Formats Unpacked: The Michelin Guide
How a brilliant piece of content marketing has stayed at the top for 123 years
Hope you’re all doing just fine. I was knocking around the idea of adding a second format to Formats Unpacked. I was thinking it could be a short, quick-fire interview with the people behind successful formats. Would you all be interested in that? Let me know your thoughts.
If you’re in New York and want to learn more about content formats, measuring attention and getting workflow right, we’re running a new half-day workshop in partnership with our good friend The Content Technologist. The workshop will be on the afternoon of Tuesday 26th Sept. Join us!
And finally, if you need help with your content, whether it’s strategy or production, hit the button below. It’s what we do at Storythings.
OK. On with the unpacking. This week I’m unpacking a content format that has not only survived two world wars but also played a role in one.
What’s it called
Michelin Guide (guidebook)
What’s the format?
The Michelin Guide is a guidebook that has been published by the French tyre company Michelin since 1900. The guide awards up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a very select few restaurants.
The origin story is fascinating. At a time when there were fewer than 3000 cars on the road in France, the Michelin brothers devised the guide to encourage motorists to go on more trips and travel further afield - thereby boosting car and tyre sales. This free guide was originally filled with handy information, such as maps, where to fill up with fuel, and places to see.
One day, Andre Michelin saw his guides being used to prop up a workbench at a tyre shop and decided that people would only respect it if they paid for it. A brand new Michelin Guide was launched in 1920 and sold for seven francs. As well as a list of hotels in Paris, the new guide also included lists of restaurants worth travelling to. A minor addition that turned out to be a stroke of genius.
As the guide’s restaurant section became more influential, the brothers doubled down on their restaurant content. They recruited a team of mystery diners to visit and review restaurants anonymously. Soon after, the guide began to award stars to fine dining establishments. The star rating is based on the following criteria:
Despite being over a century old, it’s still one of the most respected rating systems in the culinary world today and whist Michelin stars are ridiculously difficult to earn, they’re incredibly easy to understand.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
As one of the greatest pieces of content marketing ever, the magic in the format is consistency. Of course, the three-star rating is what it’s known for, but the famous rating system would not exist if the brothers didn’t give their innovative format something that all formats need - time.
Not all formats at instant hits. The guide, like many other formats that went before and after, took years to get right. It was consistency, publishing year after year, learning about their publication with each edition, that got them to the place they wanted to be. The guide went through many iterations before landing on the format we know today. Far too many great formats are denied the opportunity to fulfil their true potential because of a lack of patience, planning or a full understanding of what it takes to make a format work.
The Michelin brothers placed a massive bet that providing really valuable information for their customers would encourage them to get into their cars and drive further. It was a full two decades later that the guide introduced restaurants and a further sixteen years until the introduction of the three-star rating that is still used today. The association with excellence in food makes the brand synonymous with excellence in everything it touches.
It’s worth noting that the content they provide isn’t just valuable for their customers, it’s extremely high quality. Such is the reputation of the quality of their content, their guide proved useful in wartime. In 1944, at the request of the Allied Forces, the 1939 Michelin Guide to France was specially reprinted for military use. When the soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, they carried with them these specially printed Michelin Guides because their maps were judged the best and most up-to-date available. Throughout the rest of the war, the soldiers relied on these guides and maps as they made their way through cities whose roadsigns had been sabotaged by the enemy.
Favourite Michelin Star Restaurant
I don’t get out to Michelin star restaurants that often but when I do it will be to go to Etxeco in the Bless Hotel in Es Cana, Ibiza.
The Guinness Book of World Records, which originally started out as a book that would settle pub arguments, has been around for almost seventy years. It’s gone on to become one of the most recognisable books in the world.
Interestingly, the Michelin competitor Pirelli has also had success publishing with its controversial calendar. The calendar has gone through many iterations and has been published on and off since 1964.
That’s it for this week. If you’d like to unpack a favourite format do get in touch.
See you next time for some more format unpacking,
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