Brandon Poole Offers a Look Inside the Mind of a Top-50 Company

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I LOVE the Top 50 issue of Foodservice and Hospitality magazine. In my previous life with one of Canada’s most successful QSR brands, I would spend hours crunching competitive numbers and comparisons, and was filled with pride as our leadership team embraced the excitement of what often looked a heck of a lot like success. The hard work and passion of our remarkable franchisee network and head-office team was validated, and we could confidently believe, for the moment, that what we were doing was working.

Most of us would review sales data and performance metrics daily, some of us even did this hourly. So, we kind of always knew which way the wind was blowing and were never exactly surprised when we peeled back the pages to find the itemized list of metrics underlining our spot in the rankings.

There’s just something about seeing “the numbers” in this broader competitive context though. It always felt more significant.

It felt like a statement to the industry.

It felt good.

But it wasn’t long before reality would sink in.

We knew the feeling was fleeting. We hadn’t “won” anything. We weren’t close to the peak of the mountaintop. In fact, this moment was merely a brief respite from the climb.

And we had to get back to work.

Looking back, I’ve learned how simple it is to make quick assumptions and quicker mistakes from this point. I’ve learned that “good” numbers don’t really reveal, in proper context, what it is exactly that’s working. I’ve learned that “bad” numbers shouldn’t necessarily translate to a pivot away from the original plan.

Either way, brand leaders — whether you are searching for context in these numbers, or scratching your heads, or popping the champagne, or barely noticing this, or aspiring to move up and onto this list — I encourage you to take this opportunity to get better, stronger and build momentum.Having been in your shoes before, this is what I would do:

1. Take it all in. Yep, seriously. Read the whole thing. Take the time to read each section of the feature, and each line of the rankings. Make note of the brands catching your eye: new and emerging concepts, segment gatekeepers, competitors. Look for, and take note of, trends and patterns in the numbers. Does anything stand out? Are there benchmarks emerging that could re-shape your thinking and KPIs?

2. Own it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad news. It doesn’t matter if you believe the methodology. It doesn’t matter if you believe the competitive numbers. The bottom line is that the Top 50 is significant. It tells a story about you and your brand, so own it. Acknowledge the reality that the brand is a living, breathing organism influenced by both internal and external factors that, at this particular time in the life cycle, are framing a particular narrative. Don’t try to change this, and don’t go over the top in claiming responsibility for it. Just own it. This is where you are, so pause in the present for a second. You don’t need to explain the past, you don’t need to accelerate towards the future. Yet.

3. Share it. There are leaders that are great at this and there are leaders that aren’t. This is the natural continuation of the previous step and should be just as natural and routine if the news is rewarding or regrettable. Transparent, unfiltered reporting in the context of the hard work the team is undertaking is vitally important. No excuses, no false bravado. Just the facts. Start with your closest stakeholders — team members, franchisees, suppliers, partners. This is the perfect time to express and celebrate that you all are in this together and you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Which leads us to…

4. Be Bold. This is the perfect time to build and cultivate unconditional belief in your brand. You’ve rocketed up the rankings? Perfect. Acknowledge, recognize and celebrate the specific actions, routines and habits that created these results and encourage and reward stakeholders that continue to perpetuate this level of commitment to the brand. You’ve under-performed? Maybe this is a wake-up call to actually double down on your brand values, strategic plan, or marketing and promotion framework.

5. Be Curious. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Congratulate and recognize the Top-50 accomplishments of your peers. Build your network. Create forums to share the best practices of the brightest brands and minds in the industry and surround yourself with peers that challenge conventional thinking and inspire you to become the best version of yourself.

6. Be Grateful. Be very intentional and personal about this moment. Set time aside in your day to be authentic and intentional about your gratitude for the people that are the lifeblood of your brand. Call a franchisee, stop by a desk or cubicle to chat, jump in your car and join your team in the field. You don’t need numbers to motivate engagement and buy-in with the people that matter most. People love talking about the business and will appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and this is the perfect time to do it.

7. Unpack “best-in-class” benchmarking. It turns out you can learn a lot from the top performers and fast movers on the Top 50. Remember we talked about collecting and curating trends and patterns as you mindfully take in all the content inside the Top 50. Specifically, this is an opportunity to dive into the numbers and editorial features and distill down to a few actionable insights. This customer engagement scorecarding exercise is a good example of benchmarking against notable peers in the industry.

Take a closer look at the above engagement variables and begin to benchmark against “best in class.” Is there a relationship between sales performance in relevance, affinity, intent, and conversion? Challenge your team to dig into these variables in more detail — not searching for tactical examples necessarily, just an informal unpacking of “what right looks like.”

8. Invite your stakeholders to participate in your growth and optimization. If you are serious about building momentum you need to invite your most important stakeholders to contribute to your brand growth and optimization. Are surveys enough? Nope. Think bigger. I’m talking about specifically sharing with customers your Top-50 ranking and creating an open forum to invite questions while recognizing and rewarding their support. We would have never thought of something like this even five years ago, but it’s a different world now. Customers want authenticity and access, and they will advocate for brands that understand this.

So foodservice leaders, let’s take a longer look at this Top 50 Report issue. Hold onto it a little longer. Take it home, read it twice, take a closer look. Be mindful about learning, getting better and gaining momentum.

Oh, and before I forget, congratulations!

By Brandon Poole – Brandon Poole is the founder and facilitator of BrandGabs, a brandbuilding workshop that helps businesses and organizations struggling with uncertainty, disruption, and stagnancy. He can be reached at brandon@brandgabs.com

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