Ever since I was a kid I loved treasure hunts (way into my forties still do), trying to find hidden articles, locations, places by using a series of clues or solving puzzles and riddles. Whenever I go into a boutique, store or restaurant, I feel as though I’m jumping into a treasure hunt game.

A game of discovering and following different clues.

I look at the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the decor, the people filling up space and at times I even eavesdrop (that’s what Sherlock Holmes would do). When I leave, I always look at the stacks of business cards and flyers near the register, as if maybe there is a clue hidden.

That’s when I saw Solaneko business card.
A very simple blue and white design with an icon of a cat on the front of it.

Solanko business card

Why did this one stand out from the rest?
I thought to myself, “Cantine Japonaise humm… I don’t think I’ve tried a Japanese canteen before”. I took the Solaneko business card, not for the simple design to keep as a reference or inspiration but I wanted to learn more.

Soon as I got back to my office, I looked at their website.
Ahh not impressed… images are slow to load, texts very bland but to the point, no photo of the place and contact form broken.

Hummm what does google have to say about Solaneko?

28 four star reviews on Yelp, 68 four star reviews on Tripadvisor and 21 four star reviews on Google. Finally, I found some photos of the place and the food posted on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google. Oddly, no photos on their own website? Photos supplied by their clients?

Humm interesting.

I read through the comments left by their clients:

Une véritable adresse japonaise ! De la cuisine familiale ! Ne pensez pas y manger des sushi ! Ici, on mange la cuisine de la maison, préparée par la chef (japonaise bien sur !!!). C’est plat quasi unique ! Préparation en finesse et de très très grande qualité à des prix géniaux ! J’adore !

Le service est à heure unique. Si vous manquez le créneau, faudra patienter, POINT 🙂 Une adresse pour les connaisseurs et amateurs du japon, qui en connaissent autre chose que les sushi ! Régalez vous !  itadakimass (頂きます)

And this one:

La cantine japonaise la plus fameuse de la rive gauche [à Toulouse] ! Le riz et la soupe sont à volonté, il n’y a pas de carte, seulement le choix du jour, avec une alternative végétarienne. Attention au gingembre embusqué dans l’assiette. Ambiance très chouette, accueil cosy, cuisine dépaysante et très saine. Parfait pour un midi au calme.

Solaneko’s clients explained way better what they do than on their own website???

Humm…. time to investigate.

Right at this time, I took on a new client (a start-up tech company !Teoola) in Toulouse. My job was to write copy (sale texts in English) and film a video for their new mobile application.

So, I scheduled a business luncheon with my client at Solaneko. Two eyes are better than one.

When we arrived at the place it was packed, even the three tiny tables outside were taken. The waitress told us to have a drink next door at their épicerie until a table was free and that’s just what we did. We talked shop and then a table on the terrace was free.

We started with Japanese teas served in authentic Japanese mitch-matching cups. There wasn’t a menu that I could hold in my hand, no differences in choices of meal. Just one plat du jour (with fish), so we took that.


Strange but simple. There is a saying “ trop de choix tue le choix” (too much choice kills the choice).  When our tiny miso soup and plates arrive, I thought to myself, “Where’s the beef?” (The Beef Commercials – Wendy’s 1984).

We dug in and to my surprise I tasted very fine savory flavors on the fish. The salad (no need for dressing) lightly flavored and the seasoning went well with the fish. The eggplant and the other vegetable were also sauted in their own seasoning.

When I was done, I was full. My American size portion eye was wrong about the serving size. It was enough and my client was satisfied too. The food was more than good and the reviews I read were true. As we went into the restaurant to pay our bill, I glanced around at what others were eating, the wooden tables, the collections of tea on the shelves, the mitch-matching chairs and the small frame on the bare walls.

Minimalism at its best.

My client wanted to invite me for lunch and he asked to pay by credit card. The owner replied, “Sorry we don’t have a credit card machine but you can pay by check”. “What???” , I’m thinking. My client and I were surprised.  In what restaurant can you pay by check nowadays?

So, I told my client I had money on me and I would pay.

However, my client insisted on paying and the owner replied, “I trust my clients and I never had a problem with someone paying by check.”

We both stared at each other in disbelief. My client said to me, “There are many businesses in France that can learn a lot from this Japanese lady”.

I agree with him. We both left the restaurant happy about our experience and the food too. My client thanked me for showing him a new restaurant in Toulouse and vowed to come back to Solaneko (and we did).


So, why am I telling you this story?

To show you how a Japanese woman runs a successful business without a newsletter and a makeshift website.

It’s all about branding, not the logo nor the website.

The one thing this restaurant, treasure hunts and branding have in common?

It’s the experience.

Many people and businesses get confused about the concept of Branding. They think it’s a logo, their website etc…

It’s not. It’s the experience.

Branding is an accumulation of experience in the eyes of your ideal client.

It’s all the ways you establish an experience of your company/business in your ideal customers’ eyes.

It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Notice how I said ideal customer?

That’s because not everyone is your customer.

Solaneko left clues in boutiques (treasure hunts), shops where her ideal customer would visit (that is how she found me and guess what I brought a client too). The Japanese lady uses a very simple, minimalist style that cuts through all the noise of other advertising. She made sure her product was different and good from other Japanese restaurants, words like Japanese Canteen, no sushi here. She did some eavesdropping (on the competition), she created an atmosphere of mitch-match Japanese style decor so that her client would feel like they traveled to another country, without taking a plane (create the experience).

She took care of her customers by taking off the burden and simplifying their choices (one dish, one price) and she told them that she trusted them.

Can you believe that in a restaurant, “I trust you so much that I will let you pay by check”?

She knows that her ideal clients don’t believe her own opinion of her food (more eavesdropping), rather than the opinion of her other clients that counted the most.

So, no picture on her website, no long winded texts about the food. Instead she left it to her loyal customers to leave ratings and pictures on website like Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google. She has many customers that left four to five paragraphs on these websites explaining the service, the food and decor in full. She was consistent and she stayed consistent. Her restaurant is always full and even has a waiting list to be served.

Guess What ?

I just invertedly taught you three techniques in branding and also in personal branding.

So what did you learn?

  1. Treasure Hunts (aka Touchpoint): This is where your ideal client comes into contact with your brand. How can you leave clues where your ideal client can find you? Think about what Solaneko did.
  2. Client avatar (your ideal client): Who are they? What do they say, their opinions and words? How can you take the burden off them by simplifying their choices?
  3. Focus on the experience, the collective experience. How can you turn your ideal clients into fans? Stop hacking away months after months on that ideal logo or website (still not up?).

So, what do ya think?

A bunch of Frenchies pay me everyday to teach them branding and personal branding techniques, and how to use true stories to get their message through.

And I trust you SO MUCH that I just taught you three branding techniques for FREE.

How about that?

In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

So, please share:

Have you already tried these techniques before?

Thank you for reading and adding your perspective to the conversation!

See ya in the comments down below .

with gratitude,






This is something I wrote for my mailing list, RETTEL (a letter from rachael). If you dig it, sign up here to get letters like these auto-magically delivered to your mailbox.


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