Joseph chimes in on Friday’s “Endless Appetizers” for Huffington Post
09/07/14 In the press # , , , , , ,

Joseph chimes in on Friday’s “Endless Appetizers” for Huffington Post

TGI Fridays launched their controversial Endless Appetizers promotion in what looked to be a desperate effort to boost sales. Alexander Kaufman reached out to me to get my opinion on what this means for the brand and how it can negatively affect it. My comments were right beside notable brand strategists like Aaron Allen and TGI Friday’s CMO, Brian Gies. The full article is reposted below, and you can read it on the Huffington Post website. The conversation continued on Linked In after I was asked to embellish by LinkedIn staff.

TGI Fridays is so hungry for new customers that it’s giving food away.

The chain restaurant launched an all-you-can-eat deal on Monday, offering endless helpings of any one appetizer — potato skins, mozzarella sticks, spinach dip and other options — for $10 per person. The promotion is meant to draw new customers, and it’s getting heaps of press coverage of the sort not seen since the chain’s 1990s heyday.

Yet analysts say the endless apps deal is basically Fridays’ swan song, a last-ditch move that ultimately cheapens the company’s brand. The apps may be endless, but Americans’ desire to visit a so-called “casual dining” chain restaurant is just about over.

“In the short term, [Fridays] will definitely have more traffic, but in the long term it damages their plan and will really destroy them,” said Aaron Allen, founder of Aaron Allen & Associates, a restaurant industry consulting firm. “It’s the signal of a desperate brand.”

David Letterman devoted the Top 10 segment on his show Monday to the promotion.

Sales nosedived at casual chain restaurants during the recession, sending once-popular eateries like Bennigan’s and Friendly’s into bankruptcy. Even as the economy has recovered, most of these restaurants have struggled to regain customers. Millennials want fresh, cheap fastish food from chains like Panera and Chipotle. The Mexican chain’s revenue more than doubled to $3.2 billion from 2009 to 2013. The days of young “singles” flocking to TGI Fridays happy hours are long over.

Even Brian Gies, Fridays’ chief marketing officer in the U.S., said the company was stuck in a “combo-meal malaise” and admitted it needed to adapt to modern tastes.

“There are no silver bullets in this business,” Gies said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The economy and consumer behavior are constantly changing, you’ve got to change with it.”

Sales are anemic at the 49-year-old company, which has more than 900 restaurants in 60 countries. The chain was sold in May by its longtime owner, hospitality firm Carlson Restaurant Inc., to two private equity firms for upward of $800 million.

Annual revenue at company-owned stores dropped 2 percent to $1.1 billion in 2013, according to numbers shown to HuffPost by PrivCo, a financial data provider on privately held companies. Including franchisees, sales revenue hovered at $2.7 billion last year, the same as the year before.

Gies declined to comment on those figures.

The “endless appetizers” promotion, which runs until Aug. 24, may eat into sales. But for the restaurant that claims to have popularized the term “happy hour” and the Long Island Iced Tea, the real money-maker may be alcohol.

“They’re probably hoping they can make it up on drinks,” said Joel Cohen, a restaurant marketing expert.

But a quick boom in booze sales may just further erode the struggling brand.

“If they’re just up-selling the alcohol, the promotion just looks like a ploy,” said Joseph Szala, a restaurant branding expert at the marketing firm Iris Worldwide.”They’re saying, ‘We’ll do anything to get you into a Fridays for a meal’ — it’s too kitschy, too car sales-y. It’s low class.”

To survive, Fridays may have to raise prices, Allen said.

“That’s the only way you can compete,” he said. “A casual dining restaurant can never be as casual and as fast and convenient as a fast-casual one.”

Or it can jazz up its menu. Sure, Gies said the mozzarella sticks now include asiago cheese and a dusting of parmesan. And, yeah, the potato skins have more cheese and are “more potato-y,” he said. But, according to Jeff Fromm, an advertising consultant at Barkley who co-authored the book Marketing to Millennials, the key to attracting the coveted 20-something consumers Fridays is losing to fast-casual chains is offering some culinary pizzazz.

“They’re going to need to look at creating experiences — creating flavor adventures,” Fromm said. “Less uniqueness means bigger problems for Fridays.”

no responses
Don’t let Facebook tank your marketing
10/05/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , ,

Don’t let Facebook tank your marketing

Originally published on FSR. Read the article on their site.

