Applebee’s launched the Spirited Chef social campaign during their holiday menu. It’s a brilliant social media play, and I think “old marketers” can learn something from it.
Old is just a state of mind, so let’s dive into this case study and change it.
They hired 19-time world champion flair bartender Christian Delpech to help them make the best video ever by their fans. Their growing online community was invited to tweet suggested tricks, stunts, costumes, and pretty much anything else they’d like to see this amazing performer do, using the #SpiritedChef hashtag.
After a couple weeks, the #SpiritedChef hashtag has gotten millions and millions of impressions on Twitter and Facebook. Many suggestions were made and the film crew headed out to Las Vegas to film the video the fans wrote.
Here it is (a sequel has just been announced):
I was honored to direct the video production and became fascinated as I watched the social media strategy unfold under the brilliant guidance of Jill McFarland, Jonathon Brewer and the BTC Revolutions team (Applebee’s digital agency).
Here are five thoughts for “old marketers” that might need a little nudging into the new era.
1) Fear Will Lead to Failure
Our world is changing so fast. If you want to keep up, you have to do things that are unknown and unproven. Risk is part of leadership and leadership in a changing world is the only way to survive as a brand (just ask Circuit City).
Besides that, people are weird. If you want to relate to people, sometimes you have to be a little weird too.
One of the things that Applebee’s does exceedingly well is keep an open mind and interact with their customers in a personal manner, no matter what sort of online sub-culture they belong too.
There’s a very large group of men that enjoy My Little Ponies. They’re called Bronies. By some estimates, there are about a million of these gentlemen out there.
The Chili’s restaurant group decided they wanted to engage with their Brony customers and designed a Chili’s My Little Pony. They then tweeted it out asking what were the Bronies’ favorite things to eat at Chili’s. The responses got ugly and Chili’s quickly retreated and deleted the tweet.
Now nobody was happy.
Later on, Applebee’s had a customer ask if the Spirited Chef liked ponies and they engaged in their typical personal fashion. The Brony tweet made it into the above video.
The community of Bronies responded and 12,000+ views came from blog posts on My Little Ponies related sites. One group in Manhattan even went so far as to throw a party at the local Applebee’s to thank them for not being afraid of the topic like Chili’s was.
This is just one interesting example of success due to “brand bravery”. When you watch the video, you see all sorts of other sub-cultures involved from Minecraft and unicorns to Corey Pieper and One Direction fans.
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to engage with your customers on their turf, even if their turf involves a little pony.
2) Keep Things Simple & Specific
Applebee’s tweeted many times about this project and I noticed that some types of tweets got more responses than others. More people (20 people in top tweet vs 3 people in bottom one) added suggestions after the call to action made a specific ask (second tweet below).
— Applebee’s (@Applebees) December 2, 2013
People don’t really care about much, so don’t ask for much thought unless you have a huge payoff. Keep it simple. Keep it specific.
Lesson learned: It’s okay to vary your posts and get more specific if you’re not getting the volume of responses you want.
3) Transparency Builds Trust & Ownership
To add a level of transparency, the group was streaming live video from behind the scenes during production. Not only did this combat the usual “camera trick” conspiracy theorists, but it made the hundreds of people watching the live broadcast feel more involved. They got a chance to see instant replays, as well as interact with the Applebee’s brand on Twitter.
Feel free to watch the recording of the production:
Luckily we didn’t make too many mistakes, but even if we did, we’d probably get a lot of leniency from a world that appreciates honesty and transparency.
Lesson learned: You build trust and ownership from customers when you open up and share the process.
4) The Future is Social
TV commercials don’t usually translate well to social media and YouTube because they are one-way messages in a two-way social media world. People expect to be engaged and entertained in social channels and if you do it right you’ll get tons of exposure through earned media and the subscription base you’ll build.
Keep pushing traditional broadcast commercials on your YouTube channel and you’ll keep getting the same poor results. After switching styles, Applebee’s saw subscriptions rise by 20% in the first month of the #SpiritedChef campaign.
As long as they keep creating social video content, they’ll have those fans for years to come. No advertising dollars needed.
More about that in this article.
5) Social Networks Aren’t Transferable
Each network has it’s own flavor and quirks. On Facebook people statistically don’t like to leave the ecosystem when they’re browsing. They may watch the video, but won’t generally click to the native YouTube page to comment or give a thumbs up.
This can get frustrating.
Why then do tons of YouTube video channels have thousands of comments? It’s because they’ve built a YouTube specific community that waits for their videos, that comments on their videos, that shares their videos with others in the YouTube ecosystem.
Lesson learned: In order to consistently get lots of views on YouTube videos without a huge advertising budget, you need to build a community of people that watch videos. That takes time, and it takes consistently great videos that make people want more.
Applebee’s is finally on their way.
Think like them night,
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