Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing
29/04/16 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing

When speaking with marketing professionals and restaurateurs conversations inevitably turn to new medias, or discussion of which medias are more successful than others. It’s easy to fall into these chats because the landscape of marketing tactics is an ever-changing world. Focusing on new medias or traditional tactics with new features isn’t wrong, but it does play into a large problem commonly found in the world of marketing restaurants and beverage brands: Linear thinking.

Often times marketing strategies take a media-first approach. Brands hear the latest and greatest thing, or a sales person sells them on a “magical silver bullet” media. They take the bait and run with implementing creative specific to said media and anxious await the results. The results rarely show up, and when they do they are almost never up to expectation or promise. Immediately, it’s the fault of the media because “it doesn’t work” and “not worth the money.”

The problem isn’t with media, it’s in the thinking. See, successful marketing isn’t a linear process. Each consumer has a different journey he or she takes to land with food on a fork or drink in hand. We’re a dynamic people who are affected differently by different things and influenced at different moments of our lives. With this kind of ebb and flow, it makes sense that no singular media outlet or tactic can claim to be the end-all, be-all. Nor can you expect it to delivery on such lofty promises.

Instead of attempting to draw a line between a media and the end result of butts in seats, heads in beds, and/or drinks in hands, you need to retrain your brain to think of marketing as weaving a net. Successful marketing is an interwoven, interlocking team of many touch points that work in unison to create many opportunities for conversion. Collectively it is powerful and successful, but only as powerful as what’s locking them all together: The idea.

It’s the idea, the passion, and the “why” that matters most for a brand. That idea must be communicated concisely and with passionate fervor across every single interlocking moment. The idea should dictate the media that delivers it and the results can vary. It’s not always leading directly to a conversion of sale. Sometimes it’s building awareness, or boosting word of mouth. Sometimes the idea is meant to alter understanding or clear misconceptions. Even these semi-intangible results have undeniable benefits to the brand’s bottomline. It’s just extremely difficult to measure because the customer is on a journey that’s far from a straight point A to point B line. Instead, it’s a multiple destination experience. And, yes, it should end in sales. The “end” is just farther away than you think most times.

My advice is to destroy the idea of a straight line, and start thinking about each destination as opportunities to bolster brand love while ushering them towards the ultimate, but not final, destination of conversion.

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Consumer connections are the key to impactful marketing
17/03/15 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , ,

Consumer connections are the key to impactful marketing

Originally published in Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, read the article here.

The other night a new commercial for a restaurant chain caught my attention. It wasn’t the content nor was it the offer that snatched my curiosity, but rather the utter monotony and lack of anything new. The moment sparked a dive into my mental catalog of restaurant advertising and marketing, and one glaringly blatant commonality sprang out: Something vital is missing.

Restaurants are pretty good at following the “rules” of advertising and marketing. Show your product to create enticement. Offer a deal to woo a new trial or lukewarm previous customer. Create excitement and put it on for a limited time to “act now before it’s too late.” For decades this playbook was successful, but the game has evolved. It’s no longer enough, and the reason is both simple and complex. It’s devoid of any emotional tie or offering beyond the restaurant’s core offering: food.

Things have changed in consumer perceptions of brands. In general, they don’t trust advertising. Scandals in ethics, poor quality of food and the proliferation of the effects of processed products have corroded the legitimacy of restaurant brands. Traditional advertising has become akin to listening to a politician on his podium. It invokes skepticism and, as a result, gets tossed aside as mostly false or a downright lie in some extreme cases. One thing is left floating in the consumer’s mind: “So what? Prove it.”

Furthermore, product-focused advertising is all about the brand and not about consumers and their lifestyle. It’s an entirely selfish, “me-me-me” mentality, which makes it easy to ignore. Think about it. When is the last time you ever engaged with a person who told you how amazing they were? “Hi, I’m Joseph. I’m the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” I’m surprised you got through that sentence without wanting to walk away. Restaurants must shift their focus to the consumer’s lifestyle and attitude, and what their product does to enhance them. Brands that do this successfully—such as Chipotle, Starbucks and Apple—have created a connection that’s hard to break, thereby fostering loyalty and brand evangelism.

Something bigger must be present beyond the latest ad campaign to not just attract, but also connect with consumers. Having a passion for something beyond the core product helps brands rise above competitors that focus on price and product alone. In the extremely aggressive and saturated restaurant industry this passionate purpose elevates a brand above the din.

A passionate purpose creates an emotional connection engrained in the company’s culture from the top down, inside to the outside. It permeates through every part of the business. In order to follow suit, a brand has to stop squawking flimsy promises and start walking the walk. That’s a tall order for any company, but one that is vital for gaining market share or halting a decline in some severe cases.

So, where does a brand start? Here are three tips to start the shift from product-centric marketing to emotional communications that are driven by a passionate purpose.

1. Toss the food focus and dig deeper to focus on people.

Although a good product is important, and showing your delicious glory shots of food shouldn’t stop, people are attracted to brands that reflect core values and beliefs that align with their own. They buy from brands that bolster and communicate their lifestyle and attitude. When someone buys a Starbucks coffee, it represents his or her busy lifestyle and concurrent need for catering to his or her specific demands. Think of the person who orders a double grande latte, skinny, heated to 130°. That is someone with demands and little time. The Starbucks brand represents a status that consumers wish to convey to the world, and that statement is what attracts and retains their loyal patrons.

