Can the Shark Tank effect drive traffic for an LTO?

Shark Tank, the ABC show in which entrepreneurs pitch their products to investors, has become a hitmaker. The show, based on the international program Dragon’s Den has been airing in the US since 2009. When brands appear on the show, things happen in the marketplace.

For the successful guests, fortunes change visibly. They not only receive investment funding from a famed Shark, but they also earn mentorship and network power – tying into the Shark’s other businesses and processes. These brands tend to blow up in retail. You have no doubt seen clusters of products from the show or even clusters from individual Sharks in retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Walgreens and Home Depot.

Even for entrepreneurs who fail to earn a deal, the show has the power to drive interest and sales of the product. Garrett Gee walked away without a deal to fund his app Scan in 2013 but the app became the number one app in the iPhone and Windows app stores due to exposure from the show.

There have been a few dining success stories. Cousins Maine Lobster food trucks earned a deal that has driven their expansion across the country. Grilled Cheese concept Tom & Chee is now in 14 states after earning investment on the show and being featured in updates.

Now, CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are attempting to earn some capital of their own by partnering with the show. In an episode from 2013, Shark Daymond John invested in a patented boneless pork rib product – Bubba’s Boneless Ribs. The product had been featured in several follow up episodes but success was not immediately clear. In a recent episode, the founder and John appeared in a visit to Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s headquarters to finalize a deal to provide the product for the new Baby Back Rib Burger.

The brands have made overt efforts to turn their image away from the sexy girls eating messy burgers. The appearance on Shark Tank is not exactly aligned with the more dramatic efforts the brands have made, but certainly a departure from the bikini era.

The show claims 8-10 million regular viewers, no mean feat in today’s fragmented media environment. CKE reached a group of consumers with information about a product they had been learning about for 4 years to announce their new sandwich. Where the brands may have missed on reaching a mass audience with their recent activation on Twitch, they have capitalized on this loyal audience with a strong product introduction.

There are two related questions. First, who exactly did they reach? Assuming the brands are driving in include a slightly more balanced gender in their new media strategy; they have achieved that. But from an age standpoint, they probably missed their largely young male audience getting a large portion of Gen X and Boomers (gasp) in this Shark Tank play.

Second, will viewers turn out for a sandwich like they have for products like the Scrub Daddy? The top performing products have tended to be no-brainers, like a better sponge or a simpler way to exercise. This burger is far from a no-brainer for average consumers. It will appeal much more to males, and hungry males at that. What is not known is the cost CKE paid for the appearance, if any. Without that data, it is impossible to judge the move.

Time will tell whether the Shark Tank effect can carry an LTO.

Keep guests in your vision statement

Read the vision statement of some of the top dining brands and you’ll notice something quite odd. It’s focused solely on the success of the brand, and not at all on the people the brand exists to serve.

For example, Chili’s vision statement is “Chili’s love by 2020.” What on earth does that mean? To guests, absolutely nothing. Applebee’s is a list of corporate values. More of an appeal for shareholders than guests. Chipotle? “Change the way people think about and eat fast food.” It involves guests, but isn’t clearly about improving things for them. Panera Bread says “A loaf of bread under every arm.” Technically guests have arms, so we’re getting warmer.

The ideal vision statement is about the company and the specific thing it will do for customers to reach its big goal. Or at least a reference to what customers get from the brand that will help the brand get there. When the vision statement is solely inwardly focused, it’s telling. The Chili’s vision reads like the experience many guests have when they go to Chili’s; more about the brand moving customers than the guest’s visit. How do they hope to achieve Chili’s Love? Also, what?

If you are in the restaurant business, you exist to serve people.

McDonald’s vision is a very long and winding paragraph that includes references to the experience, their number one product and their guests. It feels very much like what you might believe McDonald’s is striving to achieve. Starbucks leaves out guests but puts a heavy focus on top-tier quality, integrity and corporate growth.

