Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Un-Friendly Fortunes

The ice cream and restaurant chain Friendly's has been exploring Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection according to the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, the company confirmed this report and said it would be closing 63 locations.

Sadly, the company is refusing to accept blame for going bust; instead their spokeswoman offered this - "like many restaurant chains, we are feeling the impact of the economic downturn and rising commodity prices and a challenging marketplace." This coming from a company that began serving two-scoops of ice cream for 5 cents in 1935. That was the Great Depression.

Since its beginnings as an ice cream parlor, Friendly's has transformed itself through a perpetual line extension strategy. It now serves everything from burgers, chicken fingers, salads and sandwiches to eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes. Oh and ice cream too.

They've lost attribute focus as well. It's brand extension Friendly's Express was launched to lure consumers with a "same food, only faster" proposition. Unfortunately, that also would imply that their regular restaurants are too slow. There current campaign is an obscure pitch for a new value menu called the "High-Five menu," which has select meals for $5. By comparison, the rest of the menu now feels overpriced. Each of these extension winds up implying the opposite of what Friendly's is hoping to convey about its brand. It's mired in an all things to all people strategy.

But don't tell that to their Chief Marketing Officer Andrea McKenna, who says "people love our brand, but we've kind of lost relevance." She continued "people's lifestyles have changed, and they've gotten busy." Too busy to eat ice cream? I don't think so.

I'd ask Friendly's if ice cream is just as relevant today as it was when they started? What about burgers? And sandwiches? The answer to all of these is yes. But Friendly's isn't relevant to these categories because their strategy is to be in all of them.

Awareness is often mistakenly substituted for relevance, even by CMO's. But Friendly's doesn't need more blind awareness. People know the chain. They just don't have a reason to go there. If Friendly's wants to matter again then they must consistently give consumers a single most compelling reason to.

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