Monday, May 18, 2009

What a TV Show Can Teach Us About Rebranding

By Philip Wocken

When so many businesses are deciding to close up shop due to the current economic conditions, some businesses are using the “economic crisis” as the perfect opportunity to recoil, retool, rebrand, and rebound.

My wife and I are huge foodies. We got caught up in a series on FOX called “Kitchen Nightmares.” The show features world famous and ultra-successful restaurateur Chef Gordon Ramsey. Chef Ramsey comes into failing restaurants and spends a week in the owners’ shoes to help save the business from bankruptcy. My wife and I tuned in late in the season, so we logged on to to watch full episodes of the show from the very beginning.

"Kitchen Nightmares" follows a predictable plot, but it is still amusing—and disgusting—to watch. The plot usually goes something like this:

Day 1 provides Chef Ramsey the opportunity to sample the restaurant’s menu, meet the chefs, the owners, and the staff. Chef Ramsey usually gives the chefs and the owners some scathing reviews of the food and the day typically ends with the stubborn owners unwilling to accept Chef Ramsey’s critique. Day 1 signifies the start of the recoil.

Day 2 is inspection day. Chef Ramsey tours the Back of the House (a restaurant term for any area of the restaurant besides the lobby, dining room, and bar) and frequently finds a kitchen with broken ovens, freezers that aren’t freezing, and coolers with rotting leftovers. For evening dinner service, Chef Ramsey observes the restaurant in action. Here he notices the inefficiencies from a third party perspective and hopes to gain insight into why the restaurant is failing.

Day 3 allows Chef Ramsey to retool the restaurant. In some episodes, he scans the neighborhood and checks out the competition. For example, one restaurant was suffering from an identity crisis. Their menu featured a wide variety of food and they failed to specialize in any particular area. Chef Ramsey noticed that there wasn’t a great steakhouse anywhere in the vicinity, so he decided that would be their new niche. In other episodes, Chef Ramsey strolls the sidewalks asking strangers about their impressions of the restaurant. This gives him a pulse for how the community views the restaurant. Day 3 is also spent sprucing up the front of the building and the inside of the dining room to create an intimate customer experience. Usually a new menu is introduced that will create a couple of signature dishes that will beg customers to come back.

Day 4 is the day of the rebrand. After Day 4 is complete, Chef Ramsey and the owners will have a pretty good idea of whether the restaurant will be able to turn the corner and rebound, or if they’ll be forced to resign. Some of these restaurants are $500,000 in debt, so marketing dollars for the rebrand are pretty scarce. Thanks to Chef Ramsey and some behind-the-scenes help that we’re not able to see (darn reality TV production tricks!), creative and low-budget public relations campaigns are launched to create buzz about the new restaurant, new menu, and new brand. A groundswell is created and the restaurant relaunch is a success.

Days 5-7 are rarely shown, but it is revealed in one of the episodes that Chef Ramsey sticks around for these last couple of days to monitor the progress and solidify the new brand.

So in conclusion, in only 4 days a restaurant is turned from a floundering business on the verge of failure, into the buzz-worthy hot spot in town with a new outlook on the future. It is during these days that, as a viewer, you see the transformation between owners and their staff, owners and their spouses, and owners and their guests. When you watch the owners begin to realize that there is hope in saving their restaurant, you can’t help but feel happy for them.

With all of the negative news out there, isn’t it refreshing to hear that some businesses are able to turn it around? At the same time, I’m able to glean a couple of unique rebranding tips from an unlikely source. And who said that TV wasn’t educational...?

Philip Wocken is an inventive marketing manager specializing in online marketing techniques. He can be reached at http://BuzzBrains.Biz and he can be followed on Twitter @BuzzBrains.

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Jason said...

Recoil, retool, rebrand, and rebound. I think this economic recession is a great opportunity to do just that, for businesses as well as personally. I've been in transition for months now and I'm taking this sabbatical to do just what you mentioned; retooling my knowledge and understanding of new marketing technologies, rebranding my professional image and hopefully rebound into a new job that matches my interests, experience and passions. Maybe I'll be a chef.

Philip Wocken said...

You know, Jason, I think that's what a lot of people are doing right now. It's a great chance to step back and look at your life. I'm doing that right now, as well. I, too, have realized that there are more opportunities out there than I previously thought. It's an exciting time that we'll all look back on and appreciate that we had the opportunity to recoil, retool, rebrand and rebound.

Here's to the other side of the rebound...

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