What can the lobster teach us about marketing?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Perception is all that matters when it comes to branding. Even though lobsters look like giant cockroaches, people think of them as luxury food. But it may surprise you to learn the perception of lobster has fluctuated drastically over the decades.

There was no master plan by Big Lobster to market the crustacean as luxury food. As we will learn, public perception changed due to world events and lots of small players in the food industry trying new things over the decades. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two about product presentation and market reception by studying the lobster’s history in American cuisine.

Lobster started out as a poor man’s food. According to How Lobster Got Fancy by Daniel Luzer, eating lobster was thought of as a sign of poverty in colonial times. In the 1600s, lobster was used as prison food. But things began to change in the 1800s as canned lobster was served to unknowing train passengers. If you didn’t grow up on the coast, it was unlikely you knew about lobster. Since it was canned and didn’t resemble a giant spider, inland train passengers ate it like a new exotic food.

This all happened by accident but there are some important lessons here. First, if you have bad PR in one area, try to find a new market without preconceived notions about your product. Next, visuals matter. Fluffy white meat from a can looks more appetizing than an overgrown red bug. If there are ugly aspects to your product or brand, give it a makeover!

The story continues. As the preparation of lobster was perfected, it got even tastier. By the 1920s, the perception of lobster was riding high. But things were about to change again.

When the depression hit, people could no longer afford chef-prepared lobster and it was demoted back to a canned food. By World War II, it was being shipped to soldiers as a cheap form of protein. But lobster would become popular again very quickly because of a simple advantage. Unlike other foods, lobster wasn’t rationed during the war so many Americans had access to it. The more they ate, the less there was and prices went up. Over the course of a decade, lobster was back to luxury status in restaurants. But this time, since it was so widely available during the war, everyone had a taste for it!

Here’s the lesson. Many products go through cycles where the price rises and falls. The low points in the price cycle are an opportunity to get your product in front of as many people as possible! If you have a quality product, the price will rise again and when it does, you’ll have an even larger customer base than before.

Next time you see lobster on the menu, remember the lessons it teaches us about perception. How is your brand perceived? Are you looking for ways to find new markets where your product or service can have a blank slate? Is your product or service being presented in the most attractive way possible? Call Directions today to talk about how we can improve the perception of your brand.