Spoiler alert! It’s the call of the millennial TV and movie watcher, the warning cry of secret holders or defeated wail of those prematurely and unwittingly exposed to plot-ruining details.The buzz behind today’s narrative-driven entertainment, from Game of Thrones to the Serial podcast, seems to be as much about the secrets of a story as the overall story being told. But who can blame us? From whispers in the schoolyard to rumors at the water cooler, having a secret, especially a juicy one, is tantamount to having a hidden superpower that you only unveil to carefully chosen confidants.
Though secrets are powerful when they entail the latest fatality in Game of Thrones or the big twist at the end of Fight Club, but when leveraged for businesses they can create a buzz that gets the whole town talking. Take, for example, a hidden pizzeria in Las Vegas. Though Vegas is known for its neon-clad casinos, lounge singers and a less-than-squeaky-clean history, you can add the ‘za to that list thanks to a literal hole in the wall.
Featured in Marketing Tip Monday, this pizza place, known fittingly as “Secret Pizza,” has no sign, no listing in the building directory and can’t even be seen from the main floor of the Cosmopolitan hotel where it resides. This is a marketing nightmare, no? Businesses pour millions into marketing their brand, increasing their social media presence and producing high-end commercials just to get the word out, after all. Yet, against all odds, this hidden pizza joint boasts five-star reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor and has become something of a local legend.
For a local example in a similar vein, we need only cruise down to the Audubon Park Garden District, home to what appears to be a big matte-black box. This box’s name is Kadence, and it is home to a truly unique dining experience in Central Florida.
The idea of a limited-seating, reservation-required nine-seat sushi bar specializing in a highly personalized, chef-picked multi-course tasting menu is wholly unique to the sprawl of Central Florida’s sprinkling of Asian fusion and street taco purveyors. Though the Kadence’s concept is simple, you get little-to-no hint of it being a sushi bar by looking at the almost comically nondescript façade. Instead, we are forced to stare in wonder and, short of walking in to inspect for yourself, find someone to share what they’ve heard around town.
The marketing heavy lifting for Kadence isn’t achieved by radio ads or tacky banners that proclaim, “GREAT SUSHI–OPEN NOW!!!” Kadence takes a much more subtle approach: an approach largely afforded to them thanks to the quality of their product. The secret hiding within that box is, from all signs, well worth the buzz. If they were serving up mediocre-at-best airport sushi on styrofoam plates, the word of mouth may fall flat on its face. But instead, these chefs who cut their teeth at Michelin Star-rated restaurants provide a unique, truly high-end dining experience. With each satisfied customer, Kadence builds onto its mythos as the best-kept culinary secret in Orlando.
That’s great for them, but you’re probably wondering what your brand can learn from Secret Pizza and Kadence. These success stories are proof that the power of secrets isn’t reserved to your favorite TV show, movie or podcast. This implicit power can be leveraged in any business willing to keep a secret from the masses. In doing so, a brand is able to inspire a small, in-the-know fanbase who will spread the word like wildfire: from an über-exclusive sushi bar, a secret-but-sublime pizza joint, a secret menu only regulars are privy to or a special cocktail that’s only sold after midnight.
Don’t mistake this blog post as an admission that traditional advertising and social media marketing is all a sham–far from it. However, sometimes a little mystery goes a long way in creating underground chatter that can penetrate far deeper than more blatant advertising. The traditional marketing tactics could, and often should, work in tandem with the myth building of your brand. Also, never lose sight of the fact that Secret Pizza and Kadence both succeed because their secrets are worth uncovering. The disappointment would be hard for these restaurants to shake if their product was anything but exceptional.
In reflection, much of the appeal of a secret is the feeling of being an insider. It’s completely human to want to belong to a community and an exclusive club. There’s a definite cool factor to being the guy or gal who knows all the speakeasy passwords, where to find the most authentic (insert ethnic food of choice here) in town and which hallway leads to the best pizza in the city.
Brands bend over backward to make meaningful, emotional connections with their audiences but many fail to capitalize on the allure of being an “insider.” Spoiler warning: whispering into your customers’ ears (or inspiring their friends to do so on your behalf) can be a truly powerful tactic to add to your more traditional marketing methods.