If you are in the restaurant business, you exist to serve people. If taking care of people or trying to give people a good time is not of interest to you, do something else. This is why it’s critical that any vision be centered around the guest. What will you provide your guest to grow your brand? That may sound difficult to define, but that’s the key. It’s the difference between independent restaurants and chains.

The sole proprietor or chef-led restaurant is still focused on guests. On delighting them. On pleasing them. On earning their next visit. Chains tend to lose this focus as they grow and expand into new markets. Corporations add words like integrity and supply chain to their visions to appeal to shareholders. Independent restaurants work for every visit and successful locations never lose site of the guests. To be fair, independent restaurants do not have a vision statement.

That’s part of the problem for large or growing brands. The vision statement is meant to direct the entire company towards a goal. A big goal. It’s interesting that many (most?) audacious futures don’t have customers. Chili’s Love by 2020. The vision statement should definitely include customers if only to identify the party that will fund this future state. But that’s a copout. A focus on the ‘love’ of the brand is not a destination that can ever be reached. It’s incredibly heady and vague. NPS and sentiment data are valuable tools, but neither is an effective way to measure the vision of the brand.

This post was inspired by and borrows from this fun and inappropriate episode of The Brand Hole podcast.

Experience vs. Expect

Experience, experience, experience. Since the 1990’s experts have been talking about experience as the critical component for brands. In 1999, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote The Experience Economy laying the foundation for decades of conversation on this topic. Unlike many books that make a splash in the brand world, the ideas in this one have flourished as a platform, living on and growing as new thinkers add their ideas.

Experience can’t be commoditized. There can be many similar experiences, such as occasions at a fast casual restaurant, but it is something that each guest takes in personally. They process it in their own way and add it to a mental catalogue of experience types they have a unique perspective on.

If you’ve never spent time in the southeastern US, you may expect Famous Dave’s or even Dickie’s as an acceptable standard.

This is because there are multiple thought processes humans have add up to experience. We don’t take in our visit to Famous Dave’s with our eyes alone. We smell the smoke and sauce, the see the decor and the people, we hear the music. Ultimately we interact with a host and a server, maybe a bartender. There is conversation and feedback, maybe a joke and a laugh. Where do we sit? Maybe near a rowdy group or a table with young children. And yes, we eat and drink.

And at each step of the way we are recalling memories related to Famous Dave’s, what we know about other barbecue restaurants and food, bars and restaurants. We index against our likes and dislikes. This experience relates directly to what is created by the sum of life we have lived before this visit: what do we expect? Expectations can be more powerful than our senses.

What we ‘expect’ is rarely the friend of positive experience. They more we expect as a consumer, the easier it is to be let down. The last movie you saw based on a glowing review probably didn’t live up to the hype. Simply put, this is because you expect greatness and the greatness of your imagination outperformed the film itself.

What do you expect from a barbecue restaurant? Thinking about the category brings to mind some very real sensations. If you’ve never spent time in the southeastern US, you may expect Famous Dave’s or even Dickie’s as an acceptable standard. Those in Austin, Alabama or Georgia expect something wholly different. Noise and music, yes. But the food experience is completely different.

This is why the focus has shifted from the experience economy to the expectation economy. Every brand has a product that meets the basic need. Consumers expect that any restaurant will provide a meal. For 20 years, brands have grown based on improvements to the experience. But consumers have now come to expect a baseline of experience as part of their meal. Expectations are fueled by promises made by the brand, experiences elsewhere and by research or information the consumer has gathered independently, such as Yelp reviews.

The challenge now is to deliver on the base level of the category expectation, and to add to the experience in novel ways. This upends expectations and volleys the ball back to competitors leaving them the job of defending their own experience against this new level of service or delight. Only brands that continuously push forward like Domino’s Pizza will be able to rise above what the consumers expect in a low experience category. Order with a tweet and have it delivered by a custom car with a heated cabin? How does the neighborhood pizza place keep up with that new expectation?