National Restaurant Association Marketing Executives Group Learnings
May is NRA time, and it's also Spring MEG time. So there is much for restaurant folks to buzz about. As always, the MEG conference was chock-full of fascinating speakers. Here is the readers' digest version of the meeting and my key learnings.
Record MEG Attendance and Sponsorship
I take the attendance of ~300 operators and sponsors as a sign that word is getting out about the caliber of content. I also take it as an indication that operators and sponsors are loosening up budgets and recognizing the importance of investing in professional and business development.
The Restaurant's Role in Competing Effectively
Trends Expert, Holly Moore, of The Futures Company, summarized issues on consumers' minds and implications for restaurants. Of note: consumers are neither frugal forever nor bouncing back right away, so restaurants must work harder and demonstrate they are on consumers side. They must be trusted, transparent partners who empower employees to fulfill guest needs. Operators must be part of consumers' networks and help them eat responsibly. As Moore put it:
- Be worthwhile
- Be responsible
- Be transparent
- Be informative
- Be tapped in
Marketing's Role in Competing Effectively
Scott Davis, Senior Partner and Chief Growth Officer of Prophet, and author of The Shift: The Transformation of Today's Markets into Tomorrow's Growth Leaders, spoke on how marketers can be effective. His message was a good reminder for marketers not to think narrowly about their roles, but to drive growth agendas, be strategic, have a strong P&L orientation, and help reinvent the business. He calls this marketing with a capital M, and it involves some key shifts:
- From control to influence
- From incremental improvements to pervasive innovation
- From managing marketing investments to inspiring marketing excellence
- From operational focus to relentless customer focus
I think most marketers would aspire to these shifts - and that their organizations would enable them to do so, as in the case of Domino's Pizza. . .
A conference highlight was hearing Domino's Pizza CMO Russell Weiner discuss the reinvention of Domino's pizza. Seeing the story behind the extensive ad campaign was just plain cool. But aside from all the commercials and customer engagement, Weiner's message was really about two key lessons:
- Executive management's willingness to embrace change. In this case, it meant permission from the very top to literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.
- The importance of listening to customers - as Weiner said, that's what was truly behind this initiative; it was nothing fancier than paying attention to customer feedback and responding accordingly.
Health/Nutrition and Restaurant Marketing
Technomic's Ron Paul presented data and moderated this panel, in which marketers from BJ's Brew House, The Yardhouse, and PF Chang's discussed how their restaurants are approaching health. Paul pointed out that consumers are more likely to seek healthy items in retail stores rather than restaurants. This was an interesting contrast to Moore's finding that 63% of consumers expect restaurants to help solve obesity. While consumer opinions may differ about the restaurant's obligation, it seems clear that offering choice is a way to appeal to all appetites, despite apparent contradictions in guest views about nutrition.
Once again, MEG was a densely-packed forum for marketers to focus on key marketing and business issues and come away inspired.