Define your competitor.

competitor, restaurants, brand

Today’s competitor is essentially everyone. But brands have to solve a specific problem that attacks the vulnerability of just one key foe. Casual Dining brands have a tremendous challenge on their hands. They are facing erosion in sales and traffic erosion from all directions. Fast Casual concepts continue to grow (albeit a bit more slowly). The common response from legacy brands in the Casual Dining space is flawed.

Red Robin attempted to fight off the category by launching its own FC burger sub-brand, which they recently folded. From a review of the concept it’s not clear which competitor it was designed to beat. And this is the most likely reason for its failure. Identifying a specific competitor is critical in today’s chaotic environment. Here are three reasons why.

1. Clarify your brand

Naming the competitor helps set up the comparisons that separate the two brands. Imagine Ruby Tuesday’s, currently in a quagmire choosing one competitor to go head to head with. In that case, an honest assessment of their own brand and the chosen competitor would show them their competitive advantage. Instead, the brand is wavering as it attempts to rebuild its offering around a salad bar to fight off all of Fast Casual and Casual Dining.

If we all believe in the adage ‘you can’t be all things to all people’ surely we see the folly in engaging all other brands as competition.

It’s clear that Ruby Tuesday’s suffers from consumers not knowing how to use the brand. It’s pretty clear that the brand also doesn’t understand itself. Taking on the entirety of two categories at once, is a dangerous move. Especially with so much on the line. The brand isn’t able to focus on its strengths and discard anything. This course of action prevents the brand from being honest with itself in order to ‘defend’ against multiple brand positions. If we all believe in the adage ‘you can’t be all things to all people’ surely we see the folly in engaging all other brands as competition.

By choosing a singular competitor, they would be able to clearly define their own brand and rebuild their operation around the strengths.

2. Take better odds

Even ignoring the obvious need to focus on your own brand, there’s something else. Just choosing one initial competitor dramatically brings down the odds in your battle. Taking on 50 other brands is a huge challenge, focusing on one makes the competition achievable and plots a course for actionable steps. Better to choose one competitor – one that represents a major trend – and focus on stealing share from that single source.

A focused opponent puts a name to the challenge and presents something achievable. While a bet on our brand versus the field is overwhelming. This doesn’t mean the competitor of focus cannot change over time. Growing brands should focus on other brands of their size and with success that will change over time to reflect increase in number of locations, customers and sales. Taco John’s focus is on super regional brands today, but took on local competitors and smaller scale brands earlier in its history.

3. Efficiency

Finally, preparing your brand to steal from one challenging competitor allows you to shape your operation more efficiently. For example, the competitor has an advantage with a particular specialty dish such as a fish appetizer. Your team can understand that dish in relation to your customers, operations, and service and plan accordingly for a competitive product.

This can also be tested in locations where results can be observed head-to-head. Any variable will be more simply edited and tested against that single rival.

All of this logic may sound simple. Especially from the outside. It’s easy to point out brands that may be framing too wide a competitive set. But the brands that are truly engaging in focused competition are equally easy to spot. They’re typically the brands that are growing.

Author: Adam Pierno

Adam Pierno has a one-of-a-kind perspective on restaurant and CPGs. He investigates the connections between strategy, media, digital and business goals employing social media listening, analysis and traditional consumer research to find meaningful insights for brands thinking about their futures.