RESTAURANTS & INSTITUTIONS, Marketing: All the Right Moves
March 1, 2009
By Christine LaFave, Associate Editor
Like so many great restaurant ventures, Boston’s b.good burgers started with three guys who have a passion for food. In this case, that food was burgers, and in 2003, businessmen Jon Olindo and Anthony Ackil joined with chef Tony Rosenfeld to launch their dream fast-casual burger joint. The three sought to position their concept as a higher-quality lunch spot, one with hand-ground, hand-packed burgers, baked fries, and condiments made in-house daily—all at a price reasonable enough to make b.good a more-than-once-a-week destination.
But with Boston diners hardly lacking in burger options, Olindo, Ackil and Rosenfeld recognized that b.good needed more than the promise of a better-tasting burger to help it stand out from the crowd. So the three founders took their message online: Just before b.good opened, they launched a newsletter—with an initial subscriber base of friends, family and early taste-testers—talking up the concept’s better-burger philosophy and made-from-scratch focus.
“A big goal was to build a family,” says Executive Chef Rosenfeld. “It’s important in such a competitive marketplace not just to make good food but also to let people know how and why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Since the restaurant opened, Olindo, Ackil and Rosenfeld have continued to build an audience and hone an off-beat “real people, real food” persona for b.good. They have invited customers to submit pop-culture-inspired names for new specialty items (the winner earns free burgers for life) and started an annual eating contest for one of the restaurant’s signature burger toppings, Garlicky Greens (sautéed spinach). In five years, b.good has grown to four units and distinguished itself among Boston’s crowded burger field. Its monthly newsletter now counts nearly 10,000 subscribers. Online ordering and a catering business, both launched last year, have boosted its convenience-oriented image and further broadened the business’ reach.
Following, four additional operations talk about how they negotiate the balance of inspiration and innovation that’s at the heart of brand differentiation.
Off the Hook
Seafood restaurants, as most diners are familiar with them, come in three varieties: quick-service, heavy-on-the-fried-food eateries; big casual-dining chains; and independent fine-dining establishments. So when Jonathan Umbel opened Tackle Box in Washington, D.C., 10 months ago positioning it as an upscale fast-casual restaurant (and the district’s “first and only lobster shack”), he knew he had some work to do in order for consumers to catch on.
Modeled after the fish shacks that dot the shore of coastal Maine, Tackle Box’s menu centers around the “Maine Meal”—a choice of fried or wood-grilled fish plus two sides (and a sauce) for $13. With a QSR-like combo meal and order-at-the-counter convenience (though without the extra-low pricing of a QSR) plus a focus on sustainable seafood more commonly associated with pricier seafood dining rooms, Tackle Box didn’t fit a familiar mold.
To coax skeptical diners to give the concept a try, Umbel expanded the menu by introducing fish tacos that could be ordered à la carte at a lower price point ($8 for two tacos or $11 for three). “When we started the concept as a Maine shore shack, fish tacos weren’t really on any of the menus we saw [in Maine],” Umbel says. Though not authentic, the tacos were popular and Umbel ultimately decided that adding them to the menu was worth a shot to get diners in the door and introduce them to the brand. Now, they’re the restaurant’s sales leader, and Umbel credits the move with helping Tackle Box establish its identity among the other seafood concepts.
The Comfort Zone
There’s a fine line between evolving a brand’s identity and betraying it. Burlington, Vt.-based Bruegger’s is attempting to walk that line this spring when the bagel chain introduces new sandwiches on fresh-baked bread. Vice President of Marketing Paula Doyle acknowledges that some may question the wisdom of a concept with a core product as identifiable as bagels moving into the crowded field of fresh-baked-bread players, including Panera Bread and Subway. But she is confident that by steering away from the cheese-and herb-accented breads that bakery-cafe chains are known for in favor of classic yet delicious white and wheat, Bruegger’s will be able to broaden its range of lunchtime choices without watering down the brand.
“In the fast-casual world, there are a lot of artisan breads out there now. We thought there was room to do something more traditional,” Doyle says. “One of the things guests tell us about Bruegger’s is it’s a really comfortable place. With the [new breads], it’s about just that kind of idea—of doing something that is more comforting.”
Bruegger’s new sandwiches will include a toasted four-cheese-and-tomato variety and a classic tuna melt and will range from $5.39 to $6.39, similar to the chain’s bagel sandwiches.
A Mobile Message
Done right, catering service is an opportunity for operators to take their brand message on the road. “It’s a double hit,” b.good’s Rosenfeld says. “You’re getting revenue, but more importantly, you have an opportunity to grow your brand by introducing more people to it.”
But it takes more than a logo on a van and a few tent cards to maximize catering’s potential as a brand booster. The personality—the “this is what makes us different” factor—needs to be on display at off-premise events as much as it is in the restaurant.
B.good waited almost five years before adding catering to its operation. Says Rosenfeld, the long time span allowed b.good to both build demand for the service and ensure that the restaurant had the proper vehicle—literally and figuratively—for conveying its brand message.
In launching its catering arm last summer, b.good debuted the Shake Cart, a mobile milkshake mixer painted black with flames on the side. “I think a lot of times you miss the character of whatever place of business [you’re ordering from],” Rosenfeld says, explaining the bold design.
In addition to the Shake Cart, the company also rolls out portable grills for catered events. That bit of theater, Rosenfeld says, “captures what we like doing, which is making things fresh and right at that moment.”
By doing a little more and doing it a little better, brands can rise above the fray of their competitors and create a brand identity that resonates with consumers. Based in Edgewater, Md., the 22-unit The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille found a memorable way to update its restaurants and stand out in the minds of its game-loving core audience: outfitting every booth with its own flatscreen television. Existing Greene Turtle units were retrofitted with the TVs four years ago, and newer units have incorporated more booths, as well as larger, 6- to 8-person booths to accommodate the theme. “It’s been great, says CEO Mike Sanford. “It’s not quite like being on your couch at home, but it’s pretty close.
Iconic characters are part and parcel of quick-service branding—witness Ronald McDonald, Burger King’s The King, Little Caesars’ “Pizza Pizza”-loving Roman. By creating integrated marketing campaigns that take advantage of television, social-networking Web sites, microsites and video-sharing sites, these smiling faces can serve as valuable buzz-generating tools.
San Diego-based Jack in the Box is taking exactly this tack with its popular, foam-headed Jack Box character. In a TV commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLIII in February, Jack was hit by a bus. Viewers were left to wonder what would become of Jack—and then encouraged to visit a special Web site to track Jack’s progress. The site, updated several times a week, features pictures from the “accident scene” and videos of interviews with the bus driver, paramedics, Jack’s doctors and others. Customers also can follow along on Facebook and Twitter.
There are applications that allow fans to post get-well messages and videos. And in lieu of sending flowers, the site notes, concerned customers should “order anything on the menu, any time of day”—a nod to the fact that, unlike many of its QSR competitors, Jack in the Box makes its full menu, including breakfast items, available all day long.
About 800,000 people logged on to see the YouTube video of the “accident” in the campaign’s first five days and 200,000 visited Jack in the Box’s special get-well site in the same time, says the chain’s Chief Marketing Officer Terri Graham.
Injuring an icon might not seem the most intuitive way to promote a brand, but the campaign got people talking—which was exactly its point. “People love Jack,” says Graham. “He is a challenger to the industry. He has a great irreverent humor.”
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