When A Restaurant’s Brand Story Isn’t as Good as the Real Thing

Four Peaks, Brand Story, Beer, Brewpub, Restaurant, Dining, Experience
Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewery is a fantastic in-person experience, but doesn’t tell that story well.

A unique brand story is a powerful way to connect to customers. Great stories can define the brand and help people understand the role of the products in their life. Brands can struggle to find their story, even to define themselves inside their own organization, so it’s no surprise that many companies don’t have the luxury of a brand or products that translate to customers.

As a brand marketer, I love the challenge of finding that story through an understanding of the customer and their relationship to the brand. We love to take apart products that may seem dull or disconnected on the surface and dig in to find the insights that lead to meaning.

It’s much more frustrating to see a brand that has the building blocks of a great brand story and not telling it effectively. A perfect example is Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Co. They make a line of beers that appeals to serious enthusiasts but is also accessible for casual drinkers. Their beers (especially the award-winning Kilt Lifter on draft) was something I was seriously looking forward to when we moved back to Arizona.

They are committed to producing fantastic beer but don’t project that and come across as too serious or snobby. Craft beer can walk the line that wineries do, alienating newcomers. The focus at Four Peaks is on exploring beer in a fun, but not goofy way. They’ve designed their pubs to reflect this same feel. They are open, inviting and built around making trying the beer feel fun. The attitude is reflected in the service at pubs. Asking questions of a bartender or server isn’t intimidating. They welcome the question and provide answers that don’t make you feel uninformed.

The beers themselves reflect that feeling. The flavors aren’t shocking to the palate, trying to capitalize on trends like bitter hoppiness and going overboard. I’ve never tried a Four Peaks beer there that I didn’t like, or that even left me unsure. There are only a few other breweries that are this successful (I’m looking at you, Deschutes). While each beer makes sense in the lineup of taps at a Four Peaks pub, they stand out at other bars too. By tasting the product, you can tell the people at Four Peaks absolutely love creating and sharing beer.

Why then, do they hide this sensibility in their marketing, social and website? They do produce behind the scenes videos and some articles that talk about what they’re doing. Wouldn’t it be great if those pieces had the same feeling of sitting down at a Four Peaks pub?

Their product, the beer, is definitely created with a purpose. The marketing, less so. It feels like they produce clips for YouTube and Facebook posts because they feel that they have to which is a shame because there is so much joy behind the work they do to make their beer.

If you visit their website, they describe each beer in an almost clinical way. For example:

“An English Style stout that’s somewhat bitter, but is smoothed out by serving it with a nitrogen/CO2 blend. The nitrogen is less acidic than CO2, and creates the characteristic cascading small bubble effect and tight head. The addition of flaked oats further rounds out the flavor while creating a velvety smooth mouth-feel. Different from an Irish Stout in its subtle roastiness and subdued dryness, this beer finishes thick, chocolaty, and very creamy.”

These are the answers you’d get from a beer snob. Why is this writing so different from the answers I would get if I asked a Four Peaks employee at the pub? It is so clear that they are missing an opportunity to build a story around each of these beers. They would still be able to incorporate the details that beer lovers might want to know – the specific malts and hops. But wrap it all in the story behind the brew. What inspired them to chase down this recipe and perfect it?

If anything, a brewing brand with pubs and tasting rooms should be the most fertile ground for stories. Pubs are built on trading stories over our pints and making connections. Four Peaks has designed their pubs to be perfect for just that.

This brand is all about the beer, and they have so many stories they could tell. But the messaging they employ obscures that so people have to go into the pub to find that out and appreciate the experience. But in a chicken-and-egg scenario, would I go into the pub if I didn’t already know about their approach? Insiders may overlook their marketing and continue to buy (I know I do), but Four Peaks is missing a huge opportunity to show newcomers the fun and passion behind what they do by being more thoughtful about the way they present their brand story. Here’s to better storytelling in the future.

How Casual Dining Brands Are Missing with Media

casual dining, table, restaurant, digital media
Casual dining is investing without considering the full breadth of the customer journey

Which vertical would you guess spends the least amount of money toward digital media: CPG, beverages, finance, hospitality, or casual dining? If you answered casual dining, give yourself a pat on the back! I, on the other hand, was extremely surprised by this fact. In a recent research study by Santy, we looked across different verticals, picked a handful of brands in each category, analyzed their media spend, then measured how and if that spend had an impact on the individual brand’s social media sentiment or volume of mentions they received.

This bit about the casual dining category really jumped out at me. We analyzed Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Chili’s, TGI Friday’s and Applebee’s. Of these brands, their digital media spend (display, search, and online video) made up an average of just 5% of their total media spend.

How could this be? Especially given the level of competition the casual dining industry is facing. Frequency continues to decrease, cost of employment keeps climbing, fast casual keeps gaining share, and expectations of diners continues to increase. What is clear is that these brands value TV (both network and cable) and believe it’s the answer to increasing traffic.

The Trouble With TV

The average TV spend during the last two years for each of the five brands we analyzed was just shy of $175 million compared to the average digital media spend per brand at $9.8 million. I understand the value of always being on TV. These brands are in an arms race for share of voice and dropping significant levels of TV is a huge risk but, here’s the problem: Millennials, who have a buying power of $200 billion in the U.S., are watching less and less TV.

Here are a few things to consider from Santy’s last study on Millennial video consumption to help paint the picture:

  • 27% of millennials don’t even own a TV
  • Only 58% of millennials have a cable subscription
  • 41% of millennials are always multitasking while watching TV

These stats alone are reason enough for casual dining brands to focus on their digital media plan. I’m not suggesting to slash your TV budgets for digital, but take a second (and third) look at your TV buys. Many of the casual dining brands we analyzed had network and cable media buys that mirror each other, meaning they are spending at high levels on both network and cable TV at the same time. I doubt the audience these brands are reaching on their network buy are vastly different from their cable buys. Therefore, their redundant investment in TV could be put to better use.

In addition, the second most frequently reported reason Millennials choose a restaurant is based on craving. These casual dining brands are missing a huge opportunity by not producing content online – unique from their :15 and :30 TV spots – in a tone that speaks to Millennials and hits that “food porn” level to create the craveability.

A Better Approach

A smart digital media plan can provide an additional value to a brand that traditional channels cannot offer. Utilizing services through a Data Management Provider (DMP) can provide your brand with a multitude of insights about your audience. By tying all the audience behavior, campaign activity, and third-party data together, brands can then optimize future media buys and the creative efficacy itself. As we know, all Millennials are not the same. A DMP can also allow your media team or agency to target digital media to audience segments against their unique online behaviors.

The way people are dining is changing, along with the way people are receiving messaging from brands. After analyzing media spend in the casual dining space over the last two years, it doesn’t look like this category is evolving. Which is strange given that the casual restaurant industry is projected to lose an estimated $1 billion in 2017 and remain fairly flat through 2020 (Mazzone & Associates; IBISWorld; Capital IQ). Not testing different media strategies would be the equivalent of insanity – defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.