Casual dining chains like Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are falling victim to the never-ending crusade by millennials to kill all good things in the world. Or, if viewed from a different perspective, these brands that have been staples in American culture for decades are failing to adapt in an ever-changing market landscape. The fact of the matter is: Brands such as Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are simply not “cool” any more in the eyes of millennials. Rather than wallow in self-pity and blame the consumer, what can these brands do to try and change how they are viewed by a vital target audience?
When one thinks of the current digital age, social media is often at the forefront. It is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for a Brand to communicate with its audience. This ability to communicate a message to a target audience is essential for any Brand’s growth. Wendy’s is one of the best recent examples of a Brand using its online presence to ensure its relativity. Over the past five years, their product line and overall store atmosphere has not changed much, but they’ve been able to alter their Brand’s perception to remain relevant.
Wendy’s previous CEO, Emil J. Brolick saw the importance of the younger target audience back in 2014 stating that the Company needed “to establish credible relevance with the millennial generation.” Wendy’s uses humor on social media to connect with a younger audience, keeping up with the masses by jumping in on the latest jokes floating around the Internet. Recently, they “cracked open a cold one with the boys” in reference to their popular frosty, and playing off the popular meme. Humor is a difficult tactic for a Brand to take because it’s not going resonate with everyone and you are opening yourself up to potentially turning people away. Wendy’s joke faced that, but they stuck to their humor strategy when Twitter users ridiculed their attempt at trendiness, responding back with humor, even going a step further by “apologizing to [a user] and his 17 followers” for not being funny. This is an incredibly unconventional way to interact with people that may want to purchase your products, yet people love it. In fact, “Wendy’s roasts” is a commonly searched topic on Twitter.
Wendy’s, a Brand founded over 10 years before Applebee’s, has surpassed its predecessor on the social media front. When comparing the two accounts there is a 1.3 million difference between the number of followers … that’s 1.3 million more people that Wendy’s can interact with that Applebee’s cannot. What is more important than the number of people they are reaching, is the message they are sending. Through humor and other campaigns that bring people together (i.e., #nuggsforcarter), Wendy’s is able to entice followers to interact with their Brand as if it was a human and remain top-of-mind when meal time comes.
The messages behind a Brand are nearly as important as the Brand itself. If a Brand continues to send the same messages for years on end, it is doomed to inevitably face its oncoming irrelevance. Wendy’s set a goal of maintaining relevance amongst millennials, and essentially created the blueprint for doing exactly that. Similar brands would be wise to learn from their success, while always being careful never to mimic or lose sight of how their Brand should be communicating.