3 execs describe how to take on the world without losing your brand

| by S.A. Whitehead
3 execs describe how to take on the world without losing your brand

It's often said that today's world is a much smaller one, with all the technology that makes communication and trade so much easier, but ask the leader of a global restaurant brand how small the world is and they're likely to give you quite a different answer.

Last month at the U.S. Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Dallas, a group of those global brand expanders told their frank and funny stories about their chain's worldwide exploits. Cockrell Enovation Franchise Brand Manager Barbara moderated the lively hour, by tossing out pointed questions to

  • Shawnon Bellah, COO of Crest Foods, which owns Nestle Toll House Café by Chip.
  • Legendary Restaurant Brands Chairman and CEO Paul Mangiamele 
  • And Russo's founder and CEO Anthony Russo.

Though experiences differed widely, one thing was clear. All three restaurateurs agreed that the challenges they faced depended on the country involved and the supply chain demands of the brand in that general area.

Equally important was the need for a lot of early groundwork in-country and a complete comprehension of each culture and its communication standards for any locations under consideration. Here are some of the meatier excerpts from that hour-long session. 

Q: How have each of you managed your marketing team when you took your brand worldwide?

Nestle/Bellah: When we started expanding in the Middle East in 2010, for us one of the biggest things centered on the fact that everything they print there is different sizes. So we learned you need a very good partner to do that for you, and it's very costly and really breaks your marketing budget completely. But we also learned that you have to have somebody on your team who can really speak the language because after a few mistakes, you realizes all those checks and balances are important.

Bennigan's/Mangiamele: I'd add that you actually have to have some empathy toward the countries you're locating in. For us, people love Bennigan's and we have to make that global emotional connect because there is a huge advantage in that. So it's really a big thing to pick the right franchisee that "gets" that and convey it. And I tell you when you have a franchisee that acquires your brand gets the culture, they do it better than almost we do it here in the U.S. … Make sure you're giving them as much guidance as possible and then let them loose.

Russo's/Russo: We hired a local person in Dubai and they became my ambassador in that market. But then I also hired somebody in-house, who does all design and coordinates with local people to do custom work for those markets. … Having somebody local actually in that market makes things so much easier.

Q: What kinds of measures have you taken in-house to protect your brand and ensure marketing materials meet your standards?

Nestle/Bellah: All of our creative is designed in-house and ... our franchise partner can take it to their local printer, or domestically it can go to a local partner. They do not design outside of our organization and requests come through a support ticket system with a 14-day turnaround. But I will say that color and theme are important globally. … For instance, we had a frog on a cookie cake (for a Valentine's Day promotion) … but the folks in that country (Qatar) wouldn't think that was so cute because it's a big no-no to have frogs on anything (there). … It didn't make it to market because a local caught it, but it would have been a real problem if it had made it out. So now we send the local the full campaign ahead of time – way ahead of time – to make sure it's okay!

Q: How to adapt your concepts to each market to ensure it will sell there but still be your brand?

Russo's/Russo: I go to local markets and see what is available because we make our menus localized to each … place. So before the first restaurant opens, I spend two or three weeks there and I learn what they like and come up with some recipes. I take the time to develop really unique menu items for that particular market, so maybe we have New York-style pizza with lots of local toppings.

Bennigans/Mangiamele:With us, we have 127 items on menu and … it can be a mistake when everybody makes the greater part of the menu according to what locals like. The thing is nobody ever really outdoes the local (version) because somebody is always going to do it better. So you really have to spend a lot of time in-country and get to know the culture and the tastes and do a lot of study before introducing a menu there.

For us, we dedicate maybe 10 percent of (menu) to local (favorites), but something that we've found is universal for us is St. Patrick's Day because Bennigan's owns it. The only country that doesn't get (St. Patrick's Day)  is (South) Korea. … So I'd say to find out what you can own and dominate and call your own.

Nestle/Bellah: Our stores also have only about 10 percent of their menus (in local). So we have Toll House outside the U.S. where you're always having the same cookie (as in the U.S.). We also mandate they carry about 15 (items) in their display cases. But our product mixes do vary though and that's the biggest difference.

Like the coffee segments is about 20 percent more in the Middle East locations. In addition, we've had to add more savory (items) to our menu there, which we have here but not all the time in all cafes. But we find there they are always looking for a snack, but not always a sweet treat.

Q: Do you include franchisees in any ways on this local customization process or digitally?

Bennigan's/Mangiamele: I not only include franchisees, but also our guests.  … I go outside and wait for people to leave and ask how was everything and ask them to really tell the truth. Then I ask them, 'What are we missing?'

For example, in one country, we have pork chops which can be very dry. So we found a passionfruit glaze and it's absolutely delicious. So, we brought it  back for our U.S. guests who are looking for something different, while still staying true to the brand.

Nestle/Bellah: We control our digital memu boards from headquarters. For social media marketing, we have guidelines that we make sure (franchisees) know.

Bennigan's: We have a PR agency exclusively on social media. We also have reputation management and … we go in and address issues within 24 hours.

Q: Can each of you give us one quick lesson on how you can protect your brand when you go global?

Nestle/Bellah: Be in the market. Listen to your partners and be ope and be respectful. They truly are knowledgeable.

Bennigan's/Mangiamele:I'd only add to have respect. There are obstacles they have to deal with in every country. If you listen and are truly a partner with them … it helps.

Russo: Spend extra time in that market.

And speaking of brand globalization, if you're deep in the process or just considering the possibilities, register here for the first international Restaurant and Franchising Innovation Summit this July in London. Learn the players, the providers and the potential all in one very fun span of a few days under the toll of Big Ben. 


Feature photo: iStock

Inset photo: Networld Media Group

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Display Technology, Franchising & Growth, International, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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