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Brownies and Birthdays: Micro-battles in Action

We’ve done a lot of blogging lately on how to run micro-battles, and we recently completed the Micro-battles Compendium, which packages all of those blog posts in one convenient download. As we step back to catch our breath, we thought it would make sense to highlight a few micro-battles in action—starting with Leon, the British purveyor of “naturally fast food.” John Vincent, Leon’s cofounder, recently launched a micro-battle to improve like-for-like growth in the company’s stores (positive LFLs, in industry-speak). Here’s how it went.

Saturday, September 23, 5:39 PM, somewhere in London
The battle begins when John sends a note out to his full leadership team, saying, “Right, y’all. Thursday is my birthday. I don’t want presents. Well, I would like one present—positive LFLs.” He’s English, is John, so we won’t try to explain the “y’all” bit. But his intent is clear: After a challenging summer on the sales front, he wants to build a repeatable model for launching specific growth initiatives that all stores can put in place rapidly. In the email, John offers some ideas on what to do and promises that, if the initiative is successful, he’ll be buying espresso martinis for all. That said, he is dead serious about jump-starting like-store sales, and he’s giving his team only five days to do it.

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Monday, September 25, all day, Borough Market, London
Leon’s management team meets at the company’s Borough Market headquarters for a Win-Scale session to brainstorm what sort of promotional prototype might deliver positive LFL growth by Thursday. The group comes up with lots of ideas, but at the end of the session, they pick just two: 1) Give away free brownies to all Leon Lovers Club members who come in on Thursday, and 2) give away a “Leon for a year” coupon to one lucky club member chosen at random.

(Speaking of founder stories, Leon sources its “Better Brownies” from Dorset-based Honeybuns bakery, which Emma Goss-Custard launched in 1998 and which has worked with Leon since 2004.)

Tuesday, September 26, 3:27 PM, Borough Market
Everyone in Leon’s head office agrees to work as hosts in the stores on Thursday. This isn’t just the tired old “We’re from corporate and here to help” initiative. Rather, explains Kirsty Saddler, Leon’s brand and marketing director, the idea is to create a marginal gain in capacity at the restaurants, freeing up staff to open more registers and give customers faster service.

Wednesday, September 27, Borough Market and social media everywhere
The Borough Market team—roughly 25 people—holds a training workshop on “how to be a great host.” The idea is to turn that marginal gain in capacity into something truly useful. A note here about efficiency: The training workshop lasts roughly 15 minutes and is held in the headquarters hallway. It focuses on one topic: What are the most important actions and behaviors of a great host? As Saddler notes, “We are a lean operation, and everyone is really busy. Taking time off for training is hard, so when we commit, we focus our training on a couple key points and then we all rush back to the day job.” In addition to training hosts, the marketing team ramps up social media to generate interest and reveal that someone is going to win “Leon for a year” on Thursday.

Thursday, September 28, all day, all restaurants
Leon’s marketing team starts the morning by emailing all 154,000 club members, announcing that every visitor will receive a free brownie that day—and that one lucky club member will win something bigger. With hosts in place from corporate, the restaurant teams are able to open extra registers to ensure they can handle the customer increases efficiently. All goes well, and by 10 PM, the team realizes they have hit their target: LFLs are up, the best Thursday performance since July. John, celebrating his birthday, sends a video congratulating the full team and reiterating his promise of espresso martinis for all. Plus, customer Elizabeth Peddie wins Leon for a year. She gets her picture taken with lots of smiling restaurant staff (who we assume have thoughts of espresso martinis dancing in their heads).

Lessons learned
So, let’s dissect this a bit to understand the power of micro-battles. First, let’s define the battle itself. In John’s words, “What we wanted to do was build a repeatable model around specific growth initiatives—in this case, single campaigns across all stores to bring benefits to our club members. It had been a challenging summer, and we wanted to move into autumn with some growth stories. For our first cycle, we wanted to test two things: a) how fast can we go from an idea to an integrated campaign that we coordinate in stores and on social media, and b) how can we use our Borough Market team and resources outside the restaurants to add ‘surge capacity’ to handle increases in demand. So, while we did want to have a bit of fun for my birthday, we also wanted to create a win and give ourselves confidence that we can do this all the time.”

This is a perfect example of a CEO setting out a clear mission, including a strategic initiative, a prototype to test, a repeatable model and the required behavioral change. The strategic initiative was to build new capabilities to launch promotions for club members that create growth. The prototype was the five-day turnaround of the “Birthday and Brownies” initiative. The repeatable model involved integrating campaigns and creating surge capacity. And the behavioral change was to generate confidence that Leon staff can work as one to pull this off. It’s a great illustration of Win-Scale in action.

In terms of Amplify (the meetings the senior team has to review the portfolio of battles), John was also pretty clear about what he was trying to do: “We don’t like military references in our culture, so we don’t use the term micro-battles, but we have adopted the philosophy behind it. We have dozens of initiatives like this happening all the time, and the key is to have a systematic way of learning from each as we go. We are busy collecting customer and store-manager feedback on the birthday initiative, and we’ll use this to help inform our next launch. While it is early days, one huge lesson from this initiative was how important it is to have our headquarters team in stores helping. It reminds all of us that, at end of day, our job is to make the lives of our teams in the store more fun and more effective. Getting out of the center and onto the front line is a great reminder of who really matters here—our customers and those who serve them every day.”

Happy birthday, John, and congrats to Elizabeth. You’ve got a year of brownies waiting for you. Oh, and we’ll update this post as soon as we have pictures of John treating the full team to espresso martinis.


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