Brand Fatigue

As someone who has been watching Saturday Night Live since the ’70s, I know something about brand fatigue. You know, after thirty years, I keep hoping that they will show me something new…and occasionally they do. Last fall, Tina Fey’s take on Sarah Palin was just the “new product development” that Saturday Night Live needed. At the time, I had friends who said they didn’t know SNL was still on the air until they saw the Thursday night SNL Election News Specials. In case you missed it, here is a sample:

This past Saturday night, I was surprised by another brand making a new product introduction on SNL: Starbucks launched their new Via instant coffee this past Saturday. Now, in the short term, I’m sure people will focus on cannibalization. I’m not saying that’s not important…I’m just suggesting that it might be the price you pay to play in a larger arena with a longer lifecycle.

Because I tend to frequent brands I work with, I have a technique of my own to keep it fresh. I started when I was with Max & Erma’s. Being a creature of habit, I tended to always order the same things and tended to burn myself out. So to avoid that burnout, I would ask my server to surprise me. That’s right. I’d say, “I’m going to tell you three things, and I want you to just surprise me. Just pick one and don’t tell me what you are going to bring me. Just surprise me.”

It’s amazing. Servers always know what the best thing is. They usually hedge their bets if you ask them what they would recommend. They want to know what you are in the mood for, etc. But when you ask them tosurprise you, you’ve given them permission to bring anything you named. I’ve never been disappointed.

Successful brands always risk overexposure, even in the best of times. Now, when people are cutting back on their dining out occasions, a growing percentage of their visits are invested in their favorites, their tried-and-true “go to” places. Reverting to their favorites reduces the risk of dining out. And consumers are nothing if not risk-averse these days. Even I have cut back on how often I dine out…and you know me, I love to eat out.

This weekend I was at one of my “go to” favorites, Lindey’s, a Columbus landmark. Lindey’s never fails to surprise me, which is why I have been a regular for over 20 years. I think the simple element of surprise is the real antidote for brand fatigue.

Some concepts always work to surprise us. California Pizza Kitchen always has something new to tempt us, and they even encourage guests to get outside their comfort zones with their “Adventure Guarantee,” which promises to bring guests their favorite item at no charge if they don’t like the item they experiment with. Talk about a great offer for the risk-averse.

Donato’s Pizza recently introduced hand-tossed pizza. As a part of the rollout, they delivered a free slice of pizza with our carryout order the other night. Who can resist a free slice of pizza in a little triangular box? Being creatures of habit, I’m sure we would never have tried it without this “sampling.”

Not unlike Starbucks Via commercial for a free coffee or the McCafe free coffee offer, these initiatives to generate trial help to fight the brand fatigue of their most loyal guests.

Innovation is the antidote, with or without a free offer. Brands that invest in moving forward will be far ahead when the going gets a little less tough.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts