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There is a trend in industrial landscaping around designing based on "desire paths." The concept, and it's tie to business, was recently brought to my attention by Ben Nachbaur, PeopleMatter's vice president of Sales.

Unfamiliar with the term "desire path?" Picture a new office park, with a large rectangle of grass right in the middle; just grass, no paths or landscaping work. Now imagine six weeks of foot traffic passing through that rectangle of grass. This comes from people cutting corners and taking the most direct path to their destinations. Over time unplanned paths emerge and are worn into the area. After the six weeks, landscapers come in and add the stepping-stones or pavement to these walkways. These are desire paths.

This is by no means a new concept. It's said that Interstate 95, between the cities of Boston and Providence, originated from a trail created by early Native Americans. Once pointed out, the idea seemed so obvious and simple. So why don't more businesses plan around client desire paths?

In many ways, foodservice already does. The best restaurant locations are picked according to surrounding demographics. Successful restaurants often tailor menu items to local flavors. An example would be international menus for quick-service chains offering different items, like McDonald's McArabia in Eygpt. Some fast casual chains also tailor to locale, like Smashburger having "specially crafted burgers" to reflect the tastes and flavors of individual areas.

Rather than developing detailed menus, develop branding and marketing content around what you believe need. Start your restaurant with a general concept and then watch people. If you identify the paths consumers choose to follow, then your restaurant can build out and define itself along those paths. Create this in a way that connects to the consumer's identity and still embraces your brand's unique identity.

For example, if the majority of your diners use social media, your restaurant should as well. If your top-selling menu item is a burger, run a Facebook coupon for that item. Be where your target market is and offer something via a medium they frequent.

The same concept holds true for the key words in marketing. Choose the type of terms and phrasing with which your clients would identify. Don't try to push your latest concept on them. Be as user-friendly as possible. The idea behind desire paths in foodservice, and in general, is putting your product on paths that grow more and more comfortable as consumers use them.

Go back to the idea of placing a burger coupon on Facebook. If a first time diner checks your Facebook page after eating at your restaurant and sees the coupon, they may come back. Then later, in deciding where to eat, they will probably recall seeing the coupon and check back to see if there is a new offer. Next time they are on Facebook, they will check your page out of habit rather than hunger.

It's an effective way to let the consumer's desire path lead to your business. Not to suggest you spend all of your time stalking customers. It's about making life easier by letting consumers do what they want to do. And, if you know where they're traveling, maybe you can meet them somewhere in the middle.

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Nate DaPore
Nate DaPore, PeopleMatter President and Chief Executive Officer As the spirited leader of PeopleMatter, Nate is passionate about providing team members, including his own, with a rewarding workplace experience that values creativity and innovation.
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