What Journalists Can Learn From In-N-Out Burger.


When I was in sixth grade, I went to California for the first time. We were visiting our cousins, and Blair had just bought a new car with a GPS system. At the time, this was fairly revolutionary; the year before, we’d just gotten dial-up internet at my house, and we weren’t the most tech savvy family. So the idea that your car could tell you where to go was almost Jetsonian. That it didn’t require an overture of that annoying AOL dial-up noise made it even better.

Blair wanted to show off the new GPS by using it to find us an In-N-Out Burger. We’d heard about In-N-Out for years; it was Blair’s favorite restaurant in California, and we assumed that he ate about 95 percent of his meals there (with all other meals consumed at Jamba Juice). By sixth grade, In-N-Out had reached mythical status. We simply had to try it, and Blair was more than happy to show us the way.

The GPS system, though, wasn’t. It said the restaurant was a mile away, but when we arrived at the address, the In-N-Out wasn’t there. So we persisted, and some twenty minutes of misdirections later, we arrived. I still remember that first burger; I haven’t made a trip to California that didn’t involve In-N-Out since.

What we discovered that trip was that Blair wasn’t the only one obsessed with In-N-Out. Everybody in California wanted those burgers, and people were willing to deal with long drives or broken GPS systems to get their hands on a double-double.

The truth is, In-N-Out is not just a burger place; it’s a lifestyle. I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that, to Californians, it’s essential.

So with the news industry’s best interests in mind, I’d like to suggest three things that journalists can learn from In-N-Out Burger.

1. Transparency and trust go hand-in-hand.
The In-N-Out kitchen is open, which means that customers can look and see potatoes being sliced and burgers being flipped. It’s easy to trust a company that lets you backstage.

2. Do one thing, and do it well.
That was founder Harry Snyder’s motto. If you’re in news, don’t lose sight of your mission: telling great stories.

3. Your brand is a promise. That’s what Warren Buffett said last month, but it sticks with In-N-Out’s motto. There’s a reason why people go out of their way for those In-N-Out burgers. People love the brand, and they love what the brand stands for: fresh food, cooked when you order it, and for cheap. If people trust your brand, they will continue to seek it out.

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H/T to Stacy Perman’s excellent new book on In-N-Out, and to jasonlam and nattokun for the images.