Here’s a picture perfect recipe (with marketing and branding; two essential ingredients) that ought to help Indulge rise above the brand clutter:

1) Size does matter

  • Increase the portion of all the entrée items. Even if it means increasing the price a bit, do it. The thing is, at Rs.225, if the consumer can’t  get either his appetite satiated or his taste buds bedazzled, he won’t come back. Simple as that. Remember Mr. Rafiq Rangoonwala’s insight that the Pakistani consumer visits a restaurant or café primarily for filling his stomach and not for a snack. So if the price is say, 250 or 275 but the offering is substantial, it’s going to work.
  • The problem with a light snack at Rs.225 is that the customer wouldn’t order another Rs.225 snack to fill his appetite as that would be too expensive for his budget. So he would return from the café either feeling cheated or inadequate. Hence the best thing to do is to satiate his appetite by boosting up the size of all menu items.
  • Another excellent way to ensure an entrée does fill up the customer’s stomach is to apply generous layers of butter,mayonnaise, salad and of course heaps of french fries, just like what the people at Gun Smoke do. This was another shortcoming of the entrées. They were too dry. It did help that a white sauce with a tinge of garlice taste was provided with it.
  • For the record, the prices of Indulge vary from outlet to outlet. For instance, although the outlet I visited had prices above Rs.200, the Indulge at the Dolmen Mall Food Court had most items priced at Rs.150. In fact even the menu was more varied. That in itself is not a bad thing, Many retailers, including Makro do it all the time. It’s just that the quality of offering shouldn’t vary from place to place in order to project a consistent and uniform image of the brand.

    Indulge Cafe strategy

    Indulge Cafe strategy

2)Taste, Anyone?

My experience tells me that even if the taste isn’t great but the presentation and size of the portion is, the brand is going to do well. The Pakistani restaurant diaspora is filled with such success stories. Take for instance the KBC restaurant in Saddar. I’ve tried most of what it has to offer, and it all tastes pretty much what other cheap fast food joints have to offer. However, it has differentiated itself on the basis of presentation of food and generous meal deals.

One time I ordered a fish burger there. Now anyone who has had a McDonald’s fish fillet would know what to expect from a fish burger – a tiny burger that would hardly fill even a quarter of your stomach. But my expectations were truly exceeded when I was served a large burger stuffed with two large chunks of fried fish along with generous portions of coleslaw, french fries and a delicious garlic sauce. On the downside, there was no real taste in the fish, but importantly there was no smell either, and what’s more, the deal filled with my stomach to the brim.

That’s the essence of a successful restaurant brand. You do that day in and day out, and there’s no reason why you won’t be a star. And if you’ve a tantalizing taste to your brand, that would act as catalyst to your stardom.

However, remove those items from the menu that taste dreadful even to you and your team. Your taste buds should be at their unbiased best when you’re evaluating your own menu. Try to salvage those which have a mediocre taste and can be improved upon.

3) Go with the Flow.

Add those items in the menu that are ‘in’ with the taste trends of the target market. Pizza Hut is a shrewd exponent of this. It’s ‘Dip’ mania has really hit off and it’s coming after one product after another based on this. Take it’s recent Dip Sticks product. Do you really think it’s something new? No, it’s just another variant of their core product but the way they’re presenting and marketing it, that makes all the difference.

A trend which the majority of the restaurateurs have failed to cash on is the ‘Garlic Mayo’ phenomenon propagated by the Roll Kabab walas like Hot n Spicy, Red Apple and Eat On. Dawn Bread did well to come up with Garlic Mayo Sauce, but why did it confine it to Lahore only is baffling to me. A few restaurateurs have tried to cash in on the Garlic Mayo craze but only to moderate success.

Indulge ought to create a whole Garlic Mayo category in its menu. The category would include Garlic Mayo pizza, burger, hot dog, sandwich ET all. Remember that the cole-slaw and the two sauces package would be applicable here as well. There should be no compromise on that.

4) Make inroads into the customer’s heart with a free appetizer

Serve a free appetizer. Indulge is already doing that, serving spicy peanuts which are good. But good is not good enough. Add something that boosts up the mood of the customer as soon as he sits down. An ideal appetizer would be a pancake filled with chicken and vegetable sauce and served with; you guessed it, garlic sauce. It won’t cost that much but would go a long way in spicing up the experience of the customer and ensuring at least a repeat visit if not the loyalty.

5) Make ‘em fall in love with you with a surprise at the end.

Add a complementary dessert at the end if you want to far exceed the expectations of the consumer in line with the mantra – Under Promise but Over deliver.

