Chipotle and The Mirror of Erised Theory of Marketing

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.

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?”

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 McDonald’s 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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