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Why Denny’s Social Strategy Continues to Be a Grand Slam

Why Denny’s Social Strategy Continues to Be a Grand Slam Blog Feature

Ali Parmelee

Facebook Ads Lead, Paid Media Specialist, Speaker, 15+ years of PPC and Facebook Ads expertise

January 17th, 2018 min read

With so many brands today trying to define themselves and find ways to connect with customers—constantly switching things up to see what sticks—Denny’s has remained unwavering in its approach. And for good reason—it works.

When they reinvented themselves years ago and implemented an ingenious social media strategy, they understood it might take some time for people to catch on. Their strategy is worth noting, considering they’ve continued to stay relevant and buzzworthy.

Denny’s first partnered with award-winning advertising agency Erwin Penland back in 2007. One of their first hits was the cult classic 2009 superbowl ad "Nannerpus."  Another piece of the reinvigorated campaign included a breakfast themed re-boot of Atari classics on their mobile app. But the campaign developed and championed by Penland's sister agency, Gotham, the “Always Open” webisodes with comedian David Koechner and celebrity guests (housed on both the Denny's website and wildly popular CollegeHumor.com) is where the tides really began to turn. Think of it as the original “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” except always at a Denny’s, showcasing their craveable diner food being enjoyed over humorous and improvised conversations. It’s here you started to see the candid, non traditional and quirky new direction of Denny’s “America’s Diner” identity.

But the pair really found their stride in 2013. Over the past few years, Denny’s successfully translated that same essence to social media. Through the power of social media they’ve been able to multiply their online audience, vastly improve top of mind awareness and create tangible sales growth. With accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, the breakfast joint shows other brands how it’s done online with a unique mix of humor, adaptability and a blatant disregard for conventionality.

When Forbes calls you the original social network and you’ve got fans creating their own Denny’s GIFS and fan art, you know you’re doing something more than right.

So, why exactly does their social media strategy work? Here are our top five reasons.

1. They’re funny.

And we don’t mean the kind of carefully scripted, barely humorous content that you grant a halfhearted chuckle as you quickly scroll past. We're talking choke-on-your-morning-coffee funny, the kind that makes you bury your laughter in your sleeve to keep from making a scene in the break room.

The content developed by the digital marketing team responsible for Denny’s social media success uses a range of tactics:

From clever

Screen_Shot_2016-09-27_at_4.34.08_PM

To strange

Dennys_strange

To laugh-out-loud hilarious 

Screen_Shot_2016-09-27_at_4.42.12_PM

To downright bizzarre

Dennys_bizarrre

They’ve mastered the art of internet humor, and have a one-of-a-kind sense for just how offbeat they can get while still hitting the nail on the head.

2. They know their audience.

While their commercials are pretty tame and traditional, highlighting offers and specials, the Denny’s team recognizes that each social platform is home to different audience demographics and adapts the brand's online voice, style and content for each accordingly.

  • Facebook: Their presence seems almost conventional compared to other companies on the site. Denny’s regularly posts about events and promotions along with photos of different dishes they serve, catering to the site’s older audience and providing the type of information they’re most often looking for. 
  • Instagram: The account is filled mostly with highly polished images of menu items, falling in line with what the app's user base logs on to see.
  • Twitter and Tumblr: This is where Erwin Penland really shows off its unique, creative prowess. Both have much younger average audiences than either Facebook or Instagram, proving most popular among users in their teens and twenties.

Denny’s seized the opportunity to speak to their followers in their own language, taking full advantage of the latitude allowed by each platform's audiences and culture in a way the corporate world hadn't seen before. Through a colloquial tone, complete nonchalance and an utter willingness to dive down the rabbit hole at any given moment, Denny’s successfully shed the online persona of a for-profit business and took on that of an everyday person who might actually stop by a diner for a bite to eat.

3. They’re relevant.

In addition to being funny and adaptable from platform to platform, Denny’s is also exceptionally good at newsjacking—they know exactly how to capitalize on current events, the latest pop culture trends or breaking news stories to bring attention back to their own content. 

When Usain Bolt won the 100-meter dash at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, Denny’s tweeted this:

Dennys_Usain_Bolt

In the midst of all the tabloid buzz before the Oscars, they published this:

Dennys_Oscars

And when Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 recently, they promptly posted this: 

Dennys_Iphone_7

Through witty, well-timed social media updates, the brand injects itself into the news cycle and participates in the latest conversation, reminding their following that they’re both socially relevant and open for business.


“Your content should never stray too far from your brand's strategic #goals. Great example: @DennysDiner” TWEET THIS


4. They stay on message.

The musings of the restaurant’s social media channels might seem like an aimless stream of consciousness, but each and every post ultimately comes back to one theme—breakfast food.

No matter how odd, ridiculous or genuinely bizarre their content becomes, each post never strays too far from the brand’s strategic goals—to make people want to eat and remind them where they can go to do just that. When they quickly parodied a big pop culture moment between feuding celebrities on Twitter, Denny's CMO John Dillion told the media, "The tweet importantly also tied back to our business. There has been a lot of talk about all-day breakfast, so this helped get our brand message out there, and was timely for our brand."

5. They’re unexpected.

The unprecedented success of the chain’s new and improved digital marketing strategy (with Denny’s showing steady annual growth) can be at least partly attributed to how different their approach is compared to others in their landscape. After all, who really expected an otherwise unassuming 24-hour breakfast joint to be wittier, savvier and more entertaining than virtually any other brand online today?

So, what can you learn from Denny's? Speak to your target audience the way they want to be spoken to on the platforms they love and they'll keep coming back for more. Above all else, don't be afraid to mix it up and try something different when it comes to breathing new life into your brand. Take it from Erwin Pendland's former senior vp of digital strategy, Kevin Purcer, "Brands should do what works for them. Every category, and every brand, has a different set of challenges so there is no 'one size fits all.'”

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