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DineEquity Chairman and CEO Julia Stewart: Targeting Hispanics is “Just Good Business”

At last year’s Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC), we launched our Trailblazers initiative in partnership with The NPD Group. The program recognizes chains that are organizing their businesses and marketing activities in order to meet the needs of the 57 million Hispanic consumers in the United States.

This year, we returned to RLC to celebrate our year-two brands. Our six 2016 honorees include: Burger King, Menu Innovation; Popeye’s, Family-Focused Trailblazer; Starbucks, Share Shifter of the Year; Taco Bell, Gen Z Trailblazer; and Whataburger, Regional Trailblazer. Read more about our 2016 Trailblazers.

Applebee’s is our “2016 Newcomer of the Year” and we were fortunate to have Chairman and CEO of DineEquity, Julia Stewart, join us for an onstage discussion. When we asked her what was the catalyst for targeting Hispanics in language for the first time in a meaningful way, Stewart offered a simple response: “It’s just good business.”

Stewart is right; Applebee’s business grew in 2015 as a result of its targeted efforts. According to NPD CREST, Hispanic visits grew by +7% and sales increased by +9%.

Here are five key considerations Stewart shared with the RLC audience:

  1. Adapt to population trends: “There’s a misnomer that you go along the south and that’s where you market to Hispanics. But the truth of the matter is, if you look at the Midwest and the Northeast, those are fast growing markets. If you educate people about where that opportunity is, it isn’t just in heavily Hispanic-penetrated markets. That was a little surprising, because Applebee’s Hispanic campaign worked in markets where people don’t traditionally think that there is a large Hispanic population.”
  2. Look for the white space: “There are very few national restaurant advertisers reaching out to Hispanics. So it’s not a highly competitive space today.”
  3. Shift some weight: “From a sheer media perspective, if you took some of your dollars and put it into direct segmenting against Hispanic consumers, you aren’t detracting from your ‘general buy.’ You’re getting higher reach, and, at the end of the day, what you’re hoping for is increased frequency from loyal Hispanic customers.”
  4. Leverage existing resources: “We used our existing team both with the advertising agencies and the internal people working on the business and said: ‘Here’s an opportunity to expand what you’re already doing.’ We didn’t create a whole new infrastructure. We took our existing general market work and added into it this whole Hispanic opportunity.”
  5. Understand the similarities: “The Hispanic population made it very clear to us that they want what everyone else wants. They want great food. They want a great experience. They want to be respected and treated well. And they want value. That’s our overall strategy and it’s the same strategy we use with Hispanics. It’s just about talking to them in a different way with a different segmentation. Some of it may be language based, some of it may be casting.”

Stewart ended by reiterating that Applebee’s had just scratched the surface of what they could achieve with Hispanics. “I think there is a huge opportunity…The Hispanic segment is incredibly loyal. And once they like a brand, they’re drawn to it often. It’s a notion of togetherness and family.” Sounds a lot like the values of a Neighborhood Grill and Bar I know.

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