Denny’s digital presence on the Yext platform drives hungry mobile diners through restaurant doors
‘Truth be told, the enormity of what Yext offers is not something that the chaps within our four walls have the bandwidth to focus on. We had to find a vendor who'd be our watchdog for us – hold our hand, ensure we are doing the right things. Yext has done that for us, and then some. Everyone on the team from top to bottom is fantastic.’
What began as one 24-hour doughnut stand has evolved into Denny’s, America’s Diner, a global restaurant chain with over 1,700 franchise locations worldwide. "Our founder in 1953 was asked why he started Denny’s restaurants and said simply, ‘I love to feed people,’" recounts Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon. "As a brand, we have poignantly held on to that love of purpose over the years and embraced it internally. We feed people literally and emotionally from all walks of life in the United States and around the world. We feed people’s souls. Anyone can walk in and connect with us in a different way than he or she would at a fast food place or even at a normal sit down restaurant. We have CEOs sitting next to plumbers at the diner counter. Everyone’s equal. Our restaurants are unique places of local connection. We are America’s Diner."
Ironically, Denny’s as a brand has become almost too familiar to American consumers. "Almost everybody has been to a Denny’s at some point in life," explains Dillon, "which is a great thing in terms of brand awareness, but it can also present a challenge – often people’s memories of visiting a Denny’s is from 5, 10, 20 years ago. We want to bring past memories into the present and encourage more recent experiences." As such Denny’s has enhanced its digital presence to serve today’s mobile-empowered consumers of all ages. "Clearly, everyone is talking about millennials and we are no different. We’re highly focused on presenting our restaurants in more relevant ways to all generations," says Dillon. With such a wide-range of menu items and hours that are 24/7, Denny’s has an unusually wide swathe of competitors. "Our breakfast competition is different to our dinner competition, which is different to our late night competition. Weekday breakfast differs from weekend breakfast and so on," claims Dillon. "We recognise that consumers — not just millennials — are more mobile, so our digital presence is key to winning and keeping attention and loyalty."
Using Yext to drive diners to restaurant doors
According to a recent Yext study, winning that attention and loyalty is particularly challenging in the food service industry. Not only is food service the most highly-searched vertical, but it is also the most competitive, with 93% of consumers reporting that they considered more than one option when searching for a place to dine and 65% claimed to consider at least three before making a final decision. Dillon and his team realised they needed to invest in a comprehensive, scalable technology solution that would strengthen the visibility of Denny’s local listings in search results thereby ensuring that hungry customers searching for food nearby always found the Denny’s brand. "Yext came on our radar because frankly we were not getting the sort of traction we needed from our previous attempted technology solution. We knew we needed a comprehensive and effective upgrade," explains Erik Jensen, Senior Director of Brand Engagement.
Denny’s launched with Yext’s Listings product to gain full control of its presence on local listing sites, and it added Yext’s Pages product soon after for increased optimisation of local mobile web pages and campaigns. Jensen was impressed with the comprehensive coverage and real-time control Yext provides for its franchised location listings and with the robust PowerListings® Network that offers proprietary integrations with over 100 map, app, search engine and social media partners, including Apple, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare, Yahoo and Yelp. "Yext offers unique advantages through its technology platform and proprietary publisher integrations. First and foremost it enhanced our local search in terms of breadth and depth for our digital presence." With Yext’s platform, Denny’s can immediately update listings — for one location or one thousand locations — from a comprehensive dashboard display.
Empowering local franchises with a customised Yext platform
The unique flexibility and deep customisation of access controls that the Yext platform provides, as well as extensive consultative services offered by its Yext account team, greatly appealed to Denny’s corporate marketing team. With 273 franchisees, which make up the majority of their 1,700 locations, Dillon and his team consider local franchise empowerment to be a key aspect of its strategy to improve engagement and strengthen relationships with local diners. "90-92% of our system is franchised, so locally relevant and locally owned is important to us. Having a unique presence with local communities is a critical part of the Denny’s brand," explains Jensen. "We wanted to enable our franchisees to update their own local web pages and local social channels, particularly on Facebook, and actually reach out to their specific customers, which we just can’t do at a national level."
