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Chipotle’s brilliance: reflect the image of the customer so they see a more idealized version of themselves

Chipotle has posted the recipe for their guacamole to their site.

This is actually a great recipe for guacamole. It’s how I make it at home.

What’s remarkable, however, isn’t the recipe itself, but rather that Chipotle is – in theory – giving away their secret sauce.

Can you imagine, for instance, Coke posting their formula on their website; McDonald’s providing the recipe for their “secret sauce?” 1

This gesture on Chipotle’s part is interesting because it really shows the value of transparency that informs so much of what Chipotle does, and why they are succeeding in the manner they are, while McDonalds, for instance, is struggling, and promising to “to be more open with customers in an effort to not lose diners to competitors.”

Chipotle knows that they’re selling much more than some sort of “secret” recipe for guacamole that anyone who has even the slightest interest in cooking could replicate in about two seconds.

Chipotle’s core competency isn’t their guacamole (or any of their food).

The reason Chipotle succeeds is because – as with all great companies – when customers go to Chipotle they feel better about themselves for having done so.

I call this the “Mirror of Erised” theory of marketing; meaning, that great companies reflect back at their customers a more idealized version of the customer for having used the company’s product/service (in the same way The Mirror of Erised reflects back a more-realized version of Harry Potter when he gazes upon it (he sees his parents)).

When someone goes to Chipotle, the image that Chipotle’s mirror reflects back upon the customer is an image of the customer as a more healthy, values-orientated person; one who is informed about the food they eat, and chooses to eat healthily.

Chipotle, therefore, “giving” away their guacamole recipe (and the fact that said recipe is a health way of making guacamole) only enforces their “Mirror.”

Compare that against McDonald’s mirror. What is the image reflected back upon a customer when they go to McDonalds? Does going to McDonalds make them feel like a better version of themselves?


And so while, many, many people will continue to go to McDonald’s because it’s cheap, and some people genuinely enjoy the taste, people will likely no longer have the bond that they once did with McDonalds when it first emerged – when going to McDonald’s reflected a mirror that made the customer feel modern, committed to family values and hap, hap, hap, HAPPY:

The great companies know that in an era of commoditization, things like price or product differentiation (for instance recipes for “secret” sauce) are increasingly vulnerable to commoditization. What combats this is a bond that is forged between a customer and company that transcends price or features. A bond that emerges because – for whatever reason – when the customer uses the brand’s product or service she feels like a better version of herself.

Remember, Dumbledore had to stage an intervention to pry Harry away from The Mirror of Erised – it was that strong.


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Source: Chipotle

  1. I know you can find the McDonalds recipe or buy the stuff for only $18,000 per bottle 

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The number of Pynchon-esque synchronicity moments in my life over the past few days have just been downright odd. Well, here’s another one. JK Rowling gave the commencement address at Harvard. Here’s the link, complete with video (…uh, hello, Harvard…embed code please.).

Her topic: Failure. I just wrote about this topic the other day. Of course, Ms. Rowling’s take on the topic is Dumbledore-ian, while mine is maybe first year Neville Longbottom.

To wit:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

The whole commencement address is fantastic and well worth reading/viewing.

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