Frances Allen, chief marketing officer, spoke to eMarketer about how “America’s diner” is using digital to reconnect consumers to the Denny's brand.
eMarketer: In 2010, when you joined Denny’s as CMO, you made clear your goal to reposition the brand as “America’s diner.” How has digital helped you accomplish your main objectives?
Frances Allen: Denny’s is an American icon and my goal is to reconnect the brand with our guests and make America fall in love with the brand all over again. That’s part product, part message, part positioning and part surrounding the consumer with fun, relatable and crave-able content that makes people pay attention to Denny’s. I think I can safely say we’ve reestablished ourselves as a brand that America loves, a brand on the move.
To me, digital is less about the spend, and more about what you do with it. Last year, for example, we created a series called “Always Open” that featured nonscripted, open conversations between comedian David Koechner and a variety of celebrities.
We put together six videos that together attracted over 6 million views. That’s a sizeable investment in production, but we felt it was important to drive home our “Always Open” positioning and the comfort people feel when having a conversation in a diner. We put the video series on College Humor, and we also had it on our website and encouraged people to share.
“We put together six videos that together attracted over 6 million views.”
eMarketer: What demographic is Denny’s targeting with digital efforts like the online series you mentioned?
Allen: We have multiple demographic targets, but we thought this one would particularly appeal to the millennial section of our audience. In fact, during the launch phase of the videos, we saw our relevance to millennials dramatically increase. We have four main demographic targets: millennials, seniors, families and Hispanics.
eMarketer: The Skillet Whisperer online campaign was one of Denny’s first big online efforts geared toward a Hispanic audience. What results did the campaign generate?
Allen: The skillet promotion featured the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, as our “Skillet Whisperer.” We were able to take the mainstream media message and create something fun and engaging online for both our Hispanic and our general markets. With the Skillet Whisperer, we used a celebrity who’s popular in both the general and Hispanic markets. We produced the video in both Spanish and English so that the Hispanic audience recognized that we are actually talking to them directly. It’s not just a translation—it’s a campaign that was designed for them.
The buzz we received was terrific. The Hispanic audience makes up a fairly big part of our customer base. The goal of the Skillet Whisperer campaign was to engage with the consumer base, rather than just talk to them. That’s our goal with every campaign, actually. Our job is to make sure we are having meaningful interactions with our consumers.
“The skillet promotion featured the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, as our ‘Skillet Whisperer.’”
eMarketer: How are you integrating online and offline tactics?
Allen: The message is always completely integrated in offline and online. For example, right now, we’re in the middle of our Build Your Own Pancakes special, and we are advertising the promotion through TV, radio and print. Then we have a Photo-a-Day contest on Facebook for those who capture their pancake creations. We did something similar with a promotion last year. Alongside our Let’s Get Cheesy campaign, we had a Cheesiest Joke competition.
eMarketer: Are any advertising channels becoming less effective for your brand?
Allen: Sadly, no. I wish we could decrease our budget or the demands of our budget by one channel, but they’re all important. It’s surround sound—it’s an integrative marketing plan. It is about being seamless to the customer, whether they’re picking it up on the television, watching one of our videos online, engaging with us on Facebook or listening to our ad on the radio.
All of those media are making an important contribution to our brand, and we have to make sure we refine what works best in what ratio. No one channel is going away. Plus, we have mobile coming down the line, and I’m sure that’s going to become an important part of our brand.
eMarketer: What are you hoping to execute in mobile in the future? Have you done any experimentation with mobile couponing or location-based advertisements?
Allen: Mobile couponing is tough for us to execute in our restaurants, but we have our Denny’s reward program where we’ve started experimenting with QR codes. We’ve also launched Denny’s mobile app. Mobile is a channel we will increasingly support moving forward.
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