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White Castle hamburger Courtesy of White Castle

Restaurants, to thine own self be true

Stick to your brand promise; customers hate phonies

Just be yourself.

It’s familiar advice that borders on trite. Parents use it when their children are looking to be accepted — whether it’s before a job interview or a date or the first day of school. They say: Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

It sounds easy to do, but for restaurant brands seeing more competition than ever and feeling pressure to get up to speed on delivery, mobile apps, supply chain and marketing on digital platforms that didn’t exist 5 years ago — it can be tough to remember who you are.

Successful chains have a clearly defined brand promise. The brand promise is the touchstone and the lens through which they view any change. This identity-based focus doesn’t necessarily mean a brand should embrace change at a slow pace; in fact, it can make the process faster, especially with legacy brands.

Look at White Castle, a 96-year-old burger brand that took 40 years to make any menu changes until it added a slice of cheese to its iconic slider in the 1960s. Now, White Castle still sells that slider, but is adding menu items to attract new customers, like black bean sliders and Belgian waffle egg sandwiches.

“We’ve done more product development in the last eight years than we’ve probably done in the last 80,” said White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram.

Ingram, an NRN Golden Chain winner and fourth generation CEO, defines the White Castle promise as unique products and amazing team members.

Or take Denny’s, which opened as a doughnut stand in 1953 with an original brand promise to “To serve the best cup of coffee, make the best doughnuts, give the best service, offer the best value and stay open 24 hours a day.”

Courtesy of Denny's

Sure, Denny’s is known for more than donuts now, but adding 24-hour delivery in May fit perfectly with the spirit of Denny’s 1953 mission statement. And the brand made sure to fit its marketing around bringing the diner experience to customers’ homes.

KFC, too, is revitalizing the brand based on where it started, with its quirky founder Colonel Sanders. Click on and you are greeted by Sanders’ face. The 70-plus-year-old chain has made Sanders the center of its marketing campaign with a rotating cast of actors and comedians embodying the turn-of-the-century figure. The simplifying of operations is also referred to as the “re-colonelization” of the brand. Nostalgia is served up on a modern platform, with virtual reality training in the works at KFC.

During our Consumer Picks MUFSO session in Dallas earlier this month, Datassential’s Kelley Fechner pointed out that not every restaurant needs to get into the technology game with delivery and social media. “Know what you do, and know what you do well,” she advised. “And if you don’t, stay away from it.”

When surveying the world of kiosks, integrated point-of-sale systems, personalized marketing, drones, robot hostesses and third-party delivery, do remember who you are.

Contact Jenna Telesca at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JennaTelesca


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