We all know stories about the hidden gem, the new culinary best kept secret which usually includes word-of-mouth directions like, “Just go beyond the corner street, three steps to the left, right before the garage, you’ll see a shoe factory, this is the place where you’ll find the best bagels in the world.”

And what a magical moment it is, arriving at a place, seeing a bunch of people waiting in a never-ending line for this promised bagel. The space is just clean enough to be acceptable for eating, the owner is irate and gruff, throwing jokes around from time to time, people are sitting on anything except chairs, the smell is mesmerizing, reminding you of something you ate once. What an experience! 

With no fancy artwork or sophisticated, over-promising messages, those hidden yet highly popular brands are not perfect by any means, and that’s perhaps what makes them magical – they prioritize what truly matters while letting imperfections be part of their charm. Above all else, they are successful in positioning themselves as something distinct. Something unapologetically authentic.

The hidden gem restaurant offers valuable lessons for startups seeking to build a strong brand perception. By embracing imperfections and authenticity, positioning for exclusivity and uniqueness, and maintaining consistency across all touchpoints, startups can create a brand that stands out from the crowd and resonates with their target audience.

Positioning for exclusivity and uniqueness

The effectiveness of the hidden gem is in its ability to successfully position itself as exclusive and secretive, creating a sense of desire and intrigue among customers. Those who know, all share a common secret, a common privilege, so there is a sense of communal appreciation and achievement. This is not to say that startups should wait to be found, it is simply an analogy to understand how “word of mouth” works and how to use it to your advantage. It is the delicate balance of establishing visibility within the marketplace without losing the air of  “exclusivity.”   

One way to achieve this is by intentionally positioning yourself as one that avoids superfluous media exposure and public attention, and employing an “invite-only” approach to attract awareness, attention, and engagement.

The art of this method comes from who we chose to invite. Malcolm Gladwell writes on the power of “word of mouth” and the brokers of influence within this world, each with a distinct social function. One of the biggest players are mavens – trusted experts, or those who are known to be knowledgeable in their field especially in terms of new products and ideas. Gladwell writes, “[…] due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate […] mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” By targeting “brokers of influence” in a strategic way, startups can generate both visibility and exclusivity.

In tandem with exclusivity, startups can achieve uniqueness by defining how they want their brand to be perceived and positioning themselves as distinct and desirable within their niche. By understanding their target audience and tailoring their brand image accordingly, startups can create a sense of exclusivity and uniqueness that sets them apart from their competitors. This positioning strategy can help startups establish themselves as authorities in their respective industries, attracting a dedicated following of customers who crave the exclusive experience that only their brand can provide. The hidden gem in their field.

Embrace authenticity

Another part of the charm of the “hidden gem” is they are distinctly themselves – with all the imperfections comes equal parts character. Authenticity does not mean “bad” or “flawed” and it also doesn’t mean that the slick, shiny, and streamlined could not also be authentic. 

Authenticity is subjective, afterall. When I talk about imperfection in relation to authenticity, I’m referring to embracing what is distinct and honest about the startup. Establishing a unique overall experience that captivates and charms its audience. Share with your audience your process. Startups, like anything else we build, are a work in progress. By including the outside, your clients will feel like they are actively taking part in your journey and become personally invested. 

It’s the oddities and uniqueness that make hidden gems so appealing, and startups can leverage this approach to connect with their audience on a deeper level.

In a world where polished and overly-refined brands dominate, authenticity stands out. Customers are drawn to brands that are genuine and relatable. By embracing their imperfections and showcasing their true character, startups can create a more memorable and relatable image. 

Consistency across all touchpoints 

While the hidden gem in the culinary sense operates in a physical location, startups have the advantage – as well as the challenge – of reaching their audience through various platforms. It’s essential for startups to maintain consistency across all digital platforms in their brand’s look, voice, and overall messaging across all touchpoints.Startups need to make sure social media speaks the same as their pitch deck and website, and for example, their marketing and customer service all use the same terminology and deliver the same experience so potential clients will get the same experience both digitally and personally. 

Consistency builds trust and ensures that customers perceive the brand in the same way, reinforcing the desired brand image.

Just as hidden gem restaurants provide a consistent experience from the moment you step foot through their door, startups must ensure that every interaction a customer has with their brand aligns with their intended perception and their core values. 

Be your own hidden gem

By studying the success and allure of the hidden gem restaurant, startups can gain valuable insights into building a strong brand perception. These unique establishments teach us the power of embracing and not being deterred by our unique character and teaches us how to use this to cultivate an appealing brand identity. Startups can apply these lessons to create a brand that stands out, resonates with their target audience, and generates positive word-of-mouth marketing. With authenticity, distinct positioning, and consistent brand messaging, startups can build a brand perception that leaves a lasting impact.

Embracing the lessons from these establishments, startups can embark on a journey to create their own hidden gem in their industry, attracting a loyal following and establishing a strong foothold in the market.

Cover image source: William