For a few years, we marketer-folks were on our soapboxes touting the amazing opportunities Facebook offered restaurants, especially start-ups and mom-and-pop cafes. You’d catch us saying, “It’s where the people are,” “They want to hear from you,” “It gets results,” and—the big one—“It’s free!” Who could say no to that? Slowly but surely, restaurants jumped on board, and they realized that for only a few bucks they could build their following, quickly accumulating a large group of “likes.” Things were good. It didn’t cost too much money, if anything at all.

Then this old adage reared its ugly head: Nothing in life is free. You have to pay to play.

Facebook recently changed the algorithm that determines how content is displayed to its one billion-plus users. Now your content won’t reach most of your fans unless you pay money to “boost” each post. Zing! There’s the newfangled catch: You have to pay to play.

With this change to the way Facebook displays a page’s posts, it has effectively demolished its usefulness to small businesses. Start-up brands and mom-and-pop restaurants run on razor-thin budgets. Requiring them to pay for building a fan base, then asking more for fan engagement on every post, is absurd.

Think of it like this: with the average suggested boost budget being around $10, a restaurant could easily drop $3000 each month in reaching the fans who want to hear from the restaurant. For that kind of money, I think a restaurant could be doing a lot of other things that get more attention and put “butts in seats.”

Without Facebook, what can we do?!

It’s time to “Tumble, Tweet, and ‘Gram.” Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram have amassed a following, but have been underused because of Facebook’s powerful reach. With that reach now being eliminated, these newer social media platforms will take you out of the din of the Facebook desert and give your marketing a little bit more boost. They’ve proven effective, although at a smaller scale than Facebook so far, and they continue to grow. That means they’re getting more and more attention from the market, which will help your messages be heard. They’ve sat in Facebook’s shadow for too long. Now is the time to jump on board.

Tumblr. 13 percent of Internet users between the ages of 18-29 use Tumblr1. With Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr, this platform has exploded. Tumblr has reformatted its original direction. It’s now basically a website creation tool with a built-in way for fans to receive updates. Think of it like this: it’s a completely customizable Facebook page, with a network of easily accessible fans. When you post new content to your Tumblr “website,” people can repost it, comment on it, or “heart” it—akin to “liking” a status on Facebook. They can also follow your brand so they’re always in the know about new posts, for free. It’s full social engagement in an space that’s connected to a network, but branded for your restaurant experience.

Twitter. 18 percent of all Internet users are using Twitter2. With the addition of pictures, videos, and a new profile layout that is unmistakably Facebook-inspired, Twitter is upping the ante. It keeps things simple with the status updates (no more than 144 characters), but it’s effective. Your followers will see everything you post, and you can even advertise to build fan engagement.

Instagram. 17 percent of Internet users are on Instagram2. Instagram boils down one powerful feature that Facebook has: Pictures. Posting images of your food, your employees having fun, your customers, and other brand-charged images that make your restaurant real and human can help build fan engagement and buzz. You can tag other Instagram users to help create community, as well.

Of course, each of these social media platforms pale in comparison to Facebook’s usage (two-thirds of Internet users.) Consider these two points, however: 1) What good is your marketing if it falls on deaf ears? And 2) if they’re really fans of yours, they’ll find you in other places. In Facebook’s case, your marketing isn’t even reaching those “deaf ears.” You’re better off starting to use new platforms with an engaged audience who will actually receive your brilliant transmissions. Also, don’t you think it’s better to have a handful of actively interested audience than a mass of uninterested followers who are one post away from being annoyed by your brand?

Finally, it’s good to remember that beyond social media is a world of online opportunities for those who can think outside the proverbial box. Successful marketing should be thought of as a campaign that spans across many media outlets, not just one “silver bullet” expected to work wonders. Restaurant brands that put some creative thought and a reasonable marketing budget behind good ideas will be the ones that get the attention and the inevitable traffic that comes along with good marketing.

Are you using Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram? What’s working for you and your restaurant brand?

  1. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Post-Election Survey, November 14-December 09, 2012. N=1,802 internet users. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. Margin of error is +/- 2.6 percentage points for results based on internet users.
  2. Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Library Survey, July 18 – September 30, 2013. N=5,112 internet users ages 18+. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. Margin of error is +/- 1.6 percentage points for results based on internet users.
no responses
3 survival tips for being a culinary pioneer
24/01/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , ,

3 survival tips for being a culinary pioneer

Originally posted on FSR. Read the article here.

As restaurateurs and restaurant-loving folks, we all have that dream of opening a fresh new concept that takes a community by storm. These dreams enter my head from time to time as I interact with clients who have the same aspirations. Their pitch usually goes a little something like this: “It’s like Chipotle, but we’re going to be making (enter new cuisine idea here).”

