Gun Smoke is one of those restaurants that opened in an era when service was being used in the restaurant industry as a differentiation factor. TGI Fridays although on the brink of closing down at that point in time, had brought the concept of waiters doing more than just serving. But that was not the only change taking place. Branded theme eating houses were increasingly being accepted by both the consumers and the restaurateurs.

Entrance Gun Smoke
Entrance Gun Smoke
Entrance Gun Smoke

Gun Smoke capitalized on both these trends. Yes, it paid attention to the quality of the food, but realized very early on that if it was to stand out amongst the competition it had to offer something unique other than being just a good food eating house, which are a dime a dozen in Karachi.

But being different is no guarantee for success either. Remember how TGI Fridays couldn’t survive? What about that Hollywood themed restaurant opposite the SeaView MacDonald’s? It was a fine dining place both from an ambience and food point of view, and yet it couldn’t make it past just a few months. So what gives?

And there we have the final element of success, consistency. This is where Gun Smoke has excelled at. They have persisted with their initial brand positioning while continuing to offer sumptuous food. Yes there have been minor changes. For instance the waiters all dressed up like cowboy were trained to be a wee-bit rude in line with the brand essence of the cowboy image. They used to throw the bill on the table and if you sat for too long after paying your bill, told you to get going. That didn’t go down with many customers and so they had to tone down their roughneck image.

A nifty addition to the set-up since my last visit is the Sony LCDs, the type you use in your car, incorporated into the seating arrangement. If you felt bored talking to your dining partners, you could always enjoy the stuff shown on these screens. A brilliant move.

LCDs-Gun Smoke
LCDs-Gun Smoke
LCDs-Gun Smoke
LCDs-Gun Smoke

What was shown on these screens is a different matter altogether. Steamy videos of Madonna and Britney Spears. Hmm… something’s wrong somewhere. What has these pop divas got to do with Cowboys?

Secondly, though sex sells, who are the target market for Gun Smoke? Are they the adrenaline-pumping macho guys? My two visits have witnessed families (including kids) sitting around, which means the videos are not in good taste.

And if Gun Smoke wants to deliberately narrow down its focus to macho guys, then a better option (as suggested by my dining partner) would be to hire scantily clad curvaceous vixens to tend to these horny customers. Steamy videos do no good. They can be seen at home. But hot waitresses, now that’s something you can’t have at home, or any other restaurant in Pakistan for that matter. Differentiate yourself, not better yourself. Offer something to the customer they can’t have or experience anywhere else. Great-tasting burgers and steaks can be had at quite a few restaurants, so what makes you stand out?

‘Remember that we are all in business to provide benefits for customers – at a profit. We are not in business to make products and provide services. The world is full of products and services in which customers see no benefit and for which they are neither willing nor

able to pay. Benefits that customers seek include an increase in self-esteem, new knowledge, companionship, additional wealth, success, power, influence, self-expression, better health, better relationships, social status, popularity, self-actualisation, recognition, admiration, prestige, security, safety, self-preservation, a decent meal, a good laugh and excitement. Remember that customers are lazy, ignorant, selfish, greedy, impatient,disloyal, ruthless, irresponsible, unreliable and vain. Use your creativity to generate benefits which are consistent with customer characteristics.’

-What Self-Made Millionaires Really Think, Know & Do

Although the space is a bit limited, it seems to be a shrewd decision. If you’ve a brand with a narrow focus, and you don’t foresee that many customers, the sensible thing to do is not to rent a lot of space. Although it would have been better to give your customers ample room to make themselves comfy and enjoy the privacy of their conversation, that’s not the essence of its brand. A Western saloon is a congested place with utter disregard for privacy. Gun Smoke emulates that to the hilt, minus the dirt and filth. It has a dark inviting interior, not so inviting seats though. If you want to sit around for long hours enjoying your meal, the cramped up space doesn’t make that an exciting prospect.

