The secret sauce of marketing success from IHOP

by. Bo McDonald

With the recent bad news coming from many fast-casual chains such as Red Lobster, how does IHOP and Applebee’s manage to buck the downward trend of so many restaurants? Chalk it up to innovative waffle recipes at IHOP or renovated dining rooms at Applebee’s but my money is on DineEquity CEO Julia Stewart.

Stewart, a former IHOP waitress turned DineEquity CEO understands the one big factor in success. “You’ve got to constantly be differentiating yourself” she said in a recent interview on CNBC. Stewart gets it. The competition in the restaurant business, just as it is in the banking business, is hot. You can’t depend on business coming to you, rather you must always be educating the consumer on WHY they should choose you over the dozens of other choices they have.

“It’s about the product, ambiance, décor, service…” Stewart said in her CNBC interview. “What makes you stand apart from all of your competition?” That is a question that many credit unions and banks have a hard time answering. We offer the same products at similar rates, so what is one thing you can do to stand apart?

What else has DineEquity CEO Julia Stewart done to launch IHOP and Applebee’s to success? Constant innovation and staying in front of the consumer are two points she mentioned in the interview. An old mentor of mine always said you either green and growing or ripe and rotting.

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