Don’t Mess With the Mommy Market

October 24, 2013

Another Tale of Woe (and Success) from the Marketing Trenches …

by Bruce Nickson

From BCAMA’s series “Reinventing the Role of the Senior Marketer”.

It’s a hard fact of business life that operations frequently trumps marketing in the corporate hierarchy. Such was the lament that Monique Gomel of Earls Restaurants had for us at the October 3rd Breakfast Speaker Series on Senior Level Marketing.


Not so long ago, a woman with child decided on a night out at Earls. When asked, the Earls staff informed her that, no, they didn’t have a high chair for the child. In a world in which the consumer, the guest, the customer is the CMO, Earls’ “no high chair” policy did not go down well with the mother. What ensued was an empowered, annoyed customer using all available channels, including social media, the press, etc. to start an “Earls Hates Kids” campaign.

Ouch! I wouldn’t wish this on my biggest marketing enemy (wait… maybe I would). Interested in hearing from one of Canada’s elite research firms, I informally recounted the above tale to one of its senior people. He kind of turned white, got annoyed and started spluttering about “…demographics/short-sightedness/blind to social realities…”. Well, you get the drift.

This is how Monique and her crew did the “manage the damage”.

“In this case, we actually don’t have high chairs in our restaurants… It was decided that the Earls brand was relevant to 20-somethings, and we wanted to offer a place where people could get away from their children. We decided we weren’t going to change the policy. We decided to ride it out.”

What ensued was a social media debate with  the “Earls Hates Kids” gang on one side with the “Earls Advocates” mob on the other. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who won.

Pages from BCAMA_MoniqueGomel_3The above led to a series of big lessons for Monique and her crew (or “learnings”, to use her term).

1. A decision was made around the concept of customer advocation: how Earls gets customers to advocate on their behalf. So they decided to create more content on their site and social media channels. The “social menu” idea kind of missed and died the death of most novelties. Which forced Earls to work on the creation of value through its digital channels. What was the “learning” here? Pivot fast, based on what you’ve learned through measuring tools.

2. Data. Despite the fact that Earls can measure lots of stuff (sales, inventory, labour costs, food costs, etc), and they have a pretty good idea of who their perfect customer is (the previously mentioned 20-somethings), Monique admitted that a lot of work had to be done to get to know the customer as an individual.

Customer data is available through the sites, through social media channels, and through real-time point-of-sale capture. But the challenge is to make a business case for this data employment, to organize it and to develop analytical competencies.

This is especially true, as the plan is to be North America-wide, with its huge regional and cultural differences. And then there’s the differentiation challenge. Is there an industry more competitive than Food & Beverage?

Monique’s talk was pretty soul-baring. It presented problems, some of which had solutions, some of which had no solutions, and some of which were in the process of being solved. All in a day’s work for a senior marketer.

Monique GomelMonique Gomel is Vice-President of Marketing at Earls Restaurants and oversees product development and marketing activities across North America.

The next BCAMA Breakfast Speaker Series event, which will be held on Thursday, November 21, will be “Insights on Insights: New World of Market Research”.