Frances Allen Kicks Up Marketing at Denny's
Marketing can sometimes be a frightening word, especially for restaurants that feel they don’t do enough of it.
The restaurants that do a good job of it, however, are the chains and among them is Denny’s, which last year hired a new chief marketing officer in the form of Frances Allen, former CMO at Dunkin’ Brands, who has pushed the chain in new directions since she came onboard last August.
In just 10 months she’s introduced a number of new marketing elements that have been helping bring more excitement to the brand.
Among Allen’s initiatives:
- Introducing new brand positioning with the “America’s Diner is Always Open” campaign.
- Launching a celebrity video web series.
- Baconalia!—a limited time offer (10 weeks) celebrating bacon through seven menu items such as Bacon Meatloaf and even Maple Bacon Sundae. The promotion includes a Facebook Baconfest Sweepstakes and Denny’s Bacon phone app.
Allen is committed to continually working on the Denny’s brand. “You have to innovate constantly,” she explains. “You have to innovate in some area of your brand all the time in order to stay current.
“Our core customers are the working class of America, so we’re establishing the America’s Diner is Always Open in more than just hours and pushing that through the organization,” Allen says.
“We’re open through hospitality; we’re less rote and more individual with our guests; we’re open and respect all people and encourage this ‘come as you are’ environment. What we’re trying to do is remind people of why they used to love Denny’s.”
Denny’s celebrity web series, “Always Open,” is intended to work with the America’s Diner is Always Open campaign, to allow consumers access (via the web) to Denny’s restaurants and experience it as a warm and welcoming place.
The series features comedic actor David Koechner, who in each episode interviews a celebrity in a Denny’s restaurant. Diners and employees of Denny's also interact with the celebrities in the show, boosting the Denny’s brand.
"The 'Always Open' series utilizes celebrities to draw attention to the kinds of dialog you'll overhear all the time at Denny's—sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming, but always authentic,” Allen explains.
The goal with the dinersodes (as they are being called) is to connect with Millenials (people born from sometime in the 1970s to around 2000), Allen explains, because they are typically late-night diners. “They are fully connected and get most of their information on the web and expect their brands to speak to them.”
The results have been excellent and the videos have attracted a lot of publicity.
“We wanted it to be very authentic,” Allen says. “Part of the America’s Diner is Always Open campaign was because a diner is so welcoming and inviting, conversations naturally happen between guests and a crew in a diner.”
The net result is something very natural and Allen compares watching the dinersodes to feeling like a fly on a wall.
“The Millenials are our customers of the future,” she says, adding that Hispanics, are too. And under her, this year the marketing towards those two groups has been identical, for the first time “because being relaxed and who you are is really relevant to the Hispanic audience. It’s a universal desire to be respected and appreciated. It’s all melding into one.”
And finally, bacon. Why bacon? It’s a classic diner item and everyone loves it, Allen explains. “Diners are renowned for bacon and Denny’s is renowned for its breakfast. We’ve moved bacon from being the side dish to being the center of the meal and Baconalia! makes it a celebration of bacon. Denny’s is a continuation of our fun and we are famous for making up names. “
In fact, Denny’s has had some fun with the promotion, Allen says. On April 1 it launched an app to allow users to smell the bacon.
“We’ve been mentioned on a lot of the late night talk shows. So it clearly has struck a cord. It’s just about having fun and drawing people in with comfort.”
What does the future hold after a year like Allen’s first one?
“We’ll be continuing to develop LTOs that fit with people and the diner and comfort food positioning, and our fair price positioning. Also we’re just driving that relevance and making the emotional connection through online and press. We are really positioning Denny’s as a brand that is relevant, topical, on the move.”
The question is after bacon, what could be more relevant?
By Amanda Baltazar