The standard weight-loss cliché may be “no pain, no gain,” but Genghis Grill said it saw big returns from a recent health-focused campaign that was relatively inexpensive and easy to execute.
Ron Parikh, chief marketing officer for the Dallas-based chain of 68 Mongolian stir-fry restaurants, said the Health Kwest contest added 5,000 names to the brand’s 500,000-strong Khan’s Klub, brought in more than 15,000 of Genghis Grill’s 60,000 fans or followers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and drove thousands of other online impressions.
Health Kwest asked Genghis Grill customers to visit the restaurant every day for 90 days and eat for free, in order to see who could lose the most weight eating only the chain’s stir fry. More than 500 people applied, and the chain selected 55 “Khan-testants,” 48 of whom stuck with the program the entire 90 days, Parikh said.
He said the contest proved that customers “can have 90 days and about 90,000 options, and still come to our restaurants and not get tired of it,” which furthers Genghis Grill’s goal of positioning itself as a brand for healthy lifestyles, not just healthful food.
In all, the competitors shed a collective 1,087 pounds, and the contest winner, Brandon Sanders of Murfreesboro, Tenn., won $10,000 for losing 60 pounds.
Parikh said the social-media-driven campaign benefited Genghis Grill not only by keeping overhead low, but also by introducing the brand to people likely to interact with it on a regular basis, rather than attracting people who might otherwise redeem a single offer and never come back.
“This didn’t cost us much, but we were able to get into lots of different publications, and we acquired new fans from local-store marketing at gyms, churches and schools,” Parikh said. “It’s not a discount or coupon; we’re educating people about our brand and what we stand for. Campaigns like this are definitely part of our marketing program in the future.”
Arjun Sen, president of marketing consulting firm ZenMango, said the numbers of followers or loyalty club members Genghis Grill signed up through the promotion matter less than the types of customers the brand reached.
“How they’re doing that is important, too,” Sen said. “If they give away a free beverage for signing up, I would discount that increase in followers. You spend a lot of money to maintain those guys. This promotion caused relevant awareness to part of a population looking for similar choices, be they healthful foods or customization. People want to have more control and choice, so getting those guys to connect is a big deal.”
Medical City Hospital in Dallas provided the contestants nutrition and exercise tips during the Health Kwest promotion, while Quest Diagnostics tracked competitors’ weight loss. The third-party verifications helped legitimize the contest’s and Genghis Grill’s claims to healthfulness, Sen said.
Parikh said Genghis Grill would benefit from perceptions of serving healthful food, but the brand also is trying to position itself as an everyday choice for the value-conscious consumer as well, which is why getting contestants to eat there for 90 straight days was important.
“We’re a concept that’s $8.99 for lunch and $9.99 for dinner … and our average ticket is $10.50,” he said. “Where we see our brand as the generational shift moves from baby boomers to millennials is that it’s not just about the food, because younger consumers also ask, ‘What does that restaurant do for the community and my well being?’”
Sen said Genghis Grill could reinforce that positioning from the health-focused contest in several ways.
First, Genghis Grill does not have to say that it has changed anything about its ingredients or cooking processes for customers to benefit, Sen said. By contrast, even though Subway has advertised its healthful bona fides through commercials with spokesman Jared Fogle, the sandwich chain must point out that only a small “six grams of fat or less” section of the menu contains the healthful sandwiches that helped Fogle lose weight.
Second, he said, Genghis Grill can encourage customers to habitually visit its restaurants every day, but the chain can offer more variety than other brands that target habitual customers — the morning cup of coffee is relatively the same every day, and salad concepts often lack the indulgence that could surprise everyday lunch guests.
“Unlike coffee, eating stir fry is not a habit formed on an addictive product,” Sen said. “I could go a little more on vegetables one day, or have more meat the next. There’s total choice in recipes and portion sizes.”