2. Pinpoint a passionate purpose that connects with consumers.

Finding and pinpointing a passionate purpose may be something that comes easily to some brands, but can be much harder for others. It’s not as simple as brainstorming ideas in a room. It has to make sense and connect with people, while being legitimate and authentic. That only comes from in-depth consumer insights, brand strategy development and a dedication to threading the passionate purpose throughout the organization. Missing the mark won’t necessarily hurt a brand much, but sticking the landing will make all the difference.

3. Inject that purpose throughout every part of the business.

Chipotle’s renowned dedication to sustainable products, sourcing and the fair treatment of livestock connects with consumer interests because they live that passionate purpose. Chipotle has done little on-air advertising, instead relying on their actions to spark word of mouth. Actions do speak louder than words, especially in a situation where credibility is in question. Chipotle’s actions across the board add weight and credibility to their passionate purpose.

Considerations for purchase have increased in complexity. They have less to do with a restaurant’s product or deal, and more to do with what buying the brand communicates to world on behalf of the consumer. While good food and service are important, they have reached parity, leaving people looking for a larger reason to patronize one brand versus another. Brands like Starbucks and Chipotle convey a status that connects with consumers beyond utilitarian food offering. They tap into emotions that are bolstered throughout their respective companies, and it’s that emotion that needs to be injected into restaurant brand marketing. That’s the missing ingredient.

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The fresh food movement could be deadly for restaurants
06/08/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , ,

The fresh food movement could be deadly for restaurants

Originally published on

Brands That Don’t Adapt to New Consumer Demands Could Suffer

Steep discount promotions, décor upgrades and a few new menu options aren’t enough for restaurant chains confronting growing demand for unprocessed, higher-quality food. Consumers’ demand for fresher food and a unique brand experience continues to grow rapidly. New restaurant brands are popping up everywhere waving the fresh-food flag, but as this movement invigorates the masses it could also be destroying restaurant brands that fail to adapt to new demands.

TGI Fridays took a lot of heat a few weeks ago for its latest ploy: endless appetizers for $10. One headline predicted the promotion would “destroy” the restaurant. Although the outcome remains to be seen, the basis of the prediction is that TGI Fridays seems to have lowered the quality of its food and service over the years. The promotion is just another example of the chain’s lack of dedication to a better experience in line with market demand. Instead of pushing a better product, the brand continues to push a lower price.

Case in point: As a reaction to poor performance, Olive Garden started rejuvenating its brand earlier this year. It announced “the most significant evolution in the restaurant’s history,” and added new ingredients like polenta, capers and pistachio-crusted truffles as new items intended to increase the culinary quality of its food. The chain continued its push toward a renaissance more recently in the form of a new brand identity rolled out across brand touch points and new architectural and interior designs seen in two concept locations in Florida. But it continues to face problems even though it’s stepped up its brand identity and food offering, because it’s done little to address Olive Garden’s stigma for low-quality, processed food and the story around it.

What’s driving this fresh-food frenzy? For the consumer, eating healthier and fresher isn’t solely about trying to lose a few pounds. The long-tail effect of the farm-to-table trend has left consumers wanting to know the source of their food, how it’s made and the story of its journey. It isn’t as much about actual health as it is about the quality and “realness” of the food they’re eating. Coupled with the growing popularity of food-related TV programming, the American palette is expanding with the desire for broader, more sophisticated flavor profiles. Additionally, better understanding of the negative effects on the body from eating processed foods over the long-term has left consumers shunning anything less than fresh.

The fresh food movement is clearing the path for restaurants that focus on bringing better-quality ingredients, more responsible sourcing and new flavors to market. Brands like True Food Kitchen are usurping the once-loved casual restaurant brands with their focus on better, fresher-quality food that’s healthier than deep-fried bar standards doused in sauce. The restaurant goes beyond the food and includes the consumer in its story to garner participation in its brand. Although the food comes at a higher price point, people choose the brand with which they connect on multiple levels: fresh food and a story they can get behind.

Even in the far reaches of the U.S., the healthy food movement is dominating once-popular establishments that serve lower-quality food. Hawaii’s Grylt, a restaurant touting “good food that’s good for you,” is opening a fourth location, continuing its push against lesser-quality restaurant brands. The concept of offering fresh-grilled food and a story built on a better product fulfills the needs of tourists and Hawaiians alike who are into diets like paleo and fitness trends like cross-fit. As a result, Grylt continues to successfully strip market share from the island’s less-than-fresh counterparts who are content to slop together foods with a discount price tag.

The moves toward fresher, higher-quality and more culinary-focused offerings are not a fad. Rather, they are growing rapidly alongside other healthy-living choices, and are successfully threatening the traditional restaurant brands that haven’t kept up with the demands of the market. Fresh is no longer a point of differentiation — it’s now a consumer demand. As “fresh food” inches ever closer to parity, the only question that brands must answer will be: What’s the brand story?

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