Consistency in Marketing and greasy food

Today, my team met at Denny's for breakfast. I try to eat healthy foods and rarely go to Denny's but it sure was good. As I was sitting there, staring at the bog blob of butter on my french toast (mmmmmmm), I was thinking about marketing (I told you I think about this stuff too much). You really don't see Denny's advertising (and they had some PR distastes in the last few years), but despite that, they do a good business.

I'm not sure if Americans are just risk averse, but Denny's most positive marketing tool is the consistency of the experience. I was in a meeting about 6 months ago where we discussed the value of consistency (with regard the the staffing services that we offer internal clients) and what it really comes down to is that consistently “OK” is better than inconsistent (we were targeting neither of these service levels, by the way). So going into Denny's, I knew my arteries were going to get a little clogged and the waitress was going to be a little gruff, but I already knew what the french toast was gong to taste like and that the coffee refills would keep coming.

I think another positive marketing tool for a business like Denny's is ubiquity (and this leads to the relevance of consistency, in a sense, unless you are going to the same store regularly). You can find Denny's everywhere, especially in urban areas where there area lot of bars. We were talking about Waffle House in the south and how you can pretty much get some smothered grits and pecan waffles at any time of day of night off any major freeway and many country roads.Would I pick that over some other outlet where I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get? Yep.

Starbucks does a good job of this too (although, as I mentioned, I am not a Starbucks customer anymore now that I have found Victors in Redmond). No matter which Starbucks location you go to, you get the same experience all the way down to furniture style and how their stir sticks are stocked (say that fast).

Quality is always an issue for sustainability, so businesses that are consistent, ubiquitous and excellent will obviously fare much better (In-N-Out burger, anyone?). The first 2 qualities are great, until someone better comes along (reminds me of how Wendy's came on the scene in mid 70s and really took a chunk of the fast food market). I think this is relevant outside of the food industry. It's just that with some yummy greasy french toast in my stomach, it's hard to think of anything else.

So, in the enterprise/tech space, who does a good job of this? Consistent, ubiquitous and excellent...

Comments (7)

  1. jim says:

    > You really don’t see Denny’s advertising

    Especially when you are clearly not Denny’s target demographic. 🙂

    I’ve had conversations with Orin Smith (SBUX — coffee) and Chuck Barbo (Shurgard — self storage) where they both were astonished at how densely they were able to put facilities, greatly exceeding what their initial models had predicted. (I think SBUX is closing in on store #8,000 this year) The net net was both companies were market leaders, created a very consistent experience, and worked with the local communities.

  2. Sean says:

    Taking this to the development side, I can really relate to the notion of consistent behavior in software — I think as you said, customers are willing to accept software behavior, while possibly bad or could be done better, but is consistant across the board.

    Some examples of specific software is the Adobe product suite — although each individual product in the suite is designed to tackle a different task, the interface for the most part is consistant — floating toolbars, same menu layout.. etc.. ubiquitous — it’s all over the place.. and excellent.. they do a pretty good job..

    Maybe an additional category could be something like "works well with others" — I can’t immediately think of a really good example of this in business, but maybe for instance I notice that in my area when I go to a McDonalds and use a my debit/credit card, I don’t need to sign a piece of paper, if I go to a Burger King and use the same card I need to do the signing bit… because of this, and if their product was equal, I’d choose the McDonalds over the Burger King.. we see this type of positioning in those "The Sydney Opera house takes Mastercard, but not American Express" ads..

    In software this relates to how well the product can load/use other formats.. Adobe does a pretty good job in this area as well…

  3. Heather says:

    Jm-it does seem like there is a Starbucks popping up on every block with a consistent flow of business. That makes me thing that a lot of their business is people walking by and deciding to get coffee versus people setting out specifically for coffee. The community aspect is a good point. When I moved here from Chicago, the grocery store that I went to was the Dominics in CAbrini Green (which are the projects). A bunch of new, mixed income housing had been developed with more on the way and there has been a lot of focus on the efforts of the store to build community among the residents of the subsidized housing complexes as well as the new construction (which was pretty pricey). What resulted was a nice meeting of those 2 communities into one. THe store committed to hiring a % of their workforce from the residents of the area. You don’t really see a lot of this kind of community focus in business, probably because of the expense and issues around viability. But it does generate alot of free advertising, and it’s good to do.

