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The Element of Surprise

In the last blog I discussed the importance of planning your work and working your plan. As I write this, the 2024 Super Bowl just occurred, and it got me thinking back to 2018 and the Philadelphia Eagles improbable victory. If you didn’t follow the story, the Eagles were riding high in November when Carson Wentz, their starting quarterback and probable MVP, went down with a season ending injury. Prior to this they had lost their starting left tackle, key running back, special team’s captain and starting middle linebacker.

Like many other sports teams the coach and players adopted a “next man up” mentality. Doug Pedersen, the second-year coach at the time, did have a plan, but now needed to evaluate that plan and decide if the team could execute it with the second team personnel. They had a few ups and downs, but finished with the best record in the NFC which gave them the home field advantage. However, they were underdogs in each of the three games they played and are the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl being the underdog in all of the games they played.

They executed almost flawlessly in each of the games and often did things that were “against the book.” The ultimate surprise came in the Super Bowl when they ran a trick play on 4th and goal called the “Philly Special.” They also went for and converted a 4th down play with about five minutes left of the 4th quarter and the ball on their own 40-yard line. What made this extra special for everyone but Patriots fans was the look on the faces of the Patriots’ coaching staff. These are the things that the Patriots did to other teams and now it was happening to them.

What can we learn from all of this?

Whether you are new to the industry or have been in business for many years, it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. These are “internal” assessments that often help identify what opportunities and threats may lie ahead. It’s also important to have a backup or contingency plan. But more importantly is to have a plan that can be executed at retail. I’ve spent over 35 years studying the food customer & consumer. And much like 100 years ago, they continue to change and evolve.

Think about how our world has changed since COVID. Consumers are still looking for things that save time, save money, make them feel good or are good for them. But since COVID, food safety (and personal safety) have also become really important. So now these are top of mind with consumers when they decide what they’re going to consume and where/how they will get what they want. And that’s where YOU come in.

Whether you are an on-premise or off-premise retailer, it’s important to understand these changes and others as they relate to your business. Planning is important, but understanding when to use the element of surprise can also help you with short term and long-term success. If your competitors always do the same promotions at the same time, execute yours a week or a month earlier. Or create a totally new event that you “own.” You know your neighborhood and core customers better than anyone. Tie your communication and promotions to things that are important to the patrons of your business. Or, if you can, identify those things that are important to a new target market. Local and family owned & operated are always great differentiators and an advantage that small businesses have over the national chains.

You need to make sure that you understand YOUR consumers and build your products, merchandising and marketing programs around them. It will positively impact your bottom line!

And remember, Marketing is a race with no finish line.

George Latella

George Latella teaches Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphiaone of the largest majors in the business school. George is also a partner in Beacon Marketing group which provides marketing planning, research and e-commerce/direct marketing communications for food and beverage companies. George can be reached at or 610-304-1034.

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