Vice President of Brand Marketing & Product Development
As vice president of brand marketing and product innovation for family restaurant chain Denny’s, John Dillon has taken on many new initiatives to invigorate the brand. Dillon spoke with eMarketer’s Lauren McKay about Denny’s latest marketing venture, a location-based smartphone app that encourages store visits through rewards and menu-related challenges.
eMarketer: Tell us about the Denny’s 50 State Challenge mobile app.
John Dillon: Denny’s has been on the move in a lot of different ways—building our brand, increasing the awareness of the experience at a Denny’s and targeting different demographics. The mobile app is probably our first aggressive initiative aimed at strengthening loyalty among current and potential new guests. We wanted to deliver an extension of our brand experience and give people a reason to engage with the Denny’s brand.
The 50 State Challenge app gives guests an opportunity to check in to Denny’s wherever they are for state souvenir Challenge Badges. There are different levels of prizes per accomplished challenge. The ultimate prize, for checking in to a Denny’s in all 50 states, is free Grand Slams [a four-item, build-your-own breakfast] for life. We enable individual check-ins or team check-ins and a number of different prizes along the way. In addition to checking in, guest users can use our store locators to find the closest Denny’s and can check our core and limited-time-offer menus.
eMarketer: Is this app targeting a younger consumer base?
Dillon: Generally, yes, because demographically, younger consumers do overindex when it comes to mobile usage. More and more, though, we see mobile used among older consumers, too. While it may skew toward the millennial generation, it is geared to our entire customer base.
eMarketer: Why did you choose to embed the check-in capability?
Dillon: The check-in capability is a way to drive traffic directly to the restaurant. Thanks to apps like foursquare, people are now familliar with that kind of check-in behavior. It gets guests into our restaurant, which is the ultimate goal for us. There are different badge types and check-in rewards. For instance, after 10 check-ins, users receive 10% off the entire check. With 25 check-ins comes a free Pancake Puppies sundae. Early results are surpassing our expectations. Our franchises and stores are saying they’re seeing new guests in restaurants, which is our goal.
eMarketer: How do you plan to measure how this is increasing foot traffic and restaurant sales?
“Elevating the app into the social channels is also critical—our growing numbers prove it.”
Dillon: That’s a question we get from our franchisees quite a bit. We have tracking built into the app on an in-store level and we can see real-time results. The challenge rewards are mostly food items to encourage transactions, and to encourage diners to come back and keep coming back.
We are also hoping this will increase a guest’s check. It is not just about discounting for us, it’s about bringing bigger party sizes into the restaurant. And that’s where some of the social engagement comes in as well. We are rewarding guests with free menu items, like free Pancake Puppies, because we know once people try the Pancake Puppies, the next time they come in on their own, they'll order and pay for them. Although traffic and sales are definitely objectives, another goal was to provide a mobile extension of our brand. So, the app is another awareness mechanism and another way for guests to keep the brand top of mind.
eMarketer: Do you see this app and the rewards that consumers are able to achieve with the app as a replacement for mobile couponing?
Dillon: Potentially, although we still think there is a role for coupons. We hope to push the rewards and coupons down parallel paths. We're still trying to figure out the best thing for our guests, both in the short term and the long term.
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