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Back to School Branding

Back to School Branding

               With Labor Day behind us and pumpkin spice flavored everything hitting the shelves, it’s time to start thinking about fall and the start of school. Back to school shopping season is the second biggest retail event after the holiday season, and with sales results showing online shopping is more important than ever, brand marketers and retailers have to embrace new emerging strategies to ensure they engage students and parents in stores as well as on digital channels.

               In the 21st century, technology is everything. The internet provides an efficient, if not the most efficient, way to reach millions of consumers with one click or hashtag. Sbarro Pizza, for example, is doing a back to school promotional contest for free iPads. This contest allows customers to participate in physical Sbarro’s Pizza stores, and on facebook, twitter, or Instagram by adding #sbarroscholar to their posts. This approach is not only a great way for the company to get customers excited about their product, but it is also a great way for Sbarro to build their online presence. Another aspect of back to school marketing that brands are becoming more aware of is how they vary their voice based on different social media channels. While kids are obviously the main target when it comes to back to school shopping, parents are also key players so it is equally important for brands to market to social channels adults use as well. For example, Pinterest is a platform visited mostly by an older age group so the content should be geared towards adults, while on a platform like snapchat it is more beneficial to be kid-friendly. McDonald’s is a great example of how a brand can shift advertising based on age seen as they run kid-friendly content during Saturday morning cartoons and save the adult content for the evening news. One last approach that is great for back to school marketing is letting the consumers own the experience. Kids love to be creative right? So why not let them create their own campaigns. In 2016, Target used this approach, letting kids write, direct, produce, and star in the companies back to school commercials. Not only did this method help Target produce creative and unique content, but it received a ton of buzz on social media and in the news as well.

               Back to school shopping only happens once a year, but when it does brands should take advantage of the market. Whether it is reaching out to consumers of all ages, letting the customer get creative, or simply creating a brand hashtag, marketers need to use social media to get an edge on their competitors during this back to school season.

Loyalty is Key

Loyalty is Key

               Not all brands have the same products or demands, but one thing that holds true across diverse industries is the importance of brand loyalty. Just one misstep or poor costumer experience can ruin a brand’s reputation; for example, when Pepsi launched their most recent campaign involving Kendall Jenner they lost a ton of money and received extreme backlash for being a “tone deaf” company from many of their customers. So, if you are a marketer or business owner this idea of upholding a good brand reputation should be at the forefront of your mind. Below are three strategies that can help drive brand loyalty.

1.       Technology to create the best customer experience.

These days there is so much value in technology. It is not only a valuable tool in our everyday life, but technology can also be very valuable to help improve a brand’s relationship with its customers. First of all, when customers trust that you are delivering unique service to meet their needs they will return the favor and be more willing to give you their business. This symbiotic relationship will help build trust and maintain brand loyalty. Also, according to an Infosys study, data driven personalization can increase revenue for brands and 86% of customers agreed that personalization plays a role in their purchasing decisions. Additionally 73% of consumers said they prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experience more relevant. Once brands have gained trust with their customers it is much easier to gain user insight and figure out your main demographic.

2.       Social media to show brand value and customer appreciation.

Social media is another great way to build brand loyalty. In fact, 81% of respondents in a study done by BRANDfog said they have more confidence in a company when its executive is using social media. Social media is not only a great way for brands to market their products but it is also a great way for them to show appreciation for their customers. Replying to people with a personal messages or commenting on a consumers post is a perfect way to humanize a brand and deepen the brand consumer relationship. This acknowledgment on social media proves that a brand really cares about its customers, it can help bring in new revenue, and it can pose as good PR for your company as a whole. Showing that your brand cares about customer experience outside of the actual business transaction can be the separating factor between your company and others.

3.       It doesn’t have to be all about product.

Using executives or employees personal brand as a selling point may seem a bit strange but it is a great way to put a personal face to your brand. If you look at Elon Musk at Tesla, or Tim Cook at Apple these CEO’s are always putting their faces forward for their brands. It is important that employees and executives make time to engage with their customers and develop trust with them. Once this trust is formed consumers will feel more obligated and willing to listen to the company’s message.

               Having strong brand loyalty no doubt benefits a company. Making one sale is great, but having the power to make customers come back to you year after year is even better. For a company to truly be successful it is key that they establish solid brand loyalty from the beginning and make sure consumers remain a top priority during all company decisions.

A Corporate dinner table?

A Corporate dinner table?

The creation of brand focused restaurants such as Kellogg’s Pop Up ( and Cadillac branded restaurant got me thinking, how far could the idea of co-branding go in the culinary industry?  As it currently stands, there are a few examples (some seen below) of larger restaurant chains who have successfully integrated other brands into their own menus, creating new buzz for both of the businesses involved.

Taco Bell and Frito-Lay:

These two came together to create one of Taco Bell’s best-selling menu items, The Doritos Locos Taco. This collaboration had fans guessing via social media for weeks about what the next flavor of Doritos Locos Tacos would be, which created huge media buzz before the item was even announced. Eventually the introduction of Doritos Locos Taco’s became the brands third most successful product platform, and even brought Chris Brandt, the old chief marketing officer of Taco Bell to say, “The partnership continues to prove the power of two mega brands working together to create firsts in restaurants and on the grocery aisle.”

TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s:

This duo partnered together to create a smoky glaze for the TGI Fridays menu that hit the jackpot. “This partnership has synergy for both brands,” explained Robert Byrne, manager of market insights at Techonomic. Jack Daniel’s was one of the first spirit labels to make a strong connection to a large restaurant chain, and beyond great brand recognition, this partnership also lead to a huge hit on the TGI Fridays menu. Deciding to work together was a success for TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s because it was a thought out partnership on both ends. TGI Fridays played to the fact that they are a festive restaurant, positioned around a bar, making a spirits brand tie-in the perfect co-branding partner for them. 