However, the dessert need not be of sizeable quantity. It ought to be just enough to tantalize the taste buds of all the people in the group, to the point that they may order that item from the menu.

But why the exaggerated positive gesture at the very end instead of in the beginning in line with the adage first impression is ever-lasting?

Here’s a story about Richard Branson and his airline Virgin Atlantic. When the eccentric entrepreneur saw that his airline was struggling competing with other airlines on the basis of quality of experience, he came up with the strategy of giving presents to the disembarking passengers at the end of the flight to nullify the impact of any unpleasant experience the customer may have had during the flight.

This strategy was used to great effect by the Chatterbox Café (a brand extension of Pie in the Sky bakery) at Zamzama. They served you at least three varieties of desserts and that also of generous helping. Unfortunately, the taste wasn’t to our liking otherwise it’s a fantastic thing to do for your customer. I haven’t gone back to that place since then primarily because the dinner itself wasn’t all that great; however I’ve gone back and tried their bakery items, so you can safely assume that that strategy had a positive impact on my subconscious.

6) The bare essential accessory.

Include a generous helping of coleslaw with each meal. Coleslaw has become the crucial component of any fast food in Karachi (barring the franchises) ever since VoVo Snacks at Hasan Square came up with this novel idea way back in the 80s. So why fight it?

However, it is of utmost importance that it should be a rich paste (like Vovo used to do and now Khan snacks at Water Pump Chowrangi does), rather than just a few cabbage leaves with hardly any mayonnaise/sauce in it.

7) The POD(Point of Differentiation)

Until now we’ve discussed the POPs (Points of Parity), things you absolutely must do to be counted amongst good fast food joints. Now we come to the differentiating factor, something that no one currently is offering, an idea as novel as the coleslaw and which easily can become the latest trend to be followed by the competitors.

And the idea is to simply add two extra sauces with each entrée. One Indulge is already doing, the garlic sauce, just that its taste needs to be more pronounced. The other- tartar sauce, the one you usually are served at a seafood joint, but which easily enhances the taste of any type of fast food and not just fish n chips.

But why?

Firstly, to induce the perception that the consumer is getting more than his money’s worth what with all these add-ons completely free , which in turn is going to ensure a repeat visit.

Secondly, if you decide not to increase the portion size at all or just a little bit, a couple of rich sauces would go a long way in ensuring the stomach feels completely filled.

Finally, if the taste were ordinary or downright dreadful, this would neutralize the negative impact.

8) What do you think, sir?

Include a brief feedback form tailored to the meal that is served. For instance, a grilled chicken sandwich order would include a questionnaire asking such close-ended questions as whether the taste is good, bad, excellent; and so on about the coleslaw, sauces, french fries, presentation of meal etc. And of course, an open-ended question what do you think about our meal and what can we do to improve it.

9) Tell us and ye shall be rewarded!

The other thing unique about this feedback form would be the incentive to fill the questionnaire honest, offering some good tips: a chance to win a free meal (or maybe a number of free meals). Now that could be a random visit on the customers’ discretion, or it can be turned into a grand event when all the winners are invited to eat and drink all they can.

Now the free meal would be for a limited number of people: 2 or 3. But a choice can be given to the winners that they can bring in extra people at just 50% of the cost.

10) Give them a reason to come back for more….

While we’re on the issue of events, let’s expand on it further. Give consumers an excuse to come visit you and they’ll come gladly.

Right now, what’s the brand essence of Indulge? A relatively upscale fast food joint having a nice ambience and offering relatively expensive but ordinary tasting food. Now how many people would want to hang out at such a place?

Just a few. In order to sex things up a little, Indulge would need to make things happen. Like giving unbelievably heavy discounts on holding parties at the joint.

11) Dinner on the house!

Carry out a surprise draw on a random day where the customers get to pick a slip from a bowl, one of which says the meal is on the house. Does it work? My experience tells me it does.

I went with a couple of my friends to Aqua Lounge on Zamzama. Now anyone who has visited it can vouch for it’s expensive meals. Even it’s buffet costs a whopping thousand bucks. So we went for the buffet which didn’t have that many items, at least not comparable with the likes of Lal Qila, Village or Shan-e-Mughlia. So I was being chided by my friends for bringing to this place when out of the blue a waiter appears with a bowl and asks me to pick out a slip. I did, which said the entire dinner was on the house!

Now the moral of the story is that not only was I saved from the ‘wrath’ of my buddies, I actually developed a soft corner for the brand and have since then recommended the place to people I know. So yeah, it definitely works.

