Building a relentlessly relevant brand
Olive Garden, Darden Restaurant’s largest brand, is the leader in casual dining – a category they created over 3 decades ago. With a rich history and over $3.5B in annual sales, they were facing a daunting challenge – how to remain relevant in a world that’s changed drastically since the inception of casual dining?
It’s a category-wide challenge: a sea of sameness with “food at a price” promotions, increased competition from fast-casual options, and decreasing relevance and consideration for their core guests and Millennials. The Olive Garden leadership team knew they needed to get out ahead of these challenges in order to remain the category leader and drive growth.
The challenge was clear – how to grow brand relevance with their loyal fans while building relevance with new audiences? How could they force re-consideration and build equity for the Olive Garden brand while staying true to their heritage and driving growth through their strongest assets?
We believe relentlessly relevant brands need to obsess over their customers, so we took it a bit further: We became them. We ate bowl after bowl of pasta in the restaurants, talked to dozens of guests, and scoured the social media landscape. One thing became strikingly clear – the passion for Olive Garden stems from some of their most important assets –family and breadsticks. (C’mon… who doesn’t love those breadsticks?!)
To amplify that passion, we found innovative ways to bring breadstick fans closer to the food and family they love. In partnership with the Olive Garden marketing, PR, and Culinary team, we developed “Breadstick Nation” as a platform for new breadstick products and experiences, such as breadstick sandwiches and Olive Garden food trucks. Citizens of Breadstick Nation unite!
The proof is in the dough. Breadstick Nation received over one-billion social media mentions before any products launched and it has now been featured by major media outlets from NPR to Buzzfeed. Breadstick fans are already lining up at food trucks across the country, and tracking the Breadstick Nation summer tour via Olive Garden’s new Breadstick Nation website. Darden Restaurants’ stock surged 15% and hit a new all-time high in the weeks following the #breadsticknation launch.
The celebration of Olive Garden’s key assets isn’t ending with the breadstick. We also focused on family and togetherness to develop “Little Italy,” an engaging kids club with fun activities for kids in the restaurant and online, which is being tested in select markets. And several other yet-to-be-launched platforms.
By obsessing over the guest, staying true to the brand, and creating inspired new ideas that align with the passions of core guests, Olive Garden is charting a path of relentless relevance and business growth for generations to come.