by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + No Fan of Captain Ahab
How do you go from being one of the hottest restaurants in town to being completely out of business in just weeks? Simply follow the example of The Hump, a trendy sushi bar in Santa Monica, CA, that shut down after being busted for selling whale meat.
That’s right: someone there actually said, “Mmm, beautiful, intelligent and endangered species — let’s eat it.”
Two activists covertly filmed the staff of The Hump serving whale sushi. This happened in March 2010, and I’ve since been teaching it as a vivid example of how not to run a business — and why a complete stakeholders analysis is essential before launching any product or campaign.
In a stakeholders analysis, marketers evaluate their customers, competitors and own company. This helps shape strategy and gauge odds of success. Recently a fourth “C” — community — was added to factor in the relevance and influence of the government, labor unions, the news media and special interest groups. It’s the “C” that often gets left out of the equation, and it’s the “C” that factors most prominently in this case. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Customers: I’ve written several posts about customer worship in which I’ve noted that, yes, it’s essential to know your customers’ needs, but, no, you can’t afford to dismiss the following facts:
- customers don’t always know what they want
- customers disagree with each other
- customers are not always right
- certain customers can actually be bad for business.
The Hump perfectly met the needs of certain customers — the restaurant wouldn’t have offered whale sushi unless they had customers willing to pay hundreds of dollars for it. (Note: the activists who exposed The Hump weren’t customers — they were vegans on the prowl.)
Competitors: One principle of successful marketing is to be highly differentiated from your competition. And in this case, serving cetacean sushi certainly distanced The Hump from the thousands of other restaurants in the L.A. area (or so we whale lovers hope). Mission accomplished!
Company: Before doing anything, a company should know if it has the means and willpower to do so. Did The Hump have access to whale meat? Check. Were The Hump’s staff willing to serve it? Check. Was the chef willing and able to prepare it? Check. Indeed, in an earlier review, the L.A. Times wrote, “The chefs at The Hump are deadly serious about their sushi.” No kidding. So all systems go!
Community: And here’s where the happy whalers of The Hump met their Moby Dick. First of all, the restaurant was not located in some red state outpost where the residents regularly flip their fingers at environmentalists. This was Santa Monica — aka “Soviet Monica” — an extremely liberal city that’s home to the environmental group Heal the Bay and an office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. People here love whales — but not for dinner. Beyond residents, it was a collaborative effort between activists, federal agents and news-hungry reporters that served The Hump up on a plate.
In sum, The Hump adequately met the needs of customers, differentiated themselves from competitors, and leveraged the skills and motivation of company stakeholders. But after 12 years of business, they decided to neglect the interests and power of their community, and wound up sinking themselves.
Case — and doors — closed.