Monday, February 25, 2008

How do you energize customers who don't really care?

I've been doing some work recently for a client in the Casual Dining Restaurant (CDR) category.

This is a strange category. It's a cross between a restaurant and a fast-food joint. Places that serve you a sit down meal, but low quality food at a low cost - Chili's, Applebees, etc.

The biggest thing that stuck me when looking at customer data for these types of places is that people really don't care much about them. They don't hate them or make disparaging comments. It's just that they are largely ambivalent. It's a quick meal at a good price. Cheap drinks. It's convenient. A night out with the family where I don't have to cook.

So how do you energize a customer base that doesn't really care? And could (and does) exchange you for the nearest similar alternative on a whim?

Personally, I don't think you can. In the sense that you can't harness energy that doesn't exist.

Trying to create that energy through marketing only is doomed to fail. Essentially, you can't TELL me I love a brand more than I do, you can only deliver an experience that MAKES me love it more than I thought I could. And in the case of a CDR restaurant, you just have to keep delivering cheap food, a clean restaurant, low prices, a good service experience and maybe the odd surprise thrown in.

You're never going to be an Apple (nor can I see why you would want to be). But you will sell a lot of chicken wings.

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Aaron said...

I would argue that McDonald's and Subway have developed the loyalty and excitment your CDR client seeks. The question becomes, "What's the difference?"

Not sure I've got the answer. Obvious explanations would be that McDonald's has ingrained itself in our culture and our collective childhood; Subway has developed a unique "healthy" positioning in the fast food market.

Chili's had that stupid ribs song that stuck in everyone's head, but was that loyalty building excitment? Don't think so. It was bloody repetition and got annoying too quick.

I think the answer lies in the history of these establishments. They never did anything to develop brand meaning. Initially they relied on novelty; as they grew, they deferred to price as a method to compete. Now they're interchangible.

I think it shows that as a consumer-facing company, you have to focus on your niche and your brand from day one. You can get along without that, but the inevitable mediocrity will lead to a long path of stagnation.

Paul Soldera said...

Superbly put!