at the time were called ‘mystery patrons’, today’s Inspectors. They went around to the restaurants in the Guide and after dining, would give Michelin their judgement, a system that has remained virtually unchanged for 85 years:

  • 3 Stars – Worth the whole trip, in the sense that the journey is organised ad hoc: these are the ‘must-sees’, places of international artistic, historical or natural fame.
  • 2 Stars – Worth the diversion: these are the places worth changing the travel plan for.
  • 1 Star – Interesting: this is an indication for those who want to learn more about the destination.
Source: Wikipedia

“Nunc est bibendum”

Dulcis in fundo, in 1894, Mr Bibendum made his first appearance, better known as the ‘Michelin Man’, a Dionysus-like figure whose name is taken from the well-known Latin phrase ‘Nunc est bibendum‘, ‘now is the time to drink’. This figure soon became the unmistakable face of the company and helped to strengthen its authority in the culinary field.

The rest is history.

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