However it’s essential that you do keep the space that you do have filled with customers each day of the week. A deserted place at the peak dinner time any day of the week is a bad sign. At the very least, it sends bad vibes to the few customers already there that it’s not a happening place and that there’s something wrong with it. Sometimes this situation calls for drastic measures like the story Anila Weldon told in the recently held Tipping Point Conference.

Gun Smoke
Gun Smoke
Salad Bar - Gun Smoke
Salad Bar - Gun Smoke
Bar - Gun Smoke
Bar - Gun Smoke

About the product, the burgers are humongous served with a generous serving of fries and a dash of coleslaw. While they have maintained the size of their burger even in recessionary times, their coleslaw hasn’t improved an iota in the last four years. Maybe this is what the real coleslaw is to taste like, but Karachiites  are weaned on the VoVo Snack version which is made in a thick and sweet paste.

The pricing element is a bit steep. I for one won’t be tempted to have a Rs.400+ burger very often. But then I do not represent the target market. As a rule, brands should definitely have premium pricing if they can afford to justify it.

Remember that if you’ve a great tasting product, ultimately you would have the last laugh. But when would the tipping point occur, whether in a decade or more is anybody’s guess. It took local brands like Mr. Burger, Jan Broast and the likes a hell lot of a time to build substantial brand equity in the absence of a marketing strategy.

Here are just a few ways how Gun Smoke can go from good to great in shortest possible time:

Top 7 Marketing Strategies for Gun Smoke

1) Ads still reign supreme

Get a TVC and print ad made from one of the top advertising agencies, but don’t release them in the traditional media. For one, that’s going to cost them a bundle. Secondly, it won’t have the effectiveness that this media used to have. Instead put these ads on their own website gunsmoke.tossdown.com, on other websites, their Facebook and MySpace profile, Youtube, and of course their own local channel which is currently dishing out pop diva songs. Interperse these ads between the videos. Make sure that all products are given sufficient time in the ad to tempt the customer. If he has no intention of trying the dessert, on seeing the dessert in the ad in the restaurant midway through his meal, he would be tempted to go impulsively for it.

2) Infect them with Virus

Make use of viral email marketing. People just love those pps slideshows arriving in their inbox, so much so that they forward them to every goddamn contact of theirs. Make use of that. Make a PPS type presentation on how to make a steak or a sumptuous burger. Make use of lots of snaps, perferably of your own products, snaps which are bound to wet the appetite of the people looking at it.

Of course most Pakistanis are too lazy to try these recipes out, so Gun Smoke people ought to have no fear of someone copying their recipes to use against them. Most people are just going to head to Gun Smoke after having seen these slides. For that it’s imperative that Gun Smoke embeds its brand subtly in the slides. No blatant promotion allowed.

3)Jump-start the Week with a Sizzler

One of the brilliant marketing tactics Gun Smoke has come up with is an ‘All You Can Eat’ steak deal on Mondays and Tuesdays, two of the slowest nights in the week. Simply brilliant. Only that it’s not working. The place was as deserted as an abandoned Wild West Town of the yore on the Monday night that I visited.

Why? Two reasons. They probably haven’t communicated this deal at all apart from showcasing on their own dinner tables. Hell, they haven’t even put up a blackboard outside their entrance to promote this deal. No mention of the deal in the special deals of the Gun Smoke website either.

What can you expect then?

Secondly, even for those who do happen to look at this promotion, it’s an advertisement as bland as they come. There’s no pictorial representation of what’s on offer. Nothing to tempt me the consumer to dish out a whopping Rs. 799 for more of the same steak – no variety at all. What if I choose the wrong steak? I would be stuck with it, isn’t it?  There’s too much risk involved to go for this deal, and there are no arousing elements in place for me to go for it.

4) Give them a piece of the Action

They need to do something outrageous to make this deal click. Maybe make a promotional steak and distribute pieces of it amongst those already dining there to tempt them. Make sure you offer it before they order something else.

They’ve failed to make use of the power of the sense of smell, or the sense of sight for that matter. Nowhere could I see the look of any of their products. Not on any posters, not on the menu. That’s surely costing them business.

