4 Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From IHOP Becoming IHOb

One of the most comforting things about IHOP (or International House of Pancakes for those that might be unfamiliar) is that you always know what you are getting.

IHOP is hailed for its warm and welcoming atmosphere, with its diner style cooking available 24 hours of the day, and its uncomplicated and affordable menu. But above all else, IHOP is renowned for its pancakes!

Last week however, IHOP bravely decided to abandon the very essence of its brand by throwing caution to the wind and putting its marketing efforts into selling burgers. Not pancakes.

Crazier still, the famous restaurant chain even decided to temporarily change its name to IHOb, solidifying its decision to take a bold new turn.

Unsurprisingly, social media was in a frenzy all day. A variety of marketing blogs and established publications, including Forbes and The Washington Post, tried to make sense of it all and many wondered whether this could be one of the best publicity stunts we’ve seen this year so far. It just might be!

Whether you’re a fan of pancakes or burgers, you cannot deny that IHOP has taken a big risk with its brand and as marketers, we could learn a thing or two from its brazen new strategy.

Read on as we break down some key lessons that you could apply to your business…

Listen to your audience and do your research

A rebrand this big (no matter how temporary) is built on research and data. While it may appear to us that IHOP simply thought it would be fun to change its name and flip the ‘P’ to a ‘b’, this decision was not a fleeting one.

Stephen Joyce, CEO of IHOP and Applebee’s parent Dine Brands, recently revealed in an interview that he pays a lot of attention to consumer insights. “A lot of restaurant business is run on gut instinct,” he said. “I don’t believe in that.”

When building your brand, make sure you are tapped into what your target audience is thinking and what your consumers want. While it isn’t wise to let your consumers drive your entire marketing strategy, it is certainly important to look at whether there are any gaps in the market that can be filled, or in IHOP’s case, any stomachs that can be satisfied.

Conduct focus groups if possible, spark conversation with followers on social media, do some digging into your sales, and get as much feedback as you can.

Be aware of new trends

IHOP is an institution. It has been making pancakes (and burgers apparently) since 1958, when the very first restaurant opened in California, and although it does this very well, the established brand still understands that new trends should to be considered.

It’s easy to shun new trends and the latest consumer habits when you are confident in your business and you are laser focused on one target market. But this does not mean you can’t adapt slightly or experiment with a different approach, even if it is just for one season.

IHOP has admitted that this name change is not a permanent one, but the introduction of a brand-new burger menu will be. This is because the IHOP core customer wants even more value and even more choice.

The company is also now embracing online ordering and takeout services to cater to our new found need of having our food come directly to us.

This is a huge takeaway for both growing brands and older businesses who might feel a little stuck in a rut. Don’t ignore new trends or you could get left behind!

Laugh at yourself

The very simple name change from IHOP to IHOb sparked an endless stream of jokes and witty responses on social media this week, which could have ruffled feathers at IHOP HQ.

However, it appears that the brand expected such a reaction and instead of keeping quiet and ignoring the negativity, IHOP played up to it and kept things light hearted.

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The real entertainment kicked in when rival restaurant chains such as Wendy’s and Burger King got in on the action and tweeted jibes at @IHOb, sparking even more engagement and shifting more attention to the stunt.

By acknowledging the sneak disses on social media, as well as the support, your brand becomes more human and it creates an opportunity to really show some personality, which consumers ultimately do appreciate.

Follow through and be consistent

When you commit to a rebrand or make a big business decision, make sure you are consistent. This not only means updating logos and email signatures, but also changing your website copy, briefing your team on new processes and even reaching out to new social media influencers who are more aligned with the new direction you are taking.

After updating its Twitter handle, IHOb did a full sweep of its online content, changing its social media cover photos, switching the website landing page and writing new copy for its social media bios.

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It even changed its social strategy to only re-tweet comments and images from consumers who had eaten and enjoyed burgers at their local IHOb restaurant, creating a Twitter feed filled with mouthwatering photos of the new menu.

Well played.

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No matter the scale of your rebrand or the size of your company, these key marketing lessons can still apply! Now, back to the dilemma of what to have for brunch: pancakes or burgers?

Need some advice?

If you’re contemplating a brand refresh and need some help with a social media strategy or perhaps improving your SEO, we can assist! Book a free marketing consultation now with one of our team members and we’ll find the right service or package for you.