But don’t publicise this strategy at all, otherwise although the people would throng to the place alright, but chances are most of them would go away disappointed. So keep it a low-profile activity.

12) Immerse them in your brand.

Get as many people involved in the brand as possible. One strategy has already been discussed, that is, getting as many people of the target market onboard as possible in the form of brand evangelists wooed by the prospect of rewards. Another way of enticing people to ‘own’ the brand is to offer them a chance to create a new recipe for Indulge that the other people can enjoy. In fact hold a contest where the consumer can showcase his talent, and the winner’s dish judged by a panel of top-notch restaurateurs of the city will be included in the menu of Indulge along with the name of the winner. (and possibly a brief bio-data as well if the person chooses to)

Of course a prize will be given, but even without it, the allure of creating something on your own and getting recognized by a restaurant so much so that they start serving it to the world and give you credit for it, it is something which cannot be matched by any monetary reward.  And any person can be that winner, a student, a housewife, a professional, anyone at all. That’s the sort of involvement I’m talking about.

13) Word-of-mouth still reigns supreme

Create an aggressive word-of-mouth strategy. Instead of pouring millions of rupees into ATL activities like TVCs, billboards, print ads and what not, invest it in creating brand evangelists of Indulge. These brand ambassadors would ensure that not only they but their friends and family pay frequent visits to Indulge on every possible occasion and sometimes just for the heck of it.

But where to find these brand evangelists? That’s a bit difficult, and complex. What’s more, it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be slow going and will take time to show results.

One way is to hire an event management company that employs young people for managing the event. But not just any young people.  A-level types with a sunny disposition and an extrovert personality. People with an infectious enthusiasm that can lift the spirits of the people they come in contact with. And believe me, this description is not something that I’ve come up, but actually read in an advertisement in the Dawn Advertiser given by some event management company. So it is something that shrewd event marketing companies know is the essence of any successful BTL activity.

That would be the first phase. The second phase would be to hold some event, get to know these potential brand evangelists, and identify the most promising of the lot; the ones most likely to be opinion leaders in their own circle of influence. This done, offer these chosen ones rewards for getting people to indulge in Indulge. The more sales generated by a person, the better the reward. And the rewards would be selected on the basis of what excites this segment. Playstation 3, Ipod, Mobile Phones and the works. All this would be marketing expense in the place of ATL expenditure.

The difficulty in this strategy would be how many to employ to be eligible for the prizes and how to track each person’s referrals. The thing is, a few of these brand evangelists would resort to shadowy tactics like hanging out themselves with their own friends at the place and getting that counted as a referral. However, at this stage even that is acceptable because quite a few Indulge outlets wear a deserted look most of the times and just having some people at the outlet that are having a great time would do.

It’s not a fool-proof strategy and may not work 100%, but like the Obama stimulus plan, it would at least get the ball rolling in the right direction, which is crucial in these recessionary times.

An advanced version of this strategy would be to hire part-time employees from the student pool just like in the West with the allure of doing an ‘odd-job’ and earning substantial pocket money.  Currently, the only odd job that the Pakistani youth feel is ‘respectable’ enough is giving tuitions. So it’s not going to be easy getting this target market to engage in serving tables. Maybe a campaign where all the big celebrities who started out serving tables is highlighted would probably resonate enough with this segment to entice them to try this odd-job out.

14) Weave a web around them

Get in touch with your consumers online.  It is imperative that the profiles of CEO, brand manager and his team should be on Facebook, Linkedin and other popular social networking sites; so that they can interact with the ‘common’ man them instead of having to dish out hundreds of thousands of rupees in market research. My company hired A.C Nielsen to do a ‘brand picture’ market research for our brand. Do you know how much that cost us? A whopping Rs1.2 million, and even then I’ve got the feeling that the research wasn’t completely free of bias, that it was too much skewed in favor of the company getting it done.

One of the other popular strategies is to create a profile of the brand itself. This trend is mostly found on MySpace (a blogging cum social networking community) where profiles of brands like Coke and KFC are to be found. All the upcoming events and special offers are communicated through this profile.

A new but yet to be popular strategy in this part of the world is the Twitter strategy.  Twitter is a micro-blogging service where your post cannot exceed 140 characters. It is being used for all types of purposes, the most relevant in this case is the breaking news, and raving or blasting a brand to smithereens capability. What’s more, big shots like Richard Branson and Guy Kawasaki are using it to promote themselves and propagate their agenda.

As a custodian of the brand, you can track what the grapevine has to say about your brand, and if something nasty is being propagated on this network, you could respond to that right away. You could also launch special schemes and let people know about it without spending a dime. Of course you would only be able to reach a particular niche, but then you can’t be all things to all people unless you want to dilute the brand into oblivion. Even if you want a larger segment to be your target market, at least you’ll be getting some input which would help you respond to some of your customers, which is better than none.

