The demise or success of Casual Dining.

Is your brand going to just give in to the prognosticators or fight like hell?

Everyday there’s another article about the demise of casual dining. Denny’s CEO stated, “ongoing and pervasive challenges” in the restaurant industry. We recognize that the environment will most likely remain challenged for the foreseeable future and we are committed to delivering profitable system sales growth as the industry and consumer expectations evolve.” No one said success would be easy.

In addition to competing with fast-casual chains, casual-dining chains have to win over consumers who will be increasingly choosing to eat at home in 2017, as grocery prices plummeted in 2016. In 2017, fast- casual restaurants will continue to be seen as trendier places to eat that typically beat casual-dining chains when it comes to convenience and pricing. The head winds are strong and new competitors enter the market daily. But what you have in recognition A locations and traffic coming in daily.

How to create success

The key to success is leveraging those things to your advantage. So if you’re a fighter and believe in your concept and plan to steal share, here are the five fundamentals to success. The competition in casual dining is fierce and brands struggle everyday to drive traffic into store. Never before has marketing been more important to the category. First you must focus on the core items that your customers love and consume regularly. If you’ve gone off trying to match Fast Casual brands and been changing up your menu it creates confusion. The key is to simplify your menu offerings. Use ordering data to create a streamlined menu strategy. We call it focusing on the craveable core offerings. Second, is to leverage limited time offerings on those core items to drive traffic.

It doesn’t mean discounting either. Many brands find success in reminding core guests and lapsed gusts about the items they’ve been enjoying for sometime. It acts as a reminder that you’re here and implies a discount when you show the price as limited time. In addition, LTO’s are great ways to give new customers a reason for trying your brand. Of course if you really want to be aggressive offering your LTO at a discount never hurts and can actually drive considerable traffic. Ok so now you’ve streamlined the menu to focus on your core offering. and put in some near term traffic driver offers, what next.

Now it’s time to think about the long-term success of your marketing program. In this third step to success conduct a media audit of all your spending and it’s efficacy at driving traffic and sales. Are you spending in the right places and getting an effective reach and frequency with your messages? The bottom line is without awareness you can’t build sales. We know through our years of research there is a direct correlation between awareness and trial. Share of voice equal share of stomach, as we like to say.

Analyze and optimize

When examining the digital components of the plan use advanced, precision targeting to grow your audience. What you will be doing is targeting the type of people who have shown a liking to your offering. It’s all about finding lookalike audiences to grow your base of customers. Look at geographic, demographic and interest based data of your core audience to date. Finally, deploy your new plan with a test and optimize mind set. The beauty of today’s media landscape is our ability to continuously analyze the performance of each channel.

As you examine the information make revisions based on the data collected. Within each channel you can optimize for ad types, audiences messaging and so much more. The test and optimize approach gives you flexibility to react not to ad performance but also market conditions. Perhaps you have a weak day part. Perfect opportunity to test and optimize ad units promoting that period.

The fact remains not every casual dining concept can survive these challenging times for the industry. As in all industries the strong survive. But so do those that pivot and change and don’t let the chaotic times control their destiny. Having the right tools and concepts and discipline to deploy them will push to success. Because, success depends more on what we do than what the world does to us.

Listen to the companion episode of the F&RM Podcast for this article.

The importance of Chili’s Twitter conversation with Jenna Fischer of The Office.

Yes, importance; we’ll explain why The Office is important again momentarily.

This week, actress Jenna Fischer stepped back into character as Pam Beasley Halpert of The Office. She “reprised” her role in a personal Twitter message asking her fans if they thought Chili’s was ready to lift their ban. In case you don’t remember the episode, Pam was banned from Chili’s for life for causing a drunken disturbance.

The brand quickly and intelligently responded with a warm welcome on Twitter and a very dry press release stating that the 11-year ban had been officially lifted. They managed to keep the release oblique and in the language of The Office, which earned them high praise from fans on the internet.

Why was this important? Chili’s recognized the opportunity to latch on to a pop culture vehicle with mass and cult appeal – and they did it dead right. It’s no coincidence that Casual Dining has sunk in popularity at the same time that television viewing habits (and ratings) have. The two were stitched together tightly.