Everyone wants to follow in the footsteps of Chipotle. Across all restaurant spaces, their name has become synonymous with changing the game. What’s usually overlooked, however, is that the game Chipotle changed was already well-established: the game of Mexican cuisine. It is much harder to bring an unknown to market than it is to adapt an existing concept, but that’s exactly what “Culinary Pioneers” seek to do.

Culinary pioneers look to introduce new cuisines in new markets. Upon first thought, it seems like success is primed for the taking. Upon closer review, however, a cold, hard truth is revealed—this scenario has a better chance of failure than success. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re properly prepared for the trek ahead and avoid common causes of failure, you can be the pioneer you dreamed of becoming.

Failure happens for numerous reasons. There are a few traps I have witnessed that stand out as being more common than others. To avoid hardships and the inevitable failure of your endeavor, keep these lessons in mind.

Understand the true cost of pioneering

The major issue with pioneering a concept is the general lack of knowledge, understanding, and experience the population has with the food you’re bringing to market. It’s not a staple in their diets. It’s not something they crave every day. Therefore, marketing this new cuisine is two-fold. You have to educate them and promote the brand simultaneously.

We all know starting a restaurant is already a costly endeavor where “bootstrapping” is ill-advised if not impossible. To properly pioneer, you will need the budget to educate the population on the offering, and simultaneously promote the new restaurant like you would under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, this is twice as costly as usual restaurant marketing, if not more so.

Take a look at your marketing budget and double it. Then double it again. Chances are, you have severely underestimated how much is necessary to spend on marketing in the first place.

Organize tactics into a series of separate campaigns for promotion, education, and loyalty building. Each campaign should show images of the food, describe it, and convey what makes it as good, or even better than other options.

Think of creative ways to make this new cuisine tantalizing and memorable. You have to create the desire to try something unique for the first time.

Do not overestimate or imagine market demand

We all loved Grandma’s pierogies, or the way our uncle hand-made those bao buns. Despite their nostalgia-stuffed goodness, however, your market may not be interested in them as a dining option. That means that although your special cuisine may be quite scrumptious, it will not fly as a restaurant concept on its own. Pursuing this dream will lead to failure, as the market just isn’t buying the product enough. It’s business 101: supply and demand.

Take an honest look at your offerings, and ask yourself if people will buy it daily. Do some taste tests with people who are objective, or organize a popup restaurant at a weekend festival to see if people will buy what you’re making. Essentially, you have to do whatever it takes to get a real world understanding of whether or not this boat will float. Maintain utter honesty with yourself. If people aren’t buying it, then swallow your pride and reconfigure your dream. Do not open a restaurant with unpopular dishes centered as the primary menu offerings.

Select the proper location

Location reigns supreme—in this instance especially. Don’t forget it. Don’t ignore it. With a new concept that sells an unfamiliar cuisine, location is paramount. Successful restaurants find prime real estate, but new spots rarely can afford it. You need to find a second-generation spot that’s situated in an area that has both commercial and residential traffic. This isn’t a wish-list item. It’s a must-have.

A second-generation location will require less money to build out, freeing up extra capital for marketing and promotion. Even though another concept has already left or failed, it doesn’t mean this space isn’t well-suited for your concept.

Make sure the spot is nestled in an area busy with both commercial and residential traffic. Commercial will support your daytime business with walk-ins, business lunches, and catering. Residential will get you through the evenings when the businesses close for the night. If you choose a location that sways one way or the other, you can bet that it’ll affect the respective day part accordingly.

Finally, parking is everything, unless you are in a place with so much foot traffic that parking would be a hassle. This place is called Manhattan. If you aren’t in Manhattan, you have to have ample parking. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

These three restaurant pioneer killers are very real and happen more often than not. There is no wiggle room. Now is not the time for capitulations. If you are serious about succeeding and being the “next Chipotle,” you’re going to have to keep focused on making sure these mistakes aren’t made. It’ll take a load of chutzpah and a stiff upper lip to keep forging ahead into the great unknown, but if you’re one of the few who has what it takes (money, market demand, and location) you could reach the Pacific, like the true explorer of restaurant frontiers you very well may be.

no responses
10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry
10/11/13 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , ,

10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry

Originally published on Branding Magazine

Most of us have used, or are at least familiar with using, archetypes as a way to identify and profile a core audience. There have been quite a few books written on the topic outlining numerous archetypes. Although informative, the books rarely focus on a specific industry as unique as the restaurant industry.

Archetypes tailored to food service may seem similar to other industries, but there are a few key differences. Their biggest point of differentiation is that individuals often shift their archetype. Whereas one day Mrs. Jones may be more interested in a hearty meal, the next day she wants to eat healthier. This means that a person may take on the characteristics of many different archetypes in any given span of time because of the emotional and physiological drivers of food and eating.

