Marketing Means Branding Your Company from the Inside Out

People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice. Make your internal “marketing” sessions engaging, interactive, full of visuals, and ripe with rewards………..

By Jim Sullivan

I’ve seen it happen way too often at the chains and independent restaurants I work with. The snappy new customer marketing campaign, seasonal food and beverage promotion or Limited Time Offer (LTO) gets brainstormed at HQ, partners climb aboard, POS gets printed. The big bucks get approved and committed, the ad agency gets giddy, the promotion gets branded, the new ads get developed, the marketing department gets frantic, the program soars with expectation, rises with hope and then…klunk, it inexplicably fails miserably. Brows get knitted, fingers get pointed, and usually, the product is blamed since the customer can’t be. Wherein the Marketing department then learns the grim reality of Sullivan’s Seventh Law of Hospitality: “whatever it is that hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.”

The truth is that when most restaurant marketing promotions fail, neither the product nor program was wrong, nor was the customer uninterested. The real reason is that managers (or vendors) overlooked the first commandment of marketing: the employee is your first customer. New policies, promotions, special events and LTOs tank when managers, marketers, and vendors fail to first brand the program internally to their customer-facing employees before rolling it out externally to their guests. Call it “employee branding” if you will; recognizing the value of employees in helping a restaurant company properly position itself, market its products and reinforce brand messages. The antidote? Successful external marketing programs are the result of successfully marketing internally first. “Sell” every current or planned promotion, new policy or procedure—no matter how big or small—to your service and kitchen team with the same zeal, enthusiasm and detail of an advertising agency trying to land a large account.

Here are a few strategies and tactics that can help your team embrace your next new program, promotion, policy or procedure…

“So What and Who Cares?” is your first challenge

How many GMs, managers and servers reading this article have seen that box of table tents, posters, and point-of-sale related to an upcoming promotion show up one Monday morning from a vendor or HQ without explanation or context? Or maybe the Home Office excites the GMs about a seasonal promotion in partnership with a manufacturer, brewer or vintner, but then fails to supply them with a toolbox of tactics on how to educate, excite and execute the program with their crew. Don’t blame the service team. If they haven’t caught it, you haven’t taught it. Front-liners need equal doses of “what’s in it for me” along with “what this program’s about”. Managers need more than a fact sheet. They need support from the Training Department on effective teaching tips, tricks and techniques for their crew members to sell and market the program internally.

Pre-shift meetings must be married to sales contests

I’ve designed numerous food and beverage sales contests for servers at restaurant chains nationwide ever year. And if you’re planning on tying in an employee sales contest to your promotion, remember two things. First, you’ll get the best results with contests that last no longer than 30 days at a time (the “short attention span” syndrome). Second, the truth is the majority of employee sales contests are effective for only nine days—the first five and last four of the month. So be sure and emphasize the contest and promotion daily in your pre-shift meetings to get the maximum effort and interest in your program for all four weeks. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Keep it simple

Communicate clearly. Strategy cannot be executed if it cannot be understood. It cannot be understood if it cannot be described.

Post FAQ’S

After communicating the new policy, procedure or promotion to your team, anticipate Frequently Asked Questions and design a handout relative to the topic. Post it where you need to.

It’s the People, stupid

Erik Lindberg, GM for Hoss’s Steak and Sea House in Huntingdon, PA had a hunch. He figured he could make a go of a successful breakfast program at his unit, even though Hoss’s didn’t serve breakfast. After crunching some numbers and soliciting corporate’s tentative support, he hunkered down to some serious employee marketing. “I didn’t have a budget for advertising, but I look at our crew as 65 mini billboards,” says Erik. “So we had buttons made promoting breakfast and then I proceeded to sell the idea to our servers with as much enthusiasm and detail as I could muster. I stressed the newness and how it would benefit the community. While I think that ‘new’ was the real salesman, I was impressed by how the staff took it upon themselves to tell everyone—and I mean everyone—who came in about our upcoming breakfast daypart. One of my top servers, Linda Long, is a natural salesman, and in effect, became a one-person marketing blitz for breakfast. We weren’t marketing a ‘program’, we were promoting through people, and it’s been a success.”

Foster Collaboration

Next time you’re kicking off a new promotion, program or policy, solicit feedback from your team members on how to best execute or implement the program. The largest praise you can give your employees is to listen to their tiniest ideas.

In conclusion, I offer Sullivan’s Eighth Law of Marketing: People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice. Make your internal “marketing” sessions engaging, interactive, full of visuals, and ripe with rewards. Yep, people are the Killer App, and training is marketing too.