15) Nothing succeeds like old-fashioned sales promotion

Create aggressive sales promotional schemes and implement at those hours when the going is slow, especially in those branches where the going is perpetually slow. Learn from the Subway tactic of Buy 1 Get 1 free from 12-4 pm on Sundays only. I believe it’s a brilliant strategy which can be emulated ad verbatim.

However, ensure that the portion of the serving remains exactly the same as the original. It’s of utmost importance that Indulge does not indulge in the ‘dandi maar’ tactics that other fast food chains resort to while implementing special schemes, like less filling or in the case of pizzas, the spread confined to a small area like an oasis in the desert. Remember that due to these deceptive tactics, the consumer has become extremely sensitive to even a minor change in appearance, taste or size in the special schemes, and just relishes the chance to unleash his wrath on the brand word-of-mouth if given even the slightest chance. So beware. A special deal offer gone awry due to deceptive tactics is going to hurt the brand badly. The ‘gora’ brands do it and do get away with it on the face of it, however, they’ve built up a huge brand equity over the years that even if it diminishes due to these tactics, it won’t destroy the brand. But that does not hold true for a local brand hardly a decade old.

The ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ strategy is an extremely potent one. Why? Here’s a story to prove its worth.  A couple of months ago a dealer of Ford (or was it GM?) was having a tough time selling one car brand (can’t remember the name of the brand). He halved the price of the car and even that didn’t have any appreciable effect on his sales. It was only when he changed the discount strategy to ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ that his sales sky-rocketed and the entire inventory of that brand was gone in no time. Remember both the schemes meant the same thing, it was the allure of getting something free, and that too a car which enticed the consumer to action.

16) Get behind a cause

Okay, you don’t really need to indulge in corporate social stuff, although that isn’t a bad idea either, but do root for a cause which is dear to at least one segment that is potential brand evangelist material for you.

For instance, help the TSF (The Second Floor) Community in some way, like letting them hold their get-togethers occasionally at Indulge. Recently TSF was forced to vacate their existing premises and they’re probably homeless till now. It’s an opportunity for Indulge to create goodwill and possibly give birth to some brand evangelists by offering some kind of help to the followers of TSF, which is a diverse group comprising of intellectuals, artists, musicians, and plain ordinary people looking for some creative outlet.

17) Tap into the power of bloggers

Allow Pakistani bloggers free space to get together at Indulge. You’ve got substantial blogger communities at blogger.pk, chowk.com, pakpositive.com/pakistanibloggers, Karachi metro blogs and a host of others. Some time back they did hold a meeting at Karachi and Lahore which was sponsored by Microsoft and Google. Red Bull was also one of the supporting sponsors, providing free Red Bulls to the participants. Indulge ought to jump into this foray as well, getting itself associated with these well-known brands.

18) Wired to the world.

Most café and even restaurants now provide Wi-Fi facility. Although I’ve yet to come across people who actually use their laptops at these joints, it’s not a bad idea. For one, you’ll get your name mentioned places like Spider Magazine which publishes a list of ‘hot spots’ in the city. Then if you do decide to hold blogger meetings, it’s imperative that you provide them with this capability. Just don’t count on this strategy to pay rich dividends.

19)  Encourage even more people to meet here….

Hook up with www.meetup.com. It’s a website  which aims to bring people meeting on the internet face to face in the real world in the form of local communities. Combine it with twitter and you get tweetups. That’s a potent recipe for making Indulge the den of netizens befriending each other, finally in the physcial realm.

CONCLUSION:

All these changes ought to be implemented one outlet at a time and separate from each other so that their effects can be studied closely.

Will all these strategies make a star out of Indulge?

Is it necessary to invest so much in a brand that has been around for quite a while and still not made deeper inroads into the consumer’s mind?

Yes, it is absolutely essential. Think of it not as a marketing expense but like an investment in erecting a new plant. You pour millions of rupees into such things but don’t expect the returns to come right away in a single year. The break-even point comes many years later and until then you keep dividing the initial expense into smaller expenses in the form of depreciation and all, and use that against the annual revenue in the balance sheet. The same thing applies here.

So, yeah. The brand can be turned into a star even now. Only more effort will have to be put into it than was required at the launch because the consumer now has a perception about the brand, and it is nothing short of mission impossible to change that perception. But it is possible. Even sick brands have been resuscitated in the past while this is a brand with positive brand equity.

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