Staying Relevant for Today's Customer

The Challenge: People have been dining at White Spot restaurants since 1928.  “Last year, we served more than 16-million people in B.C. and Alberta. We serve more full-service restaurant meals than anyone else in the province,” says Warren Erhart, White Spot’s president. In fact, according to market research, 87% of people in B.C. who dined out in 2010 had at least one meal at one of the company’s restaurants. So what possible brand-related challenge could this company with some 119 locations throughout B.C., Alberta, and more recently Asia, possibly face?

“Think of companies like Eaton's that were around for decades and decades but lost their relevancy and now they’re gone,” says Mr. Erhart.  “With an 83-year-old iconic institution such as White Spot, it’s important to recognize that our past successes don’t guarantee our future success. So for us, the important question is how to remain relevant for today’s consumer, especially in the heels of higher expectations and bigger demands and tough economic times.”

The approach: About a year ago, the company set out to develop a new branding and marketing campaign that would address this question. “We really needed to stay true to our roots and capture what our brand stands for so it was always about evolution rather than revolution,” says Cathy Tostenson, the company’s VP of marketing. “Right from the very beginning, our approach has been strategic and fact-based and we have been consumer and guest-led and we continuously integrate their voice every step of the way.”

Implementation:  White Spot’s multi-phased strategy began by partnering with new creative and media agencies me&lewis ideas inc. and Taylor Made Media in early 2011.  By the spring, the company was ready to hold a two-day brainstorming session with everyone from the president and VP to the marketing team. “It was very much a team approach. And at the end of the day, we had looked at the research we’d done, crystallized who our target was, looked at what can we own, the competitive space and from all that distilled down what the brand truly stands for, what its essence is,” says Ms. Tostenson, whose marketing team then put together the brief me&lewis ideas inc. needed to get started. When six possible creative concepts were ready, White Spot began a rigorous process to identify which would resonate most with consumers as well as which most accurately identified the true character and spirit of the company and its restaurants.

“We tested the creative concepts with White Spot users and some of our competitors’ users,” says Ms. Tostenson. “And we came out of that with a really good vision of what would resonate with those consumers. The agency narrowed and refined those six concepts down to two and then we did some online creative testing. We tested our new tagline with 1,000 BC restaurant users. Coming out of that, we knew exactly how this campaign was going to perform because we had measured it up against a number of attributes.”

In November, White Spot launched its new brand platform, which is based on the concept of home and history. “The words that kept coming up again and again through our testing and research were home, comfort, authenticity, real, history, familiarity. This is what resonated with people,” says Ms. Tostenson.

Adds Mr. Erhart: “We wanted to tie in that we’ve grown up together and shared history together. The essence of the commercial is about home, about people feeling at home at our restaurants, being treated as if they were guests at someone’s home.”

As part of the campaign, White Spot has worked extensively over the last few months with its managers across the company to ensure that the experience people have at the restaurants authentically reflects what is presented in the campaign.

The payoff:  While it’s still early days, and the company will be measuring the success of the new branding campaign on increasing traffic to its restaurants, White Spot has already experienced an important reward. “The first benefit is an internal pride of the campaign and also that we have this unique organization that we have to look after and cherish and the responsibility we all play in making sure it’s around for a long time,” says Mr. Erhart.