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Brand refresh

Any Doctor Who fans in the house?

I was re-watching a couple of the new season and was reminded that the (new) series always refreshes the opening title sequence slightly. I’m actually old enough to remember Tom Baker as perhaps the most famous Doctor Who of all time – the doctor from the mid-70s (he’s the iconic one, all tweedy and wild curly hair and the trademark scarves).

For those of you unfamiliar with Doctor Who, it’s a venerable BBC series that has been around since the early 60s and ran until 1989, when it went dormant.  In 2005, it was revived, bringing happiness to those who grew up with the series.

Doctor Who is a Timelord. He looks human but is actually a separate species with two hearts and one very advanced brain and an immune system to die for (basically, as long as certain conditions are met, he can’t die, but he is “regenerated”, complete with a new body and face. His last name isn’t Who. We don’t know his name. He’s just the Doctor. Doctor Who gives the writers plenty of opportunity for clever wordplay when someone is first introduced to him – “Doctor WHO”? “No, just The Doctor”.

This regeneration is a very clever conceit by the producers as it allows them to bring in a new actor to play the part. There have been 11 “Doctors” since the story began (12 if you count a guy who thought he was the Doctor because he had absorbed all of the information about the Doctor – of course, he was just a human, but it made for an interesting Christmas episode and starred the always charming David Morrissey as the misguided Victorian with a balloon replacing the Doctor’s famous TARDIS and a wooden version of the famed “Sonic Screwdriver”, the Doctor’s only “weapon” besides his brain and wits.

Why am I going off on a fanboy’s idolization of Dr. Who?

Because it illustrates the difference between a brand refresh and a re-branding.

The Doctor Who title sequence/theme song has been basically the same since the beginning. However, each season (at least for the 3 renewal seasons and certainly for some of the original series), there is a slight difference in the graphics and the theme song. this would be a “refresh”. It doesn’t change the basic nature of the title sequence but it “modernizes” it or provides a difference to delineate it from the preceding season.

However, when Dr. Who regenerates, it’s like a “re-branding”. The face is totally changed. The new actor brings his own quirks, characteristics and cadence to the role. The first Doctor in the revival seasons was a bit dark (Christopher Eccleston), the second more playful but full of power, intense and is judgmental at times (Scottish actor, David Tennant) and the new Doctor seems to have a more childlike and buoyant personality (Matt Smith). However, many of the basic personality traits of the Doctor’s own quirks are preserved.

This is the mark of a successful rebranding. Sometimes the slate is wiped clean and the restaurant takes an entirely new direction and flavor. But generally, when you rebrand, you want to retain a link to the past. You want to keep the basic character of the restaurant that has been developed over time, and you don’t shift from one concept to another (a Mexican restaurant goes to Italian, for instance). Usually shifting concepts or market niches occurs when a restaurant is sold to another who wants to turn it into a brand new restaurant.

Many, if not most rebrandings take the idea of rebranding literally. They change the name, the decor and the product mix. However, they tend to try to retain a lot of the things that made the previous brand strong while bringing the restaurant into a new era. The Houston’s rebranding to Hillstone is a good example:

 http://www.nrn.com/article/hillstone-restaurant-group-rebranding-houstons-units

They aren’t moving up or down market – they are trying to create a mental link with a more local and seasonal-type menu and  insulate themselves from the image of being a “chain” (Houston’s is a venerable brand but is seen as just another mass-market chain in a sea of mass-market chains). This is always fraught with danger, especially when you tamper with a chain that has seen massive success and is perceived as a restaurant that provides a certain level of consistent quality. Houston’s is leveraging this danger by not converting all of its units to Hillstone. There will still be Houston’s in certain places, but I suspect that if the rebranding is successful, the Houston’s brand will eventually disappear from the face of the Earth.

On the other hand, you have what I would term a “refresh”. Three years ago, Ruby Tuesday’s “rebranded” but I think that  it was really closer to a refreshing. the name only changed by removing “Bar and Grill” from the title. One could argue that, by moving upmarket with some pricier items, this was a rebranding, but I don’t think that they did a substantial change to decor (this had already occurred. They kept most of what was good about the restaurant (the salad bar, the upscale bar food like premium burgers, etc.) and tried to push check averages up and attract a slightly more affluent crowd.

