Author’s note: In light of the accelerated growth of change, the maintenance of a healthy appearance by brands is of the utmost importance, as I portray in the following article.
Prior to 1965, it would have been almost impossible to use the term “brand,” as we presently know it, when discussing multi-unit foodservice companies. First of all, there weren’t that many, and, second, for the most part they were regional. Not so today.
Now we not only have national restaurant brands, but international ones. Whether it’s chicken, burgers, hot dogs, or fine dining, American foodservice brands are thriving throughout most of the world. This has placed a heavy burden on the manner in which these companies operate here in the United States, as well as their having to adhere to foreign standards. If they make one mistake, social media will have it traveling around the globe faster than the speed of light. This has created a “walking on eggshells” environment in many of the top brand executive suites and has given birth to a “protect the brand reputation” mentality. Some have not been totally successful in doing so, as you will see.
In the last three or four years, some major brands have made major blips. For example: A major player in the casual dining area somehow let leak a memo that it was going to raise prices and shave portions! Of course, it was reported in the general press and was the hit of the day on a number of social media websites. The company received 30,000 emails of protest.
It didn’t take more than a week before the company said they were dropping the unfortunate policy. This may be the first recorded incident whereby a company was saved because of the internet. The company responded to every email it received and apologized, and, I believe, offered some kind of discount to the recipient. The brand was really hurt; however, I’m happy to report that it survived.
This incident is also a dramatic example of how the internet has changed the customer’s ability to let managers of major brands know when they are unhappy with them. No more struggling to find the company’s address, sitting and drafting a long letter, putting it in an envelope, and buying a stamp. Now all you do is say what you feel, hit the spell-check, and then, with great gusto, hit the Send key. Done!
More recently two major brands, one, a large casual dining chain, and the other, an equally large QSR specialty operation, went public with their concerns relating to the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. It seemed both were trying to alert their patrons of upcoming changes in staffing and even some staff cutting. It did not go well with the customers. Though many of the changes might be necessary, why go public? It seemed to many, including this writer, that it was not really any of the public’s business. To suggest that service might suffer is an invitation for your customer base to go elsewhere. While the competition may have to do the same, they’re not announcing it to the public.
One company admitted it did receive blowback because of its response to the new healthcare law, and admitted it contributed to a steep decline in its net profit for the last quarter.
Please note that in the three incidents I used as examples of hurting the brand, these were major organizations. “Brand” also can be considered a euphemism for reputation. If you are an independent operator, you, too, have to protect your good name (brand, or reputation) even if you don’t have hundreds of locations.
As you know, many of today’s social issues have—or will have, if they become law—an impact on your business: no smoking, menu posting, eliminating trans fat, increasing the minimum wage, the obesity issue and how foodservice companies are dealing with it, the banning of certain size soft drinks, the health department’s grading of inspections, and the list goes on and on.
Should the media contact you for your thoughts on any of these issues, be very careful what you say and how you say it. In many instances, the public supports these initiatives, and you run the risk of alienating them if you are vigorous in opposing them. Keep in mind that you will not have a chance to edit your remarks. Always have the person asking the questions read back your answers.
I have a friend who is considered one of the best in the public relations business. He earned this reputation because of his ability to keep many of his clients’ names out of the press.