National chains used prime time television advertising slots to reach mass audiences. Networks organized their programming around Friday pay-day logic by airing their most popular shows on Thursday nights for decades. The Office was part of this tradition on NBC. Ratings have dropped over time as DVRs, Netflix and dozens of other sources of entertainment and distraction (see: your phone) have fragmented prime time.

The Office, prime time, Twitter, Chili's
The ratings slide since The Office stopped airing
OK, why is this news?

The ratings decline is not news. The Office has been off the air for years. Why is this Chili’s incident worth discussing? Not because of fans of The Office will be charging into Chili’s necessarily. They have found a way to grab a mass audience for a short time and serve a compelling brand message. This action will drive short term traffic.

Because TV prime time has been diminished, reaching a mass audience in any forum is much, much more difficult. That is why Olive Garden, Chili’s and Casual Dining, et al have been in a slide. With a lack of vehicles for mass reach, driving mass appeal and traffic has suffered. Even a tremendous and efficient media strategy across digital platforms can’t match talking to your exact audience 10 or 20 million people at a time.

This stunt was a successful way to replicate that sort of reach with the added bonus of an internet response (which wasn’t even possible during the days of Must See TV). How many televised opportunities for mass reach still exist? The Super Bowl, The Oscars and down from there. Reaching a wide swath of Americans has never been more complex (or expensive). And how many brands have the gravity to air on The Super Bowl or The Oscars? Very few. So few in fact that spots were still available for the Fox broadcast of Super Bowl LI even in the week leading up to the game.

Brands will have to find ways to reach their audiences using the new combination of channels that they most frequently use. Jenna Fischer is no longer on a prime time show. The Office is not even making new episodes. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be leveraged to tell the brand story. Time will tell whether Chili’s is able to replicate the success of this stunt.

Growing an emerging brand: three key factors for success

watering can, new product, CPG

Growing an emerging brand in the CPG space takes a special focus and attention.

A growing consumer package goods company can efficiently and effectively create demand and generate trial with limited distribution and a limited budget. The way it’s done is by doing a few things well and with great precision.

It’s important to remember when setting a precise strategy, you must sacrifice some things you think you want to do. Staying focused on what’s working will prevent you from straying to random tactics and getting off message. There are three critical components to an effective marketing strategy for most emerging brands. They’re designed to focus your limited budget on the optimal tactics and messages through a test and optimize approach. More on that later. The three critical components are: geo-targeting, target audience, and optimal messaging.

1. Geo-targeting

Geo-target your promotional investment in your best markets. Examine your ACV in each market to ensure people will be able to find your product once you create an interest.

You need to understand who your best and most likely customer is.

Start by identifying your top five designated market areas (DMAs) based on where you have the best distribution. Your primary objective is to generate awareness so you can generate trial. Several great ways to generate that awareness include: paid search, paid social, and online video. All tactics can be implemented relatively inexpensively.

2. Target audience

Have a precise target audience for your product. Do not try to reach broad demographics like “Adults 25-54.” It’s not efficient. You want to understand who your best and most likely customer is. You’ll base this not only on gender and age, but also with a clear psychographic profile. Understanding who your raving fans are is important so you can use all the digital targeting tools available today to go find more people with the same profile. When setting your target there are several tools available, like social listening, Facebook Insights and Google Analytics.

3. Optimal messaging

Create optimal messaging that will resonate, engage and motivate your audience. Because you are implementing the test and optimize model, there is no need to limit your message options. Since you’re early in your marketing efforts you want to test a variety of approaches to determine which ones resonate with your audience and creates the best click through rates and conversions.

As you learn what advertising messages and types are generating click through and conversion, you optimize your advertising spend on the most effective ads.

Consumers are looking for new products all the time. They’re interested in new flavors, new options to replace old favorites or they’re just trying new products out of curiosity, and they use a variety of channels to seek them out. Whether it’s search, social channels or websites; emerging brands need to get their message out there so we can discover your great new product.