So why would I term this a refresh and what is a refresh? In my mind, a refresh is when you retain more of the original concept. Instead of going up or down market, you introduce aspects of those markets which you haven’t really captured. For instance, a trend in steakhouses is to incorporate value meals, prix fixe specials, more modern drink offerings, etc. Another restaurant might revamp their platewear, plate presentation, do a dining room remodel, expand a wine list and premium liquor brands or offer only premium brands as their well brands. They might design a new logo. They might aggressively seek to-go and meal replacement business. One of the most common refresh items is the uniform. It’s relative cheap and can give the impression of a freshened decor without doing a lot of demolition.

One example of a refresh that appears to have possibility for success is the Palm Steakhouse. I have a friend who is a long-time regular in one of the East Coast restaurants who pointed me to their new website. Having been to the previous website when doing posts on other subjects in the past, I knew that it was in desperate need of renovation. It was ugly, unwieldy and not particularly informative or evocative. It was basically a placeholder. However, the new website has a timeless sort of look that reflects the heritage of the long-standing restaurant chain (which, oddly enough is still privately owned). It has a burnished look that fits the decor (sort of a men’s clubby look that doesn’t seem or feel ‘exclusive”). digging deeper, I found this statement from Libretto, the company which worked on the redesign:

September 2010 – Libretto is pleased to announce the launch of the redesigned Palm Restaurant website. Libretto and Korn Design were engaged by The Palm to revitalize the classic American steakhouse’s brand, messaging, and website. During an extensive discovery process, the two firms worked closely with The Palm to surface and reinterpret the authentic brand attributes that distinguished the restaurant prior to its national expansion. Libretto then developed new messaging and Web content to support The Palm’s polished identity. The resulting site features clear navigation, engaging content, and a vibrant mix of contemporary and historic photos.

Clearly, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They focused on the heritage of the 80+ year old restaurant and did a virtual steam cleaning which didn’t alter the character or the restaurant but made it sparkle.

Here’s the new website:

http://www.thepalm.com/

There are moving parts without it being distracting. There are multigenerational shots, showing younger and older people enjoying dining together. There is a requisite number of trendy ear-length closely cropped sideburns and more than a fair share of modern pricey eyewear while retaining more than a few receding hairlines, pin-striped suits and grey haired, well-tended older types as well. This seem quite intentional. The Palm is known for having an older clientele and so, it would seem incumbent on them to try to steal market share from hipper, more trendy expensive restaurants. There’s enough food porn to caress the eye and the site is fairly logically laid-out and easy to negotiate.

My friend wasn’t too specific but she implied that there were going to be some menu refreshes as well as some changes in presentation. She said that she actually went to one of the restaurants that has started the change and was pleasantly surprised. She said that the plates had changed but didn’t get too specific about any other changes.

I tried to find a cached version of the old website but didn’t have any success. Trust me when I say that it was bleak. I can’t really comment on whether or not the menu needs refreshing as I’ve never dined out there (it’s a bit out of my price range). Having reported on some of their menu changes, I’ve seen their menu and it seems fairly old-school, so perhaps it could stand to move forward a little. But they are quite successful and have been since the 20s, so I suspect that, as with their website, they will update without losing touch with what has made them the hit that they have been.

The Palm isn’t the only steakhouse to refresh. They’ve all done it during this time of economic crisis. whether it’s offering bar food specials or bundled meals for lesser prices, look for more, not less of this sort of refresh. Other restaurant routinely tweak their product yearly, sometimes doing enough to call it an actual refresh or, more often, just doing enough to call it a tweak. People like familiarity, but they also don’t want to eat in a stale environment. they need just enough change to make them feel like they’re eating in a newly-scrubbed dining room with a modern menu. 

Man, all of this from watching Doctor Who.

One thing though, BBC producers, don’t you think it’s time for a female Doctor? 

From the Palm website.

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