Number 2: Only Steal from the Best

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Restaurant Marketing

NUMBER TWO: Only steal from the best

OK, I’m not proud of it, but I’ve admitted it before. I have, on occasion, borrowed inspiration from my competitors. Having said that, when one is “poaching” ideas, there are two major caveats:

  1. Always ask, “Does it fit your brand?”
  2. Only steal from the best.

The truth of the matter is, copying the competition is dangerous for many reasons. The restaurant business is not unlike an iceberg in that only about 10% of an iceberg is above the surface. Most of an iceberg (90%) is below water. So much of what makes a restaurant chain successful is also below the surface. The success factors can’t easily be seen when you walk in the front door for a competitive visit.

A restaurant’s success is based in its culture, systems, infrastructure and the core elements of the brand. In all probability, there are elements under the surface that may not be obvious from the outside: purchasing arrangements, existing training programs, marketing programs, etc.

* You never know what’s under the surface. Years ago when Taco Bell first started the value wars with 39 cent tacos, I saw CEO John Martin present the “back story” of the behind-the-scenes re-engineering and process improvement necessary to drive down the costs so that they could offer the enhanced value. How many restaurateurs today are doing that cost re-engineering as they hop into the value pool?

* You never know whether the program is working. A number of years ago, I attended a conference where the presenter listed a promotion of mine among a long list of local store marketing ideas. Unfortunately, it was a program that hadn’t worked. He wasn’t aware of that…he only saw the program when I was testing it and thought it sounded like a great idea. It wasn’t.

* The promotion may be right for your competition, but may be totally wrong for your brand. Always ask, “Does it fit your brand?” Taking the time to make the idea fit the brand will always be time well spent.

The idea of a company sponsoring a TV show is almost as old as TV itself. But one of my favorite recent sponsorships is Starbucks sponsoring MSNBC’s Morning Joe–the early morning talk news program where former congressman Joe Scarborough sits around drinking coffee and chatting with a revolving line-up of legislators, pundits, celebrities, and others…all of whom appear on the set with their obligatory morning coffee.

I think the connection is inspired. The sponsorship was kicked off several months ago by Howard Schultz himself. In addition to the great name linkage, the core target market and the fact that everyone is seen clutching their morning carryout coffee, it has evolved to include remote feeds from a local Starbucks when the principals are on the road. That’s the way to copy a great idea…make it your own.

Until next time, let me know your thoughts.