I’m sure you all heard the buzz surrounding IHOP changing its name to IHOb. What started out as a guessing game has now turned into a full blown publicity stunt. After reading a few articles, I’m relieved to see that the name change is temporary and is currently being used to promote their new burgers. Whew! *sigh of relief*
At first, I was a bit concerned because IHOP has literally cornered the market when it comes to breakfast and pancakes. Sure there are other restaurants out there like Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, and local breakfast spots like the coney islands in Detroit. However, when you think of breakfast, IHOP is at the top of mind.
Temporarily changing their name was a very risky move. It’s too early to tell if it will actually equate to sales or increase their bottom line, but if I was to base it on the initial reaction from those online, it could actually do more damage than good.
Many have voiced their concern stating how they prefer going to a pancake restaurant for pancakes and a burger joint for a burger. Hey, I get it. When I want wings, I will go to Buffalo Wild Wings (Outback Steakhouse has some good wings too). And when I want a burger, I think of Five Guys (Burger King and Red Robin are in the lineup too). So as a consumer, we all have our preferences. As a marketer, IHOP should have had a better understanding of their consumer and food consumers in general.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
One thing I advise small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to do is to take their time to get to know their audience. If you’re in business, your #1 job is to satisfy your customer so that they will keep coming back to spend their hard-earned money with you. If consumers are becoming more busy and would rather order take-out or delivery, and don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy breakfast, how about offering additional dining options and offerings to better serve them? Perhaps drive-thru services and a creative twist on the breakfast sandwich could have worked so that they’re able to serve people who are constantly on the go. Even though there are places like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts serving breakfast sandwiches, IHOP could have easily created a few menu items that are consistent with their brand while differentiated them from everyone else.
Advice to SMBs: Before you rush to change your name and overall brand, take time to learn and re-evaluate your audience. Maybe there’s an untapped offering you overlooked.
KNOW THE MARKET
Since IHOP cornered the pancake market, you would think that they spent some time researching the burger market. By the looks of how everything was rolled out, one could easily assume that they didn’t. If you’re known for one thing, why enter a segment of the market that’s already crowded? Everyone is selling burgers, from dine-in restaurants to fast food. I understand that they’re trying to cater to a different crowd and steal market share from the other major burger players, but this doesn’t make sense for a brand that is already good and known for something.
Advice to SMBs: Don’t just focus on your market segment, but look at your competitor’s market segment as well. If you’re already known for one thing and you’d like to start offering something else, be sure to keep an eye on the others because they have now become your competitor. You have to figure out how you’re going to convince their customers to start shopping with you. Some brands have done this successfully, while there are many others who have failed. As a SMB, the risk is not worth it. I explain why in the next section.
FOCUS ON BECOMING BETTER AT WHAT YOU’RE KNOWN FOR
One thing I absolutely can’t stand is going to a restaurant, and seeing a menu with a million items that range from tacos, to burgers, to salads, to wings, to cheesecake. That is a clear sign that the brand is having a major identity crisis. People aren’t looking for tacos at KFC. Some brands have been successful at offering a wide variety; mainly buffets like Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral where large groups or family typically go to break bread and feast on their own personal favorites, while not having to worry about splitting a bill. Places such as these are clear on their brand and focus on being the best at it.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same for IHOP/IHOb. Even though the name is temporary, it clearly shows that they are experiencing an identity crisis originated from low sales. The publicity stunt is certainly working, but remember, all press isn’t good press. Sometimes press can harm you.
Advice to SMBs: Don’t let fear cause you to hustle backwards. Look forward by getting clear and accepting your brand, and find ways at better serving your current customer while welcoming new ones. This could be done by possibly offering the same service to a different type of people, similar to my suggestion early where IHOP could offer a drive-thru option and breakfast sandwiches. They’re still serving breakfast and pancakes, but making it convenient for those who are busy. Another example is me. I’m known for my work in social media and branding. Rather than shift completely and start offering accounting services (I just threw that out there), I chose to spend a few years offering those same services I’m known for to a particular segment of people (music/entertainment industry). My top-level brand identity is still there, I simply niched it down a bit to attract new clients.
So I advise SMBs to take time, however long it takes, to get real clear on their audience, the market, and their brand/reputation. Don’t let fear run you out of business. Big companies may have the funds and resources to take large risks. Not SMBs.
Diversify your offerings, wisely.
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