Lessons from (pizza) pie charts

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All I really need to know about marketing I learned on summer vacation (aka, “A Tale of Two Danilos”).

The other half and I were enjoying the third or fourth “best-meal-we've-ever-eaten” when the realization hit. Yes, we were in a small town perched breathtakingly high above Italy's Amalfi Coast that, since it's founding 1,500 years ago as a shelter against Barbarian invasions, has played host to the likes of Joan Miro, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams. But we were also in a cleverly camouflaged lab designed to showcase the latest thinking in modern marketing techniques.

Our professors, the charmingly disheveled nephew of the owner of a world-renowned restaurant called Cumpa Cosimo (known to most as “Mama Netta's”), and the elegant host at the bar of the Hotel Caruso, a luxury hotel and former 11th century palace.

Both men are named Danilo. Coincidence? Probably. But both were key players in creating the most memorable vacation of our lives. And they did that with a level of marketing savvy that could draw the eye of a P&G or Apple recruiter.

So what exactly did they do, and what can you as a marketer learn from them? Let's break it down to the seven takeaway lessons of marketing as practiced by the Two Danilos of Ravello.

Lesson 1: Create an unforgettable brand experience. Hotel Caruso's Danilo (Danilo A, from here on) uses his booming voice and smile to set the tone of the bar each evening. Danilo B's Aunt Netta wanders among tables playing the role of Italian grandmother, making sure you have enough to eat and that you appreciate her home cooking.

Lesson 2: Be transparent. Both Danilos respect their customers enough to wink at them. They know they're marketing a product to us, convincing us to overpay for that “extra special” bottle of wine from the hidden corner of the cellar. And we know it. But we play along willingly because it's part of the fun.

Lesson 3: Know your customer. Within the first hour, Danilo A had memorized our names, hometowns, drink orders, and level of interest in Euro Cup matches. He then proved it each time he saw us, making us feel at home even 5,000 miles away.

Lesson 4: Word-of-mouth works. As social marketing experts know, we put more stock in the opinions of our peer group than we do in the messages of marketers. Therefore, Danilo B didn't tell us how wonderful the stuffed peppers were—he asked the couple at the next table to do that.

Lesson 5: Deliver on your brand promise. Product quality counts. It doesn't matter how much we loved Mama Netta; if her pasta wasn't to-die-for (and it was), we wouldn't write rave reviews. Ditto Danilo A's ability to mix a proper Old-Fashioned.

Lesson 6: Be a content creator. The best brands tap the power of storytelling to gather, engage, and delight audiences. Danilo B is more than happy to pull up a chair at your table to weave tales of the night Joe Torre came in for dinner or what he did that morning to cause Mama Netta to give him the evil eye.

Lesson 7: Reward loyalty. Because we ate at Cumpa Cosimo twice in three days, Danilo B showered our table with on-the-house, off-menu appetizers and chilled limoncellos. Danilo A made sure our favorite table was open when we showed for a sunset cocktail. Given their marketing prowess, you almost have to wonder why the Two Danilos aren't working on Madison Avenue. Then again, after seeing their workplaces, you may wonder why we are.

Miss Scott's column last month about Cannes? Check it out.

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