Outback Steakhouse and Stewart-Hass Racing:

This co-branding partnership is relatively different from the other examples provided, but it is just as successful. Rather than creating a new menu item, Outback decided to create a promotion involving Stewart-Hass and NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick. This promotion is called “Happy Bloomin’ Monday” and it lets fans receive a free Bloomin’ Onion on any Monday during NASCAR season where Harvick finishes in the top-10 of a Sprint Cup Series. Like TGI Fridays, Outback made a very smart decision based on their demographic they chose a partner that they knew would get customers excited and coming back Monday after Monday.

Looking at some of the larger chain restaurants that have been successful through co-branding partnerships led me to my next few questions- will we ever see brands begin to infiltrate the dinner tables at higher end restaurants across the country? Is that something we want?

At The Connect Group we know our way around a dinner table so we personally see the potential of brands infiltrating nicer restaurants.  We also know, however, the integrity of a meal experience is king, so any successful program must enhance the experience, not detract from it.  With that in mind, even at the finer dining establishments, there are ways for brands to naturally fit into the mix.  Here are a few basic examples:

Check presenters:

While presenting customers with a check, almost all restaurants use some kind of presentation method, this could include anything from a classic check presenter, to a clip board, to a more creative application, like a postcard. With that in mind, car service companies, like Uber, Lyft, Juno or others, could utilize check presentations by providing an opportunity or incentive for customers. For example, placing a coupon code on each check, so the diners not only think to use that service to take them home, but they are also getting a good deal. This idea could also be a great place for auto companies, real estate companies, and others in these genres.

Charging stations:

Depending on the brand activation, space, and brand message, charging stations could be offered to charge guests phones during their meal. This is not only a convenience for customers, but is also a great way to combat the ever prevalent problem of people being distracted by their phones during meals. It’s time to take back meal time, and counterintuitive to this post, this would be a good way to do that.

Walk-away gifts:

So, you ordered the steak and loved the spice rub they used? Well, if a brand sponsored a spice giveaway with each order you would be in luck. Giving away spices, or sauces with branded labels or gift tags would be a great surprise at the end of any meal, and an efficient way to for brands to market their product.      


What better place to brand than actually on a customer’s table? While not all restaurants have condiments on their tables, most do, so this could be an organic and effective place for brands to integrate themselves into a meal.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for brand infiltration one way or another, but as companies (and agencies like us) continue to push the envelope and look for ways to engage with audiences, restaurants could be the next frontier.  

- Lonny Sweet

Food, the Universal Valentine

Food, the Universal Valentine

          Whatever your opinion of Valentine’s Day is, it is undoubtedly one of the most prominent food connected holidays of the year.  Whether you are single going out with your friends for a family style dinner, enjoying an intimate dinner with your partner, or getting broccoli thrown at you during a family hibachi night (yes, that one is me), food is at the center of this holiday.

          For proof, look no further than the National Retail Federation, which estimated that Americans spent just shy of $19 billion on Valentine’s Day-related items this year.

          In response to this, brands (and restaurants) are getting smart and using the Valentine’s Day craze to brand and market their products. Below are a few examples of how brands and restaurants are hopping on this marketing “love train.”


Tesco is getting consumers in the valentine’s spirit through a promotion that matches people up according to what items they buy at the Grocery Store.

Burger King

Burger King took a hint from Christian Grey by offering an Adult only Meal Box with an adult toy inside.

          We at TCG are romantics at heart so to share some love ourselves, we came up with a few Valentine’s Day ideas we would love to see come to life:


For one night only, we would love to see a brand create a full custom Valentine’s Day Pop Up restaurant that offers 100 lucky couples the opportunity to experience love and food in a way they never have before. Partnering with a high profile celebrity chef to design and execute a mind blowing menu in an environment that evokes love and connection would be the perfect setting for a romantic evening.  Reservations for the Love & Food Pop Up would only be available the day before or the morning of Valentine’s Day and via a social media competition, making it a more exclusive and appealing ticket.

The Relationship Saver

Built for a brand with a “saving you money” message (insurance, wireless, etc), this program would be built to “Save” the relationship of those boyfriends/husbands/wives/girlfriends who waited too long to make a reservation and ended up with nothing. The brand (via an agency like Connect) would secure a number of high profile, prime time reservations at the best restaurants across the country on Valentine’s Day with the intent of giving them out to those who need them the most. To participate in the program, consumers would upload video pitches on why their relationships deserved to be “saved”, which would then be posted on a subsite and voted on by the general public. This promotion would be pushed out via the celebrity chefs who own the restaurants, select influencers, and via an aggressive PR/Social campaign.  

The At Home Night Out

For those who don’t want to brave the restaurant scene on V-Day, but still want to do something special for the one they love (and don’t have cooking skills), a brand could create a consumer promotion that involves celebrity chefs in multiple markets cooking Valentine’s Day dinners in the privacy of the select consumers’ homes.

          Food, like Love, is one of the few things that crosses language barriers, unites the soul and truly taps into the emotional spirit of humans across the world (something we all need right now).  It is from that place of love that strong brand affinity is created and brand loyalty is established.  So brands, put on your thinking caps, spread the love and let’s use Valentine’s day 2018 to create programs to reach the ever important food connected audience.   

Much love and eating

- Lonny Sweet