In season one, we had two guests touch on the idea of educating consumers, though in very different respects.
In episode four, Chuck Winship mentioned how Chili’s had to make extra efforts to educate Floridians on Southwestern fare like fajitas and ribs.
“We would make a big scene of delivering these fajitas because no one knew what they were in Florida. We were fighting the name Chili’s…Nobody really knew what a Chili’s was. And so we had to really take marketing to a different level in Florida, educating people what we were.”
Conversely, Jim Mizes from episode three mentioned how Blaze Pizza was able to grow historically fast in part because of the commonality of its product; consumers didn’t need to be educated on pizza.
“Blaze is a great example of a concept that quickly established a presence in its hometown, and it was part of a huge category called pizza and then quickly saw that, because you didn’t have to teach people about pizza, that it could travel quickly.”
The topic of educating consumers is interesting in the context of recent trends. First, we’re in an era where the customer wants to know more information than ever before. Where are the ingredients from? How is the dish prepared? Are the employees who prepared the dish paid well? And during COVID-19: who has touched the food?
Second, it’s easier than ever for guests to obtain all sorts of information on restaurant brands. Potential customers can familiarize themselves with new restaurants on Yelp; consumers can read company secrets shared anonymously by employees on Reddit; consumers can personally interact with brands through Twitter or Facebook.
For restaurants, this has been a positive and a negative. On one hand, social media has been an effective medium for advertising. As Jim Mizes mentioned, the internet can make a brand seem bigger than it is, allowing them to build familiarity among consumers who don’t live near a store. Such was the case with Blaze Pizza and its viral employee Ron, better known as LeBron James.
But at the same time, restaurants have lost some control over how guests learn about their brand and their products. Just as social media has provided restaurants a platform to connect with guests in new ways, it has also served as a way for customers to share information about brands - good and bad - among each other. As such, branding has only become more important, and operators need to capitalize on the messaging that they still control to create a brand that can withstand the nature of the internet.