opinion

Commentary

IHOP's Social Marketing Strategy Is Pancakes Sans Syrup

  • by , Columnist, December 16, 2016

Pancakes and syrup. Bacon and eggs. There are many breakfast combos that just go together, and you’ll find them on IHOP’s menu. But what you won’t find is that same balance replicated in their social marketing strategy. This leaves IHOP in a potentially vulnerable position competitively, and it might be impacting their sales.

Just like IHOP’s venerable “Combos” menu selection, a holistic social marketing strategy requires more than one component. It needs the online — social media marketing — in addition to the offline — real-world, in-person word of mouth marketing. Both elements are essential because studies show that while social media now drives one-third of sales impact, face-to-face conversations still drive two-thirds.

Given this, it is clear IHOP is underperforming in a key part of this combo — offline, word of mouth — and if they want to drive optimal performance, they need to figure out how to make real, human-to-human conversation a part of their strategy menu. This was uncovered in a recent TotalSocial analysis, which looks at the full social impact of marketing strategy, both online and offline. IHOP scores a robust 52 online, which is a fairly good score, but only 30 offline. This 22-point chasm between the two scores illustrates a discrepancy between online and offline social marketing effort and presents a significant business challenge since research shows that offline conversation drives twice as much consumer sales as online. Many brands experience this — we call them “social misfits” because they present one way in social media but another In Real Life. 

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IHOP’s strong social media standing is likely due to its many social media hits. The April Fool’s Bacon Dispenser campaign and Facebook Live stream of pancakes at the beach are just two social media campaigns that garnered attention from breakfast lovers as well as accolades from the marketing industry.

But, this social marketing success has all been one-sided: exclusively on social media, with no replication in terms of the ways their marketing drives word of mouth. And it’s catching up to IHOP; the restaurant reported a decline in same-store sales in the third quarter of this year. 

Now is the time for IHOP to take their online social marketing success, and apply it to offline tactics. One area that needs focus is engaging offline influencers, people who have large in-person social networks. Restaurant category competitors who do this well are Panda Express and Olive Garden, with category-leading offline influence scores of 79 and 75, respectively. Another strategy might be turning up the volume of in-person social marketing, just like McDonald’s, which gets an 83 for the most offline conversation volume, or Carl’s Jr., which earns a score of 79 for driving more offline brand sharing with its advertising and marketing than any other brand in the category.

IHOP has done a great job as an early adopter of new social techniques. They have embraced campaigns on Facebook Live. Now it’s time to take the early-adopter practice and apply it to finding ways to use marketing strategies and tactics that drive real-world consumer conversation.  If they want to turn around their sales performance, they need to find a way to satiate our in-person conversation cravings as well as they do online.

1 comment about "IHOP's Social Marketing Strategy Is Pancakes Sans Syrup".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, December 17, 2016 at 7:57 p.m.

    Ed:  Good points.  Actual interpersonal word-of-mouth has unique potency.  Ever sit at a Denny's or IHOP in the morning?  Notice the congregations of boomers and seniors?  Notice who is NOT there?
    How would you approach getting new missionaries?

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