The Yext account team customised Denny’s instance of the platform to meet the restaurant chain’s unique local marketing needs. Specifically, the team embedded Yext’s platform into Denny’s existing franchisee portal system and developed customised access levels. "We wanted both to allow deep customisation of each local Page and also to make sure that franchisees could access their Yext Pages easily," recalls Jensen. "Yext helped us accomplish this by tying its platform into a system we already have, which means that our franchisees actually access Yext Pages and Yext Facebook listings through our own internal portal! From there, franchisees have different levels of access within this portal depending on their role in the organisation." By taking advantage of advanced customisation capabilities of Yext’s technology and embedding those into its existing system, Dillon and his team are able to retain control of the corporate brand and messaging, while still giving franchisees the freedom to localise their own digital presence and thereby enhance local customer engagement.
Repositioning a 63 year old restaurant brand with tailored technology prowess
Dillon and his team’s minds are at ease knowing Denny’s digital presence is consistent, accurate and optimised for hungry mobile consumers searching for a place to eat. "Our local listings simply must be accurate for us to be in, if not stay ahead of, the game. Missing phone numbers, incorrect addresses — that is unacceptable in this day and age," states Dillon. "The cost of inaccuracies is difficult to quantify because we don’t know exactly how many customers we were losing due to incorrect information. Regardless, at a baseline correct listings is an infrastructure issue and Yext uniquely provides a reliable platform to address that."
Beyond the basics of match-and-lock compilation technology for accurate listings, Yext’s deep analytics and reporting mean that Dillon and his team can now quantify the previously unquantifiable. They can measure the impact Yext has had on Denny’s digital engagement.
In less than a year after launching with Yext, Denny’s local Pages experienced a 35% increase in search traffic. Among the most striking results is that Denny’s Listings on Google powered a monthly average of 850,000 driving directions requests and 290,000 average monthly phone calls over the course of 6 months.
The partnership with Yext continues to evolve as Denny’s explores how it can leverage the Yext platform — and the dedicated Yext account team — to deploy and measure new marketing strategies for significant impact on the customer-brand relationships. Yext’s team is currently working on an API integration to simplify the process of adding and subtracting store location information from within Denny’s own system and it has started working with Denny’s agency to make sure the agency integrates promotional messaging into its own listings.
Denny’s encourages customer feedback with Yext Reviews
Denny’s uses Yext Reviews to display a more complete view of its brand experience online. Yext Reviews enables businesses like Denny’s to generate and manage location reviews across sources including Google, Yelp, Facebook and more. Reviews makes it easier to encourage customers to review restaurants, providing credibility and visibility in search.
"Yext Reviews has allowed Denny’s to tap into an important source of guest feedback — those who have visited us most recently,” said Luis Martinez, Senior Manager, Brand Engagement. "By encouraging our guests to share their experiences with us, we have gained a more accurate picture of our current in-restaurant experience. By leveraging these new ratings in our local store pages, we have also seen a lift in our local SEO. Implementation was seamless and an important step towards maximising the opportunity presented by other Yext products and services.”
Denny’s has an average rating of 3.5 across the PowerListings Network. After using Yext Reviews for two months, Denny’s first-party reviews (i.e., reviews submitted directly to its company website) beat the third-party rating by over a full point.
"What’s remarkable is that if you ask for reviews proactively, you’ll generate really good reviews from happy customers who might otherwise have stayed silent,” explains Martinez. "Yext Reviews provides an easy way to invite our guests to review us online and spread the word.”
Edifying a restaurant-technology partnership with the people part of the equation
Dillon notes that key to his satisfaction with Yext is its willingness to go above and beyond the contracted agreement to help Denny’s optimise its digital marketing. "We unveiled Yext at our most recent national convention and Yext was the only partner or vendor we invited to present its technology personally to the franchisees," notes Dillon. "Yext is now fundamentally embedded in our marketing initiatives and digital presence system, so it was crucial to us that the franchisees fully understand the opportunity and value Yext can provide when leveraged correctly and consistently. Dillon adds, "Yext helped us get our franchisees efficiently trained and the majority of them do use it on a regular basis. Yext is also coordinating a series of webinars to keep our franchisees engaged."
"Truth be told the enormity of what Yext offers is not something that the folks within our four walls have the bandwidth to focus on. We had to find a vendor who’d be our watchdog for us — hold our hand, make sure we are doing the right things," says Dillon. "Yext has done that for us, and then some. Everyone on the team from top to bottom is fantastic."
Looking ahead, Dillon and his team recognise that physical location is the ultimate context. "Location matters because people have to walk through bricks-and-mortar doors in order to experience our brand — we are not an online vendor. The purpose of our digital presence is to drive diners into our actual restaurant locations time and time again and that is where Yext’s platform is invaluable," concludes Dillon.