These frequent shifts further emphasize the need to use archetypes as a way to focus brand efforts as opposed to the more literal approach of demographic research in the restaurant industry.

In my experience as a restaurant brand strategist, I have encountered a number of archetypes that seem to pop up frequently. The following isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’ve outlined the 10 most common that I’ve seen.

Couponer. We all know them, the do-anything-to-save-a-penny kind of person who clips coupons, buys Groupons, and Scoutmob’s their faces off. These bargain hunters will go to just about anywhere that has a deal. Although they’re not loyal, they do spread the word about a restaurant, as they like to brag about their latest savings.

Hipster. If it isn’t mainstream and corporate, they’re going to love it. Keep it lo-fi and DIY. They like the craft and respect the handiwork that goes into every little detail. Hipsters like to keep a good thing a secret, so don’t expect them to tell the world about an establishment. They are incredibly loyal as long as it never becomes a mainstream joint.

Superparent. Well-informed young people are bearing children and they’re bringing their penchant for research, knowledge and understanding to the table. They want food that’s good for their family. This means more organic, gluten-free, and produce sourced locally. Affordability for the quality is also a hot button issue for this archetype. The Superparent will exercise a great deal of loyalty, and are likely to referring other Superparents to a restaurant.

Evergreen. Some may call them hippies, but this group has grown beyond that stereotype. The Evergreen is looking for a socially responsible company beyond the cuisine and food offering. What light bulbs are being used? What green efforts are being employed throughout the operations? What is the carbon-footprint? The answers to these questions appeal to the Evergreen greatly. A socially conscious establishment will find unbreakable loyalty and a word-of-mouth fanaticism from this archetype.

Pseudo-Foodie. They’ll talk about things like “presentation” and “chef-driven,” and they’ll pay attention to textures and technique. They’ll do this at a fast casual restaurant and post about it in great detail on Yelp. These are the Pseudo-foodies and they clock over 20 hours of Food Network programming per week; adding to their “expert knowledge.” You won’t find much loyalty, but will find some word of mouth as they must be sure let everyone know about their latest culinary experience.

Fitness Freak. One part Healthnut, and one part Gym Rat, the Fitness Freaks seek a healthy restaurant experience that caters to their dietary needs and, often more importantly, their image of fitness. For them, Fitness isn’t just something they strive to attain, it’s a lifestyle they constantly announce to the world. Healthy food options, with nutritional information are going to appeal to this group.

Straightshooters. No hoopla. No nonsense. They just want good food for a good price. They’re not worried about sourcing, green initiatives, calories, and so on. They want it with the least amount of bells and whistles. The good thing about the Straightshooter is they can be quite loyal to simple brands. They may not broadcast it to the world, but they will be a sustaining force behind any solid concept.

Socialite. Did you just open? Are you the hottest place on the hottest scene? Are celebrities and high rollers frequenting your spot? Then you’re prime for a Socialite to grace your establishment. The Socialite wants to see and be seen. They want to be at the newest openings at the most expensive restaurants. They want celebrity status. They’ll tell everyone they can about your new spot, but will most likely accompany your accolades with a flimsy undermining comment to ensure it’s understood that they deserve better. The Socialite will come back as long as the restaurant is the talk of town. Once it gets quiet, they’ll be on to the next.

Wanderluster. These are the culinary adventurers. If it’s new and unheard of, they’re going to be there digging in. The Wanderluster is looking for a new experience with new, different food. This could be mean extremely new like schnitzel, or just different than the mainstream like Thai. Either way they are constantly expanding their culinary horizons and experiences one concept at a time and they’re super excited to talk about it. The Wanderluster is more likely to be a blogger as they also like to document their experiences.

Manly Man. Don’t let the name fool you. Women easily fall into this archetype as well. The Manly Man wants a heap of savory, deliciousness on a plate for a good price. These people couldn’t care less about your dainty plates of healthy food. They want it good and they want a lot of it. They’re ready to eat well and drink great beer without a second thought to anything but price. They want value, but will pay for the goodness they get. Manly Men also like to talk about their gluttonous exploits and will devote themselves wholeheartedly to their favorite hearty hotspots.

As stated earlier, these are just 10 of the common archetypes I’ve experienced and seen in action. When developing brand messaging and identity, it’s essential that we look to archetypes as a guide, and not as an absolute totem.

What food-lover archetypes have you encountered? What kind of characteristics of brand loyalty to they tout?

no responses