5 things your business can learn from making pancakes

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Get ready to FLIP. Pic: ©GettyImages/Slphotography
Get ready to FLIP. Pic: ©GettyImages/Slphotography

Related tags pancake

Shopper and consumer behavioralist Ken Hughes believes the simple pancake has much to teach business people.

Last month, we celebrated Shrove Tuesday, better known as Pancake Tuesday. It is a strange ritual and celebration, which culminates in millions of pancakes being made, flipped, dropped and eaten (even the dropped ones).

Ken Hughes

Every year, Pancake Tuesday falls on a different date as it always precedes Ash Wednesday, the day the Christian Lent begins. The story goes that if Jesus could wander around the desert for 40 days and 40 nights denying himself all manner of things, then you should be able to give up chocolate, crisps (potato chips) or your Xbox for the six weeks prior to Easter, too.

Borrowing from Pancake Tuesday, I believe the simple pancake has much to teach us in business.

1. Sieve for lumps

Those of you who have made pancake batter know too well there is nothing more disappointing than lumps of flour sitting in your pancake. Good batter is beaten until it is smooth.

From a Customer Experience (CX) perspective, a ‘lump’ is that moment a customer experiences something wrong in your product delivery. It is the moment you realize the product inside does not deliver the promises on the packaging’, the moment the call center operator fails to convey empathy with their issue; or the moment the self-service checkout refuses to acknowledge your existence.

Pain is not a welcome moment in any customer journey and frictionless is what we all need to strive for at every turn.

Recently, I came across an exciting new business called www.pixelpin.io, allowing users to simply tap any four points on a chosen image as their user ID/password for any app or account. Soon, the days of the pin, user name and password will be gone. Good riddance to those lumps.

2. Push past the basic ingredients

Milk, eggs, flour and a little salt. Those are the ingredients for pancakes. Mix them up in the right quantities and you have your batter ready to cook. But, if I fed my kids plain pancakes there would be a mutiny. Who wants to eat a plain pancake?

The pancake surely is just a canvas onto which you can let your sugar desires run wild?

While a squirt of lemon and sugar might satisfy some, others go all out. Nutella, whipped cream, ice-cream, strawberries, maple syrup, bananas, blueberries, bacon, and chocolate sprinkles… and that’s just on their first one!

Don’t get trapped into thinking that whatever product or service you sell is what the customer wants. Sometimes that is just the basics. The brands that are succeeding today are the ones that are continuously adding new elements to what they do.

It is Amazon opening its’ cashier-less convenience stores; it is Uber Eats delivering your food; it is a healthier-for-you snack offering additional nutritional benefits, such as vitamin or mineral fortification.

Sometimes, brands forget they need to be more Nutella and less flour & eggs.

3. Prepare to flip

Most of the fun around pancakes involves trying to flip them in the pan. The subsequent ‘stuck to the ceiling’ or ‘dropped on the floor’ moment is always entertaining. Like everything, there is a knack, one that you don’t learn until you have failed many times.

In today’s disruptive world, every business needs to be ready for the FLIP.

Whatever business model has been successful for you in the past, prepare to be side-swiped. Things are being continuously turned on their heads, often by a single product.

Remember, 85% of the entire market capitalisation of the GPS industry was wiped out only 18 months after Google Maps was launched. One App and there goes an industry.

The brands and businesses that will succeed long term in today’s fast pace of change are those that are practicing the flip today. They are looking at where things might go, the forces that may challenge their business and preparing for them.

My advice is to start a few practice flips before you are called on for the main event.

4. Inspiration leads to change

Many people serve up boring pancakes [on Pancake Tuesday], traditional toppings lacking in imagination. Without any other input, it is in our nature as humans to revert to the routine, the habits that have worked well in the past.

Again, similar to the disruption point above, such an approach does not bode well for surviving a future peppered with change.

If you want a shopper in a supermarket to buy more impulse items, then show them some pancakes with indulgent toppings. A glossy appetizing image is all that it will take. Strawberries, cream and grated chocolate. Or blueberries, crispy bacon and crème fraiche (and a heart attack?).

As humans, we react to inspiring images and prompts. Most supermarkets will have large displays of Nutella and flour/eggs today, but few will offer strong recipe inspiration in-store. If they did, they would sell more items.

And so it is with all brands. Sometimes we think our jobs are done when we have designed and brought our product to market. No. It is only the beginning.

It is up to YOU to inspire and excite your shoppers to engage and use your product. It is up to YOU to delight shoppers with the life possibilities that could be theirs through buying what you are selling.

Inspire shoppers and they will buy. Expect them to inspire themselves and they will not.

5. Focus on the fun

Ultimately, as referred to earlier, pancakes are about the fun. The idea that instead of a boring meat and vegetable dinner, kids will come home to tasty pancakes is delightful. That the flipping will go horrendously wrong is part of the delight. Marshmallows and melted chocolate dribbling down chins. Sticky fingers and stuffed tummies, the ‘how many did you eat’ challenge running around schools.

Whatever your business, fun is what you need to foster. It is engaging, demands a consumer response and makes people smile. Tears of laughter and joy create powerful memories. Every brand should have a Fun & Laughter Director I think, their only job to engage with customers in a way that makes them smile.

So, I suggest you get creative. Apron on, prepare for a messy kitchen and sticky fingers. My daughter once asked me to make her an Olaf pancake …. “sure” ​I said. I mean how hard could it be? It turns out, beyond my capabilities!  Ah well … it’s good to learn your limitations too!

Ken Hughes is acknowledged as being one of the world’s leading authorities on consumer and shopper behavior.

He advises some of the biggest brands in the world on customer experience, omnichannel strategy, shopper marketing, retail trends, the millennial and Gen Z shopper and the peer-to-peer economy. He is also an accomplished author, TED speaker, part-time university professor and actor.

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