Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
14 August 2017
Applebees brand admits failure. Now what?
I’m never shy about my distaste for the Applebees brand or its stores. But I’m giving the restaurant chain this. At least it’s coming to know who it is for and not for.
Over the last several years, the Applebees brand has been in constant flux, attempting to seduce Millennials to its restaurants. It changes the décor. Changes the menu. Tries to make its restaurants sound like a cool place to hang out. (And drink. Don’t forget that, which its leaders won’t acknowledge but understand its importance to the bottom line.)
In call with analysts, Applebees president John Cywinski says the brand is ending its effort to attract Millennials. Instead, the Applebees brand reverts to its original target audience, Middle America.
In that effort, Applebees is axing some of its new menu items, bringing others back and refashioning its décor more appropriate for its longtime target audience. It’s also closing 160 Applebees and IHOP locations.
“Applebees went half-pregnant. It aims to attract Millennials through menu items and décor. Not with the brand itself.”
The Applebees brand did too little to change
The restaurant chain now realizes it doesn’t have brand permission to be for Millennials. Have you been in an Applebees? Its stores once felt like you were in somebody’s living room. I hate it. But that’s intentional. The Applebees brand fashions itself as the neighborhood place.
For Millennials, that’s a turnoff. It wasn’t just anybody’s living room. Applebees is your parents’ living room.
There are other problems. Applebees went half-pregnant. It aims to attract Millennials through menu items and décor. Not with the brand itself. The Applebees brand would have to completely transform itself to work for that audience. The brand stays the same, with only noise around it evolving. That’s a recipe for disaster. The façade says you’re for a certain demographic. But your brand doesn’t.
Will this turnabout work? It’ll be better because the way the Applebees brand stands now, it has permission for a certain demographic. But long-term growth might mean going back to that younger demographic. If that’s the case, then Applebees needs a complete rebranding effort. Not a half-assed one.
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