“Culinary experiential marketing – Consumer well-being through food pleasure” – 3 questions to Gwarlann DE KERVILER, professor and co-author of the book

Gwarlann DE KERVILER, Professor of Marketing and Head of the Marketing & Sales Department at IÉSEG since January 2021, wrote the chapter “The French gastronomy experience: A unique link between food and well-being” in the book “Culinary experiential marketing – Consumer well-being through food pleasure”, under the supervision of Wided BATAT (published by Ellipses).

This chapter presents a new and holistic perspective to explore how the experiential aspect of food pleasure can lead to healthy eating behaviors in the cultural environment of French gastronomy. Is food pleasure an ally or an enemy in the development and adoption of healthy eating habits? Can we design healthy eating experiences that combine pleasure and well-being? What are the characteristics of food consumption experiences in France, and how do they contribute to consumer well-being? Gwarlann DE KERVILER presents this co-production and introduces us to the broader concept of experiential marketing.

How did you contribute to this book and what do you detail in it?

In my chapter « The French gastronomy experience: a unique link between food and well-being”, I have specifically focused on providing an in-depth understanding of the French gastronomy characteristics and the unique link that French consumers create between food and well-being. To do so, I first analyze the specificities and the explanatory factors of the French consumers’ approach in terms of cuisine and well-being. The first part reviews the history of French gastronomy and its institutionalization as a specific institutional domain. The second part examines the unique approach of French consumers to food compared to other countries and details the social and cultural dimensions associated with gastronomy. The analyses are based on data collected through a comprehensive review of the literature on gastronomy and through in-depth individual interviews with renowned French chefs in three-star Michelin restaurants, such as Christian Le Squer (Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris), Guy Savoy (Monnaie de Paris), Eric Frachon (Epicure Le Bristol Paris), pastry chef Pierre Hermé, and culinary experts such as Elizabeth Picciotino, Marie Eve Laporte and Elsa Ammal.

More generally, could you explain what experiential marketing is?

Experiential marketing is a marketing technique that aims to offer a product or service which will allow the consumer to live a unique, original and memorable experience.

Indeed, nowadays, consumers no longer want to simply buy a product or service, they expect brands to make them live a full experience, engaging their senses, developing interactions with the brand and allowing them to enter its universe. Brands have therefore adapted and now offer more than just a purchase: a consumption experience. The best example is luxury. When a customer buys a bag or a piece of clothing from a renowned fashion designer, they buy more than a bag in which to put their belongings or a piece of clothing to wear, they “purchase” a global experience: first, the pleasure of choosing the product, of getting information about it and talking about it to others. Then, the discovery of the know-how, the history of the brand and its values, and the manufacturing secrets. Finally, when they come to the store, the stimulation of senses (smells, touch, aesthetics of the store…) and the relationship with the salespersons who, through their welcoming and advice, build a long-lasting relationship… All this process allows to discover the universe of great couturiers, and in the end the customer has purchased much more than a bag: they have bought an outstanding experience, which they will remember, and which gives them the feeling of belonging to a privileged circle. They have thus developed their self-esteem.

Today, experiential marketing is used by all industries, which have understood the importance of differentiating itself by creating a unique relationship between their brands and consumers. Whether in the automotive or clothing industry, but also in the food, hospitality or restaurant industry, highlighting a moment of pleasure, of sharing, of discovery… allows to differentiate oneself beyond the product or service and to propose to the customer an upscale offer enriched by the experiential dimension… and thus develop the perceived value.

Why do companies rely so much on experiential marketing?

There are at least two factors that can explain this phenomenon: the need for differentiation and brand enhancement, and the needs of new generations of consumers who are increasingly looking for sensations and real experiences beyond virtual interactions.

First of all, experiential marketing is developing essentially in product and service categories where differentiation between competitors on functional aspects is more difficult. By moving away from the product and its technical or functional characteristics, we also move away from its simple utilitarian solution. The comparison between products becomes more complicated and the price reference becomes more difficult to establish. This is exactly the approach chosen by the leader in multifunction food processors, for example. Several players have followed the leader’s product model and developed almost technically equivalent food processors. But the leader keeps a higher market share than its competitors because it sells a unique experience beyond the simple act of buying: belonging to a community of cooking enthusiasts, training tools allowing to discover new culinary talents, self-esteem reinforcement when receiving guests… such benefits are difficult to value precisely. How much am I personally willing to pay to develop my pleasure, my skills and my image?

Furthermore, brands are facing a new generation of young consumers who are looking for experience, adventure, who want to break the daily routine and who are constantly looking for new experiences and unique sensations. For generation Z in particular, the emergence of the internet and social networks has meant that consumers are now overwhelmed by artificial relationships, and are yearning for a return to a “real” relationship: human, at the point of sale, locally. Brands have seen that they have everything to gain.

The development of experiential marketing can also represent new risks…

Absolutely, brands are also facing new challenges.

First of all, in some sectors, such as hospitality or gastronomy, consumers have always been accustomed to high-level experiences and are always asking for more… Faced with the need to constantly renew the customer experience and not to remain on the same level as before, hotels and restaurants are in a constant search for innovation, differentiation, novelty… But it is very complicated to constantly renew experiences and improve the experience before, during and after the purchase while keeping its profitability objectives!

Moreover, in gastronomy, for example, the restaurant owners face another ambiguity: consumers are looking to enter into the history, the cultural heritage, the myth behind an experience…, in short, all the elements of the past, while at the same time looking for new experiences, through innovation, discovery. The art is therefore to find the balance between historical anchoring and the search for originality in the experience.

In conclusion, with experiential marketing, brands must focus on developing 3 dimensions…

To develop the customer experience, brands must work on 3 dimensions. The emotional dimension first, by creating opportunities to surprise and give the customer the feeling of being important and treated in a privileged way, in order to trigger positive emotions that they will automatically and, sometimes unconsciously, link to the product or the brand. The relational dimension, through the exchange and dialogue between the customer and the brand’s representatives (the salespeople in the store, for example) with the creation of clubs or communities of experts, thus reinforcing their self-esteem and proximity to the brand. Finally, the cultural dimension, with the discovery of the history of the brand, its territorial anchoring, its values, the meeting with the different actors (such as chefs in the kitchen, craftsmen in their workshop, farmers in their garden)… By growing in their understanding of the product and the brand, by having the impression that they are becoming stakeholders in the creation of the product, the customer strengthens their attachment and loyalty to the brand.

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