    Sean-maybe we can call that interop and/or co-marketing. I believe that MS employees can log on to our corp net via the wi-fi connection at Starbucks (some of you tech folks tell me if I am wrong). You are right that credit card companies do this well. They take a product that has a committed customer base and they partner with it, either from a marketing standpoint or as an enabler of their own product (or both). It kind of makes me think about our Digital Media business and the opportunities they have to market with film studios, web channels, etc. Also makes me think of how Intel markets with OEMs. Basically the mutual affiliation drives buying behavior for customers loyal to either brand.

  4. ThomasC22 says:

    On the food thing, I was surprised that no one (at least in this context) mentioned McDonalds. McDonalds has made a name for themselves by having machine like consistency in their service and preparation. From the start (well, the start of the franchise not including the original) McDonalds has gone so far as to document the exact amount of ketchup and mustard that is put on a burger. I think, more than any other example, this proves that people greatly value consistency. I mean, lets face facts here, McDonalds is not fine dining even by fast food standards (and lately they aren’t even the cheapest)

    This is a fascinating issue for me though especially when it comes down to a choice between providing poor service but having the service available vs. not providing the service at all. I’ll give you an example…

    Here in Los Angeles we have two competing talk radio stations, KFI 640 and KABC 790. KABC is at a significant disadvantage though because KFI is a 50,000 watt station giving it significantly more reach than KABC has. To exacerbate the point, Talk Radio is primarily a Conservative venue and most of the Conservative audience is based in the Inland Empire (roughly 40 miles east of Los Angeles) where KABC barely reaches (which is to say there are times where I can get the station in my driveway but not on the road leading away from my apartment).

    To combat this, KABC has gone to great lengths to stream their signal through the KABC web site. The problem is that their resources are limited and so they’ve had to outsource the streaming and the company they use is obviously less than reliable because often times the stream just isn’t there.

    So, the issue becomes, being that they can’t guarantee consistency should they discontinue the service or continue it accepting that it will, often times, not work. It might seem obvious but you have to remember that people really do tend to associate companies with their feelings toward them and a consumer tuning in to find no stream serves to reinforce a negative image of the company each time.

    That said, with just my own opinion to go on, I personally would go for lack of consistency in this case only because reaching the consumer at all is better than being forgotten completely (which is what would happen if they didn’t have the stream). Honestly, I would probably be more upfront about it, say with a message to the consumer explaining why the outages happen so often which would give them a chance to spin it in a positive light rather than leaving it to the consumer to perceive the outage as they will (since I honestly believe most see it as needless incompetence). But that’s just me…

    Anyway, I do feel that this particular question doesn’t get enough thought in the world of product marketing.

    Oh, and here (Southern California), Denny’s advertises like greasy food was going out of style. I guess they just target markets where there is a lot of competition.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure if it’s just because it doesn’t contain code ; )

  6. Fred says:

    UI designers have a similar principle about response time. Experimenters discovered that users are happier to wait four seconds every time than to get a 50-50 split between 1 second and 7 seconds. Consistency matters more than the average value does.

    Speaking of coffee, my all means check out Jerzy’s in Redmond. They’re where Redmond Way and Cleveland Street meet near 520 and have free WiFi to go with the gourmet coffee.

  7. Heather says:

    I guess the key thing with consistency is that customers will wait (or drive farther or pick you over another provider) if they know what to expect.

    Fred- I haven’t tried Jerzy’s but I have definitely seen it as I drive by. I’d say that Victor’s has a non-WiFi vibe (a little bohemian and Irish, I guess, which I would say also kind of describes me). I stop by on my way to work so I’m 10 minutes from logging on anyway ; ) I’m going to try to convince you to go to Victor’s though. Best coffee I have ever had (I hate acidy coffee and theirs i super smooth and the baristas are awesome).

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