Saturday, December 13, 2014

Today Restaurant Differentiation doesn’t Mean Different it means Familiar.

When was the last time you went to a restaurant and were surprised by a menu item or décor change? Corporate marketers with legacy restaurant chains strive to keep up with their competitors. Back in the day when a chain restaurant would lose market share someone would lose their job! Not in today’s world, they simply copy what the industry niche sector leader is doing, quieting disgruntled franchises or shareholders.

Innovation be Dammed, copy to survive. When this occurs success is based on unique points of distribution, price, not product. Then everyone loses; stakeholders, shareholders, franchisees, and most importantly consumers.

Today management complacency and mediocrity seem to be the status quo rather than consumers focused driven brand teams.   The new mantra for restaurant chain C-level executives appears to be, don’t risk innovation, follow the leader, and maintain niche equilibrium, and the stock options and paychecks keep rolling in.  The loser may not just be the consumer from lack of true innovation, brand values drop, consumer brand apathy increases, and market share capitulation is a direct result.

In reality differentiation becomes product, price, and points of distribution rather innovative new products, or service.   When price and location become a more important value than the brand, the undercurrents of brand disequilibrium are already underway.

Consider looking from the consumers perspective, there is very little overall difference between TGI Fridays, Houlihan's, Bennigan’s or between McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King.  Within the Pizza sector, a similar set of problems from the consumer perspective exist between Pizza Hut, Dominos; Papa John’s Godfathers they all having the same number one selling pizza pepperoni. Familiar does work.
Rarely do menu, pricing and Limited Time Offering’s (LTO’s) combine to create little change or long time loyalty within the niche or with consumers; it quite simply becomes more of the same.  Legacy brands capitulate market share as an unintended consequence of over controlling the brand within the four walls and executive compliancy.

More and more consistent niche equilibrium can be the seductress of compliancy and mediocrity for CEO’s & COO’s of major restaurant chains.  When C-level officers and brand marketers are more focused on the controlling the brand; staying within their niche and within their four walls rather than paying attention to the consumer, a loss of market share is sure to follow.  Consumers are dynamic, brand must be as well.

Steven Johnson is the Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®, with extensive experience as a public speaker, multi-unit operator, consultant and brand/product positioning expert. Outside Eyes can provide inside results.  Interested in a product, or brand scorecard? Contact: 253-759-7869 or

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