The menu needs to change. One of my friends hit the bull’s eye when he aptly termed the Dawn newspaper. It’s too detailed for their own good. Here’

The item should have a heart-melting snapshot of the item peppered with not the item details in bullet-form – no lengthy paragraph.  They don’t need a exorbitantly priced professional photographer. Make use of a good amateur photographer like Insiya Syed. She sure can shoot.

Drinks Bar-Gun Smoke
Drinks Bar-Gun Smoke

Pizza Hut is a universal brand and yet even they incorporate snapshots of their products in the menu when most of the consumers seeing the menu already have a vivid idea of what the product is going to be like. If Pizza Hut is doing it, there’s no reason why a lesser brand shouldn’t do it.

5) Make it Exciting to Call the Cowboy

Keep a cowboy gun or a bell that spews out a gunshot sound as a way to call the waiter. That’s an element which is in line with the brand essence and would strengthen the association with it.  Having too many gunshots by some over-zealous customers may spoil the ambience, though harm in trying it out. A better option could be, when the gun is fired, it spews out random Western movie dialogues. Maybe something like, ‘Come here punk!’ or ‘Make my Day!’. But every time it is fired, a different command should pop out otherwise it would become too monotonous.

6) Arouse my Olfactory Senses

There’s no distinct smell pervading this little Western inn. Which is a pity. I don’t know how a Western joint  should smell like but it ought to smell like something, anything. The sense of smell is an extremely potent element of the brand mix and Gun Smoke should definitely work on that.

Ideally, a tantalizing aroma that tempts the consumer into excessive indulgence of what’s on offer ought to be allowed to hand around the joint.

I remember a little desi fast food joint near the BASF offices on Shahrae Faisal. Each time I walked past that place, there was an infectious aroma of the goodies inside wafting onto the sidewalk. I don’t know if they had deliberately tweaked their exhaust system to make this accident or it just happened, the result was that that place was always crowded. Although the goodies weren’t that good, still I was forced into submission on more than three occasions. That’s the power of the smell for you.

7) Tap the power of the Youtube to become irresistible

Make some funny video and associate it in some kind of way to Gun Smoke. Better still, identify the spontaneous moments that happen at Gun Smoke and capture that. Maybe a couple of kids do something really funny- a blooper while eating out at Gun Smoke. Capture that and release it on Youtube. Then circulate an email with the link to that video, or better still, the video itself. Viola! You’ve got free advertising courtesy some genuine human moment. A tag line would make it even more juicy: ‘It happens at Gun Smoke’, or ‘Gun Smoke makes it happen’.

Gun Smoke can create an entire cult culture around that which can sweep the brandscape across Pakistan. How? Create a Gun Smoke Youtube channel where the top videos of the happenings at Gun Smoke that day are uploaded each day. People can then rate which top scored. Given the inherent irrationality of us humans, pretty soon homo sapiens would be falling over themselves just to be able to do something bizarre in Gun Smoke and get their 15 minutes of fame. These vidoes would, of course be shown on the tiny LCDs planted all over the joint as well. At the very least, it would give the consumer an additional reason to visit Youtube.

But in order to make that happen, Gun Smoke will have to install security cameras at strategic locations in the joint and then someone to go over the videos and recognize those moments as and when they do happen.

What if people object to this potential intrusion of piracy? First of all, it’s a public place. Secondly, in order to avoid any ugly PR incident, Gun Smoke could get the customers to sign a NCO right at the outset. Presenting this agreement would also serve the purpose of making people aware that this activity is actually going on there. Otherwise who would even know this is happening?

Gun Smoke is an emerging brand that has acquired commendable brand power since its inception, but still it’s not firmly entrenched in the mind of the consumer. If Gun Smoke wants to catalyze this process, more branding initiatives (but not necessarily expensive) will have to be taken.

Front -Gun Smoke
Front -Gun Smoke
Gun Smoke Gun Smoke
Gun Smoke Location
Gun Smoke Location